"The great thing about the movies...is--you're giving people little...tiny pieces of time...that they never forget." - Jimmy Stewart

Scott O'Brien Q & A on Kay Francis

Past chats with our guests.

Moderators: Sue Sue Applegate, movieman1957, moira finnie, Lzcutter

User avatar
moira finnie
Administrator
Posts: 8134
Joined: April 9th, 2007, 6:34 pm

Scott O'Brien Q & A on Kay Francis

Postby moira finnie » June 16th, 2008, 6:12 am

As we kick off our first day of author Scott O'Brien's visit with us, please join me in welcoming Mr. O'Brien to the SSO.

As the author of Kay Francis: I Can't Wait To Be Forgotten (BearManor Media), here's hoping that Scott can help us learn more about this unique figure, who, working in films from the late '20s into the '40s, was among the top ten actresses in terms of popularity even, according to some of her contemporaries, approaching the glamour and subtlety of Garbo in her acting. Curiously, Francis remained an obscure figure for those of us without access to good revival houses until TCM unearthed such terrific movies as One Way Passage (1932) and Trouble in Paradise (1932), allowing a much larger audience to discover her charm and talent.

After researching your very readable book, Mr. O'Brien, could you please offer an opinion regarding why Kay Francis' legend faded almost completely until a resurgence of interest in her began in the '90s for many of us? Thank you for your answer.
Avatar: Frank McHugh (1898-1981)]

The Skeins
TCM Movie Morlocks

User avatar
silentscreen
Posts: 715
Joined: March 9th, 2008, 3:47 pm

Postby silentscreen » June 16th, 2008, 6:30 am

Mr. O'Brien,

Welcome to the site! I'm sure you have favorite films of Kay's. I've only seen a handful sadly, most notably those with Ronald Colman, who's a favorite of mine. Which of her films would you personally recommend?

Thanks!


Brenda
"Humor is nothing less than a sense of the fitness of things." Carole Lombard

User avatar
Ann Harding
Posts: 1271
Joined: January 11th, 2008, 11:03 am
Location: Paris
Contact:

Postby Ann Harding » June 16th, 2008, 7:05 am

Dear Mr O'Brien,

I haven't read yet your book on Kay Francis, but I'll certainly do it very soon. I am a big fan of Kay. :) I first discovered her on a big screen in Trouble in Paradise. It's only recently that I have been able to see One Way Passage and Jewel Robbery, two shining examples of her partnership with William Powell. Being a completely mad fan of Ronald Colman, I have -of course- seen their two pictures together. I have a particular favourite: Cynara. Do you know anything about the working relationship between Colman and Kay Francis?

You mentioned earlier that you were working on my biography. :wink: I am also a great fan of the lovely Ann. How easy it is to find documents and films on this actress? I have seen so far about 14 of her pictures, but, they are always really hard to find... Which Harding pictures are your favourites? Mine are Peter Ibbetson, Holiday and Condemned.

Thanks.

User avatar
OScott
Posts: 56
Joined: January 15th, 2008, 8:23 pm
Location: Sonoma County California
Contact:

Postby OScott » June 16th, 2008, 11:54 am

Well, I have my ‘Paradise Cocktail’ in hand Moira, and am ready to ‘cyber-cruise’ on the SSO. 8) I would wager that the fading legend Kay Francis experienced was not so unusual. Many of her contemporaries experienced a similar fate. I remember around 1960, getting home from junior high, turning on the TV and seeing Myrna Loy and William Powell, and thinking, “Who are these people? They're wonderful!” Every day there would be another classic Hollywood film with intriguing stars I had never heard of. My parents were big movie fans and they would fill me in on who these people were. Whereas someone like Myrna Loy rode the crest of the nostalgia wave that followed these TV revivals (touring on stage, making TV talk show appearances, guest appearing at ‘revivals,’ etc.), Kay stayed out of the loop. Kay retired in 1954 and wanted nothing to do with her Hollywood past. I have had some delightful visits with her close friends Jetti and Lou Ames (who met Kay in 1945). Lou tried on many occasions to talk with Kay about her films, but she wasn’t interested. Kay admitted she had some bitterness about how she was treated at Warners, and referred to the whole ordeal as her “big struggle.” This by no means meant that Kay spent retirement sitting around moping. She enjoyed her circle on friends in NYC, Cape Cod, and good times with Jetti and Lou and Kay’s godsons Tabor and Jonathan Ames in New Jersey. If you go to my website www.kayfrancisbiography.com and click on the “Kay in Retirement” icon, you’ll get the idea. TCM can pretty much take credit for the revival of Kay and many other vintage stars who have resurfaced
Last edited by OScott on June 16th, 2008, 12:09 pm, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
OScott
Posts: 56
Joined: January 15th, 2008, 8:23 pm
Location: Sonoma County California
Contact:

Postby OScott » June 16th, 2008, 11:58 am

Hi Brenda,
You will get your chance to see more of Kay Francis in September --- she’ll be TCM’s designated ‘Star of the Month.’ You must have seen Cynara, which is among her best. I would also be on the lookout for: One Way Passage, Trouble in Paradise, House on 56th Street, Give Me Your Heart, In Name Only, Confession, Keyhole, and Notorious Affair. Kay’s Paramount films are not part of the TCM library, but she excels in her debut in Gentlemen of the Press, Street of Chance, For the Defense, 24 Hours and the delightful Girls About Town. Kay had a big crush on Ronald Colman. (I think all his leading ladies did). During the filming of Raffles (1930) she jotted in her diary “God – Ronnie excites me!”
Last edited by OScott on June 16th, 2008, 12:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
OScott
Posts: 56
Joined: January 15th, 2008, 8:23 pm
Location: Sonoma County California
Contact:

Postby OScott » June 16th, 2008, 12:07 pm

Dearest Ann,
I suspect what translated on screen between Colman and Kay was a reflection of some off-screen affair. Kay, a very passionate woman, was usually ‘willing’ when it came to a man she was attracted to. As I mentioned to Brenda, Kay found ‘Ronnie’ “exciting!” When Colman and his pal William Powell returned from a European vacation in 1930, Colman was quizzed by reporters about his ‘engagement’ to Kay Francis. Powell, had also dated Kay, and, some sources indicate that he thought Kay was waiting for him! The two men must have had a good laugh. Of course, Kay had the last laugh. She had been ‘heavily’ involved with actor Kenneth MacKenna since July 1929. The couple finally married in January 1931. MacKenna was the winner hands down, or should I say “pants down.” According to Kay’s diary he made love “like a RAM!” :wink:

Ann Harding mesmerized me into her circle of fans when I saw Peter Ibbetson on TV in 1964 (I was in high school). I was completely enchanted by her presence, and I loved the meta-physical bent of this film. Ann gives an excellent, strong portrayal of women in such classics as When Ladies Meet, and Animal Kingdom. She is amazing in such obvious tear-jerkers as Gallant Lady (don’t miss this!) and Life of Vergie Winters. She simply took Hollywood by storm, especially after her Oscar-nominated performance in Holiday (which holds up very well next to Hepburn’s version). I have most of the research done for the Harding biography. I’ve talked with two of her co-stars, who had much admiration for Ann. Now, for more interviews and the challenge of contacting family members. All of Ann’s films are available except the old hoary western, Girl of the Golden West. I’ll keep you posted on my progress. Thanks for asking!

User avatar
Bogie
Posts: 534
Joined: September 3rd, 2007, 12:57 am
Location: Toronto, Canada

Postby Bogie » June 16th, 2008, 12:32 pm

Dear Mr. O'Brien,

I'm not the biggest historian on film and such so forgive me for being way off base in my questioning. Anyways i've seen a couple or so of Kay Francis' films and I have to say most of them were quite "adult" and in some ways very controversial in their day. How did she take to being somewhat pigeonholed into those kind of roles where she's a strong willed woman who's almost a precursor to the woman's lib brand of thinking and then in other films she seems to be caught up in adulterous affairs and such. It seemed as if her roles pulled her in bipolar directions in many ways.

So to distill my questions

1. How did she take to such a divergent direction to her career and in some ways being pigeonholed into those kind of roles?

2. Was this the natural progression of things or did the studios (WB) basically say "this is how we want to market Kay Francis. She's going to be our cutting edge controversial star!"?


Again sorry if i'm way off on my questions but that's the vibe i've gotten from what little i've seen of her work and from some things i've heard as well as looking at the synopses for the movies for her SOTM salute.

User avatar
Dewey1960
Posts: 2514
Joined: April 17th, 2007, 7:52 am
Location: Oakland, CA

Postby Dewey1960 » June 16th, 2008, 12:49 pm

Hi Scott and welcome to the board. I like Kay Francis quite a bit and have often wondered about the three films she made for Monogram Pictures in the mid-forties; DIVORCE, WIFE WANTED and ALLOTMENT WIVES. I've had the pleasure of seeing all three on the big screen and they're really terrific, ALLOTMENT WIVES especially, where Kay gives an incredibly convincing performance as a very unpleasant character. A very important noir curio which really begs the issue of being re-discovered! And from Monogram, a gloriously notorious poverty row outfit? Can you shed any light on her relationship with the studio and the whys and hows of these films getting made? Thanks in advance!
note: TCM is airing ALLOTMENT WIVES and DIVORCE in September! Tape 'em and trade 'em!

User avatar
OScott
Posts: 56
Joined: January 15th, 2008, 8:23 pm
Location: Sonoma County California
Contact:

Postby OScott » June 16th, 2008, 1:19 pm

Hello Bogie,
I’m guessing that you are comparing Kay’s roles in such films as I Loved a Woman (1933) in which she played an enterprising and successful opera singer (with a number of male lovers) vs. Another Dawn (1937) where she is guilt-ridden over her quasi-extra-marital affair with Errol Flynn. These diverse roles for women reflect the overall change in cinema that took place in July 1934, when the Production Code took over. Many actresses where pulled in “bipolar” directions, as you put it. Yes, it must have been weird. For a few years Kay was playing strong, independent women, and then, Wham (!) the Catholic Church, Legion of Decency, and PCA said, “No More!” Fortunately for Kay, she maintained her fan-base and strong box-office after the Code came into effect. Warners kept her swathed in mink and tears for a few years so Kay could make a million (which was so very important to her). “Money. Nobody appreciates the stuff any more than I do!” (Kay Francis, 1934)

You might find the following comment of Kay’s interesting:
“Too much glamour, too much sin, repeated often, become monotonously dull. I’m speaking about the screen, of course!” (Kay Francis, 1936)

User avatar
silentscreen
Posts: 715
Joined: March 9th, 2008, 3:47 pm

Postby silentscreen » June 16th, 2008, 2:25 pm

Fantastic news about your new book! I've been wanting to know more about the unfairly neglected actress Ann Harding for a long time! :) She was among the premiere of precode actresses, along with Kay, but never got the roles and attention she deserved. Maybe because she was so ethereal looking, RKO truly didn't know what to do with her. I was wondering if her daughter Jane is still living?
"Humor is nothing less than a sense of the fitness of things." Carole Lombard

User avatar
OScott
Posts: 56
Joined: January 15th, 2008, 8:23 pm
Location: Sonoma County California
Contact:

Postby OScott » June 16th, 2008, 2:53 pm

Dewey – Good question! Involved answer:

Kay considered acting to be a business. James Cagney, William Powell and others felt the same way. Powell had said, “I’m in this racket for the shekels that are in it.” This is understandable when you acknowledge the poverty that these actors faced early on in their careers. While growing up, Kay was pulled in and out of convent schools, while her mother toured in vaudeville (Kay’s father was out of the mix by the time she was four). Kay asked for no alimony from her wealthy first husband, Dwight Francis. (Kay explained, “I don’t believe a woman who can support herself should take alimony.”) When her last Broadway show closed in 1928, Kay was virtually penniless. “We flopped on Broadway [Elmer the Great]. I’d been a fool and didn’t have a cent. All I had left was $3.25. Then and there I vowed to climb out of that mess myself.” (Kay Francis comment from 1934)

When Kay started making money in Hollywood she lived very simply. No “swank” as she called it. She drove her own Ford to work. She knew that stardom was not a “forever” thing, and had her heart set on getting “out” of Hollywood as soon as she had made enough money. Her ultimate goal was to return to New York where she felt more at home. Which brings us to Monogram.

After Kay’s USO tours and the completion of the film Four Jills in a Jeep (Fall 1943) – none of the major studios were making any offers to Kay. In July 1944, Kay penned a deal with Monogram’s Jeffrey Bernard to become associate producer for what became known as her “Monogram Trilogy.” Kay was one of the first female stars to delve into producing her own films. (In the fall of 1935, Kay, Ronald Colman, Richard Barthelmess, and Clive Brook had conspired to create their own “United Artists” ala Chaplin, Pickford, and Fairbanks, but it never materialized).

Kay was very involved with all aspects of her Monogram films – she searched for story ideas, worked on the scripts, hired the actors, and found ways to cut production costs. “I’ll have no office and I don’t want any chi-chi about the thing,” said Kay at the time. “It’s a way for me to break into the producing end of the business, which is where I want to be.” Her object was to make money. After Allotment Wives was completed, Kay was offered a stage “comeback,” on tour, with the play Windy Hill, directed by Ruth Chatterton. Kay played to SRO crowds wherever she and the play went. When producer Leland Hayward asked her to take over the female lead in the Pulitzer Prize play State of the Union on Broadway, Kay happily, left Tinsel Town for good. (She received her offer to return to Broadway during the filming of Wife Wanted (1946).)

Monogram president Steve Broidy was thrilled to get Kay on board. Having her name meant wider distribution for the Monogram product. Instead of playing to 9,000 theaters, with a name like Kay Francis, the film would play at about 12, 000. So, in the long run, Kay and Monogram profited from her venture. In 1947, producer Bernard asked Kay to play the lead in the Allied Artists (Monogram’s new moniker) production The Maze, but she was no longer interested in filming.

And yes, Allotment Wives has a lot of grit – an absorbing little film, with a great Kay performance. The whole concept was Kay’s idea. She had read an article about a woman who had married 15 different sailors to collect their allotment pay. On screen, she plays the head-honcho of such a con-operation. She was initially asked by Bernard to play the FBI agent who cracks down on the racket. Kay said, “Nothing doing!” She wanted to be the racketeer. “I’ll be the meanest woman God ever made,” she told Bernard. I didn’t find her exactly “mean,” but she sure-as-hell was tough! :twisted:

User avatar
OScott
Posts: 56
Joined: January 15th, 2008, 8:23 pm
Location: Sonoma County California
Contact:

Postby OScott » June 16th, 2008, 4:44 pm

Silentscreen –
Well, I’ve jumped the gun here. Actually, my next book is titled VIRGINIA BRUCE – UNDER MY SKIN, which is due out from Bearmanormeda this October. Virginia’s family, and Karen Sharpe Kramer (director Stanley Kramer’s wife) helped make the research very interesting and worthwhile. If you are wondering about the icon under my SSO name --- it is a 1940 photo of Kay And Virginia looking quite chummy.


The Ann Harding project has a long way to go. The mini-biographies I have read on Ann -- one by James Robert Parish (who wrote an excellent foreword for the Virginia book), and the late DeWitt Bodeen, mention Ann’s daughter, but did not have her participation. So, I am hoping she will cooperate (and, that she is still around).

Thanks for showing interest.
Scott

User avatar
silentscreen
Posts: 715
Joined: March 9th, 2008, 3:47 pm

Postby silentscreen » June 16th, 2008, 5:08 pm

Sounds like you're keeping extremely busy! That's good for all us fans! :D Virginia Bruce is someone I know very little about other than she was married to John Gilbert, another fave of mine. That part of her life in itself should be quite a story. 8)
"Humor is nothing less than a sense of the fitness of things." Carole Lombard

User avatar
OScott
Posts: 56
Joined: January 15th, 2008, 8:23 pm
Location: Sonoma County California
Contact:

Postby OScott » June 16th, 2008, 6:38 pm

John Gilbert was a major influence on Virginia’s life. He left a rather indelible mark on her soul. She came out of the ashes of that marriage (which lasted about a year-and-a-half) with a baby daughter in her arms, and the ability (according to Virginia) to tackle meatier assignments on screen.

I was surprised to learn that the Gilbert-Bruce relationship was the main inspiration for United Artists’ A Star is Born (1936). Producer Selznick had made a similar film titled What Price Hollywood? (1932) at RKO, and to avoid litigation from that studio, he covered himself by having lawyers state that the new version was based on real people. (Copyright jurisdiction precluded historical events.) Virginia Bruce was specifically mentioned, as were Garbo’s tie with Stiller, and the Stanwyck/Fay relationship. But, it’s Bruce’s story that comes across on screen. I go into quite a bit of detail on this in the book. If you would like to look at the Virginia Bruce cover at BearManor go to http://www.bearmanormedia.bizland.com

User avatar
moira finnie
Administrator
Posts: 8134
Joined: April 9th, 2007, 6:34 pm

Postby moira finnie » June 17th, 2008, 7:20 am

Hi Scott,
Thanks for hanging in there while we pepper you with questions. In your Kay Francis book, you describe the debilitating effect on the actress of the late '30s court battle between Warner Brothers and Kay Francis, precipitated in part by the fact that Tovarich had originally been slated for the actress before Claudette Colbert was cast.

In describing this tussle, you mentioned that there may have been some evidence that Warners' tried to pressure Kay to accept a 50% buyout of her contract using information about her personal affairs, (supplied, it is said, by a private investigator hired by the alleged "nice guy brother," Harry Warner, according to Stuart Jerome in his highly entertaining memoir "Those Crazy Wonderful Years When We Ran Warner Bros."). Were you able to find any more evidence that the actress' liberal sexual adventures in the '20s & early '30s had been used against her?

Kay seemed to have charmed almost everyone she met in her time at the studio with her intelligence, warmth and decency as a person. If studio rebels and burgeoning stars Bette Davis & James Cagney had sympathy for Kay's position, as you mention, did they ever try to make things easier for Kay at the studio while she worked out her contract?

I'm very impressed with the thoroughness and depth of research that you did about Kay Francis, as well as those who knew her. When you are researching your books, have you found it difficult to unearth a treasure trove of info such as Kay Francis' diary that was found & deciphered at Wesleyan University archives?

Did you have any difficulty gaining access to such material there or at other archives?

When primary sources are no longer available, as, sadly, many who knew Kay and the other actresses you are writing about, pass away, how do you approach researching their lives?

Thanks very much for any replies.
Avatar: Frank McHugh (1898-1981)]

The Skeins
TCM Movie Morlocks


Return to “Archived Guest Stars”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest