Happy 112th Birthday, Kay Francis!

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!

Kay Francis

Happy 100th Birthday, Olivia de Havilland!

Olivia de Havilland was born Olivia Mary de Havilland 100 years ago today to British parents in Tokyo, Japan. Here are 10 OH Did-You-Knows:

  • Her mother, Lilian Fontaine, was a stage and film actress.
  • De Havilland and her sister, Joan Fontaine, were both nominated for the Best Actress Oscar in 1941. Never terribly close, the competition increased the tension between them and they never fully reconciled.
  • Since December 15, 2014, de Havilland has been the only surviving major member of the cast of Gone with the Wind. Mickey Kuhn is the only other surviving member of the cast who received a screen credit.
  • Since the 1950s, De Havilland as lived in Paris, France. In 1962, she published Every Frenchman Has One, a well-received memoir of adapting to French life.
  • De Havilland declined the role of Blanche DuBois in Elia Kazan‘s screen adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire (1951).
  • Her father, Walter Augustus de Havilland, was a patent attorney in Japan who wrote a book in 1910 about a Japanese board game called The ABC of Go. He lived for 96 years.
  • De Havilland and Fontaine were the first sisters to win Oscars and the first to be Oscar-nominated in the same year.
  • De Havilland appeared in eight movies with Errol Flynn; the pair enjoyed a mutual attraction, but no romance ever sparked between them.
  • She was named after William Shakespeare‘s romantic heroine in Twelfth Night.
  • Olivia de Havilland was awarded the 2008 American National Medal of the Arts.

Happy birthday, Ms. de Havilland, and here’s to the next hundred years!

Olivia de Havilland

Times Square Tintypes: William Shakespeare

In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, playwright William Shakespeare.
 

THE BARD OF AVON

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.—Was born April 22, 1564, in a little house on Henley Street, Stratford-on-Avon. The stunning event occurred at precisely three minutes past eight. His dad was already at work, not interested.
Caricature of William ShakespeareHe was the third child. Since then he has written thirty-seven plays, five poems and one hundred and fifty-three sonnets. Since then people have advocated Birth Control.
Always wears Buster Brown collars, Windsor ties, knickers and silk stockings.
His favorite eating place is the Mermaid Tavern.
It’s claimed he steals his ideas. He doesn’t deny it. Believes there’s nothing new under the sun. Hopes that some day people will steal from him.
He is vain and conceited. His favorite topic is William Shakespeare. He can talk about him for hours.
He never uses the subway. Never listens to the radio. Never sends a telegram. Never telephones. He writes all his plays in longhand. He can’t operate a typewriter.
Kit Marlowe and Ben Jonson he considers the world’s greatest men. His happiest moment was when he became the godfather of Jonson’s son.
Started his theatrical career by holding horses outside the Globe Theatre. Later became an actor. Then wrote plays to make more money.
His favorite dish is olives.
He was a wild kid, up to all sorts of mischief. Often arrested for deer stealing. Left school at the age of thirteen. At the age of eighteen he had to marry Anne Hathaway. Six months later he became the father of an eight-pound baby, Susanna.
George Bernard Shaw thinks his stuff is piffle. He never heard of Shaw.
He talks with fluency in a high tenor voice. Has reddish hair, a pointed chin, a face that mirrors every change of emotion.
His main weakness is that he is overfond of sleep. No matter what time of day it is, or where he is, he can fall asleep at a moment’s notice. He has never spent a sleepless night. Sleeps at least fourteen hours every day.
Rewrites all his stuff at least three times. Once rumored that Samuel Shipman was “ghost writing” his plays. This was discarded when critics proved that Shipman couldn’t write that bad no matter how hard he tried.
He dislikes bacon.
Is gentle, gay and witty. His wisecracks generally get him into trouble. Because of one of his flippant remarks he can’t break into the movies. He said: “All the World’s a Stage.”
He can’t carry his liquor. Two glasses of ale has him hugging the floor.
He refuses to allow Jed Harris to produce his play Hamlet because he doesn’t want George Abbott to rewrite it.
He hobnobs with actors, stagehands and producers. Yet he is on intimate terms with Lord Pembroke, the Earl of Essex, the Earl of Southampton and the Prince of Wales.
He has made his will. In it he states that to his wife he leaves his second best bed.
His right ear is a little larger than his left. Says this is so because he sleeps on his right side.
His ambition is to write a play which the Theatre Guild will produce.