Here are 10 things you should know about Kay Francis, born 116 years ago today. We will happily watch virtually any picture that features her name in the credits.
Katharine Hepburn was born, well, Katharine Houghton Hepburn (what, you expected her to resort to the artifice of a screen name?) 113 years ago today in Hartford, Connecticut. It’s almost startling to be reminded on such occasions that Ms. Hepburn passed on in 2003, as it’s difficult to imagine any malady or even the passing of time itself prevailing over her strong will. We’re fully prepared to believe that she left us then, at age 96, only because she was ready to go and gave the okay.
Because we are all being told to remain “socially distant” and many of us are holing up at home out of concern over this confounded virus, with Broadway theatres going dark (and theatres elsewhere, too, we assume) and sports of every stripe being postponed, if not outright canceled, we’re all looking for edifying, comforting and safe ways to fill our time.
As many of you know, one of the perqs we offer to our Patreon supporters is a monthly Turner Classic Movies Tip Sheet, in which we recommend (at least) one movie every day from TCM’s lineup. Usually this is made available to patrons at the $5 level and up, but starting today and for the foreseeable future, we are going to make this tip sheet public—available to everyone, patron or not—as we can all use ways to distract ourselves these days.
One of these days, when things have returned to something like normal, our TCM Tip Sheet will go back behind the Patreon firewall, but for now, beginning with the March 2020 edition, it’s available for all to view.
(Our apologies to those outside the USA—we know this announcement doesn’t do much for you, but we wish you good health and entertaining distractions.)
Big news! This month only, we’re sharing our TCM Tip Sheet for the month of August with the whole wide world! It’s live now on our Patreon page.
This is a perq that’s usually only available to our Patreon supporters at the $5-per-month level and higher, but this month only, we’re making it available to all, so that some of you might consider joining us as a Patreon supporter for the first time or, for those of you who already support us but at something under $5 a month, that you might consider upping your support a bit. As you may know, our monthly costs have doubled (due to an increase in licensing costs for the music we play) and while we’re getting close to the amount we need to cover those costs, we’re not there yet.
In August, TCM is running its Summer Under the Stars festival, with a different star featured daily for 24 hours, and as it does every month, our Tip Sheet will help you sort through all those offerings by recommending at least one movie per day that is worth watching and/or recording.
We had a Patreon supporter tell us recently that she loves our monthly TCM Tip Sheet, even though she doesn’t even own a television and can’t watch the movies. We considered that high praise, and we hope you’ll enjoy it, too.
Fashion plate and Queen of the Women’s Pictures Kay Francis was born Katherine Edwina Gibbs 112 years ago today in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Here are 10 KF Did-You-Knows:
- Though Francis was born in Oklahoma City, she didn’t live there long. Much of her childhood was spent on the road with her mother, Katherine Clinton, who was an actress. At age 17, Francis, who was then attending Katherine Gibbs Secretarial School in New York City, married the first of her five husbands—one James Dwight Francis, member of a prominent (and well-to-do) Pittsfield, Massachusetts, family. That marriage, like the four other matrimonial knots Francis would eventually tie, unraveled in relatively short order.
- Shortly after her 1925 divorce, Francis decided to follow her mother’s example and pursue a life on the stage. In November of that year, she made her Broadway debut as the Player Queen in a modern-dress version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
- After a handful more Broadway roles, Walter Huston, her costar in the 1928 production of Elmer the Great, encouraged her to take a screen test for Paramount Pictures. She did, and was given roles in Gentlemen of the Press (1929) and the Marx Brothers‘ first picture, The Cocoanuts (1929), both of which were filmed at Paramount’s Astoria Studios in Queens, NY.
- Soon thereafter, Francis moved to Hollywood where her striking looks and model’s figure (she stood 5’9″, very tall for an actress at the time) helped her career to ascend. From 1929 to 1931, she appeared in more than twenty films.
- Warner Brothers wooed Francis away from Paramount in 1932, and it was there that she experienced her greatest success. By the mid-’30s, Francis was the queen of the Warner Brothers lot and one of the highest-paid people in the United States. From 1930-37, Francis appeared on the cover of more than 38 movie magazines, second only to Shirley Temple (who racked an astonishing 138 covers over that span).
- At Warner Brothers, Kay became known as a clotheshorse. Her ability to wear stylish clothes well was highly valued by the studio and admired by fans; in fact, she eventually came to feel that Warner Brothers put more more of a focus on her on-screen wardrobe than her film’s scripts, as she came to be unalterably associated with the sort of weepy melodramas that were then known as “women’s pictures.” We fully understand the frustration she felt at the time, but we’ll admit that we love those pictures and adore Francis’ performances in them.
- Francis’ great success came in spite of a noticable speech impediment: She pronounced R’s as W’s (ala Elmer Fudd). As such, our favorite line of Kay Francis dialogue appears in Mandalay (1934), which was directed by Michael Curtiz and in which Kay starred with Ricardo Cortez, Lyle Talbot, and Warner Oland. It’s great fun to hear her intone, “Gwegowy, we awwive at Mandalay tomowwow.”
- Francis’ personal life was something of a mess. An exceedingly liberated person, sexually, she slept with both men and with women—and plenty of them, and none of her five marriages lasted very long.
- Francis’s career fell as quickly as it had risen. She was through with the movies (or perhaps vice versa) by 1946, when she appeared in her final picture, Wife Wanted, a budget quickie made for the infamous Poverty Row studio Monogram Pictures. Aside from some stage work in the late ’40s and a couple of TV appearences in the early ’50s, she avoided the spotlight thereafter and was largely forgotten by the public (until Turner Classic Movies began to feature her pictures prominently in its programming and her star again rose among old-movie buffs).
- When she died in 1968 of breast cancer, Kay Francis left more than one million dollars to The Seeing Eye, Inc., an organization that trains guide dogs for the blind.
Happy birthday, Kay Francis, wherever you may be!