Hello Jack … Susan Ann Gilbert passed away on December 3, 2004. I began my research on Virginia Bruce shortly thereafter, however did have the cooperation of her son David. He knew nothing about the screen career of his grandmother … knew nothing about John Gilbert. These were his grandparents (!) and he was shocked and amazed by the scrapbooks and material he found after Susan’s demise.
Virginia admittedly wasn’t a fighter when it came to her career. She was scared to death of Louis B. Mayer. No wonder, after the way Mayer and Gilbert had locked horns. MGM never gave Virginia a role in which she would carry the picture. When Hedy Lamarr and Greer Garson came on board, Virginia bowed out. She preferred concentrating on her husband (director/producer J. Walter Ruben) and her daughter. Her screen roles in the 1940’s were taken on when she wanted something to do. Aside from ...Ziegfeld
, I think her best work is in films like Downstairs
, Woman Against Woman
, Society Lawyer
… and, her temperamental actress in Born to Dance
Ann Harding came from repertory theatre. Kay Francis admittedly went on stage due to a premonition she had while crossing the Atlantic in 1925. While her mother’s stage career went nowhere, Kay decided that the stage would give her the self-discipline she needed. Remember, she was part of the flaming youth crowd in New York City. Kay liked being a star and took her work seriously. I don’t believe Kay thought about being so much a “great” actress as she did a “good” one. “I’m not an actress,” she would say, “I’m a personality.” For Ann, theater was about transporting an audience into the lives of the characters on stage. The focus was always on the story, not on her. Kay never mentioned a favorite director, although she dropped everything, including a belated honeymoon, to work with Ernst Lubitsch in Trouble in Paradise
. Her work with director John Cromwell was especially good (i.e., For the Defense
, In Name Only
). I think a strong director is usually an asset for any actress … how else can they grow and stretch as an artist? Have you ever witnessed the out-of-control Bette Davis in In This Our Life
It was reported that Kay and William Powell were “seeing” each other around 1930. Kay’s diary (which is held at Wesleyan University) only mentions a few instances where the two got together for, “dinner, drinks, and long talks.” Kay had actually been having a passionate affair with actor Kenneth MacKenna since July 1929. The two married in 1931.
I find Kay Francis to be naturally intelligent, witty and self-educated. Kay was a thinker. In 1933, The New York Times
listed Kay among the ten “brainiest” women of the screen. Ann Harding was also on this list, along with Miriam Hopkins, Aline MacMahon, Helen Hayes and Katharine Hepburn.
Thanks Jack ... good questions