For Madame la Countess
From the time Kay arrived in Hollywood in 1929, she repeatedly told interviewers that she was focused on saving money. “The only thing I take seriously,” said Kay in one such interview, "is my work and the only reason I take that seriously is because I want to make a lot of money. And as soon as I’ve got that money I’m getting out of here.” This was in 1935 – long before she battled Harry and Jack Warner. Kay also mentioned how important it was to her to be of some service to those in need. By that, she didn’t mean just giving away money (she could be very
generous when it came to offering financial help to someone who was struggling), what she really meant was the giving of her own time. The relief of suffering. Oddly enough, it was her battle with Warners that enabled her to let go and do the very thing that she claimed was so important. As early as 1936, Kay became involved with the Red Cross, and when war was declared in Europe she began her work for Bundles for Britain, and doing tours for the USO (along with many other stars). Kay and Myrna Loy shared the night shift at the Hollywood Canteen during 1942. Kay's most famous trek took place in 1942-43. When General Eisenhower asked her if she would entertain nearer the front, in battle zones. She was emphatic, “We want to get to the boys who are doing the dirty work. Please let us go.” GI’s seeing Kay, Carole Landis, Mitzi Mayfair and Martha Raye showing up in the desert (!) it made a huge difference in their morale. Next to The Four Jills Tour, her Arctic Tour (also known as “The Kay Francis Tour”) with Marsha Hunt and Reginald Gardiner (early 1944) was the most publicized.
Kay's most important involvement during WWII was with the Naval Aid Auxiliary Hospital in Corona. She spent hundreds of hours with the wounded and dying. If she sensed that a man was nearing death, she would sit hours with him until he "crossed over." She was also chief coordinator for the entertainers who came to Corona … they were dumbfounded by the devotion Kay put into her work.
In return for all her “service” and “relief of suffering,” the GI’s gave Kay the fortitude and confidence to return to the stage. She claimed they were the best audience anyone could ever ask for. Her stage comeback was the very catalyst which helped her leave Hollywood for good. She made an admirable transition into the next phase of her life. She was spared the indignity of making Trogs
, and Bunny O’Hares
Phil Silvers. He always gave the impression that everything was all about him. Perhaps he had heard that Kay had quite a few lovers around that time (Otto Preminger, Mamoulian, aviator Don King, producer Bert Friedlob), made moves, and she snubbed him. I’m only guessing.
Baron Erik Barnekow (a very handsome, intelligent man – I can see why Kay was smitten) attempted to get an aviation business going (Kay gave him money to jump-start the venture), but it never really took off. Then his flying buddy from WWI, Ernst Udet, encouraged Barnekow to return to Germany in 1939 and try out the new planes. After the Russians attacked Pomerania, Erik was committed to the German army. Udet and Barnekow had no idea about the concentration camps, and when they learned the truth, both men committed suicide. My main source for this information was Erik’s son, also named Erik, who today does human growth/potential workshops in Europe.
Kay put more energy in philosophy than she did politics, although she did get a bit ruffled when one reference book stated she was a Republican. According to her friend Jetti, Kay was a registered Democrat. “Kay was a liberal,” Jetti told me.
I have no record of Kay’s participation in The Screen Actors Guild, but Ann Harding was very involved and served as third vice president of the organization in 1933.
Well, our cyber-cruise is nearing San Francisco – "Keep those Golden Gates ajar!" Betty, I can almost hear the cluck, cluck, cluck from your chicken ranch in Petaluma.
(“I gave you a five dollar bill