Legendary actress, Kay Francis, was born Katherine Edwina Gibbs on Jan 13, 1905 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Francis died at the age of 63 on Aug 26, 1968 in New York City, NY and was cremated and her ashes scattered in unknown location.
Katharine Edwina Gibbs was born on January 13, 1905 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Her father, Joseph Gibbs, was considered to be an eccentric man who did little with his privilege in life but spend his family's considerable wealth. Her mother, Katharine Clinton Francis, was a stage actress. In late 1905 the Gibbs family moved west to California where they lived in Santa Barbara and then Los Angeles for a short while. When Joseph made the decision to move to Salt Lake City a couple years later, Katharine decided it best for her and her daughter to leave him, stating his irresponsibly as the major reason for their marriage dissolving. Katharine Gibbs then joined the Lindsay Morison Stock Company.
The young Francis spent much of her childhood as somewhat of a modern nomad, traveling with her mother's stock company. When not traveling with the company, Francis was enrolled a number of Catholic schools, beginning with the Institute of the Holy Angels when she was five. She also attended the Ossining School for Girls and eventually the Cathedral School of St. Mary. Despite her mother's wishes for Kay to follow her into show business, Kay signed up stenography. This dream, however, would be very shorts lived and eventually entered the professional world of event planning, working for one of the most elite party planners in New York, Juliana Cutting. Francis then became engaged to the wealthy heir of the Pontoosuc Company fortune, James Dwight Francis. They would marry in 1922 only to divorce two years late.
After her divorce, Francis decided to follow in her mother's footsteps and take a chance at acting. She made her Broadway debut in 1925 as the Player Queen in a modern adaptation of William Shakespeare's Hamlet. She was quickly noticed by producer Stuart Walker, who hired the bourgeoning actress as part of the Portmanteau Theatre Company. Francis then traveled throughout the United State, honing her skills as actress by playing a variety of different roles. She returned to Broadway in 1927 to play a supporting role in the H.H Woods produced Crime.
In 1927 Francis married her third husband in the span of five years, socialite playboy Alan Ryan, jr. Although she promised the family not to return to acting, later that year she appeared on Broadway stage, this time in the comedy Venus. Her divorce from Ryan followed soon after. The next year she would appear in her penultimate Broadway play, Elmer the Great opposite Walter Huston. Huston was so impressed with the young actress's performance that he insisted she do a screen test for Paramount Pictures. It was success and soon Francis made her silver screen debut opposite Walter Huston in Gentlemen of the Press.
Francis would make one more film at Paramount's Astoria Studio, The Marx Brothers film The Cocoanuts, before heading west to Hollywood. There she was groomed to be one of Paramount's next big starlets. Her earliest roles in films such as Dangerous Curves, The Marriage Playground and Behind the Make-Up, consisted of mainly manipulative, ice-cold vamps. Despite this initial typecasting, the young starlet was great at making friends and in 1930 she appeared as the lead in her first film Streets of Chance opposite William Powell. She then starred in the Technicolor extravaganza Paramount on Parade. Her star continued to grow at Paramount with films like Girls About Town and Twenty-Four Hours. In 1932 she would star opposite Miriam Hopkins in the Ernst Lubitsch picture Trouble in Paradise.
That year Francis decided to leave Paramount for the more prosperous Warner Brother's, where she greatly increased her salary. At that time, Warner Brothers severely lacked the star powers of its competitors at MGM and Paramount Studios. They saw a great opportunity in their acquisition of Francis. The studio quickly groomed the actress to become something of their flagship star, making her Warner Brothers debut in Man Wanted, a light hearted comedy that perfectly suited Francis's screen persona. Her next film, Street of Women, helped usher in Francis as one of the great fashionistas of the 1930s playing Nat Upton, the owner of dress salon. Her chic manner of dress then became her big screen trademark.
Francis star continued to rise, impressing both critics and audiences alike with films such as Jewel Robbery and One Way Passage both opposite William Powell. Audiences couldn't get enough of the fashionable young star, eating up any and everything that was printed about her personal and studio life. Between 1930 and 1937 she appeared on the cover of over 35 magazines, second only to America's sweetheart, Shirley Temple.
By the mid-1930s Francis was one of the highest paid members of the Hollywood community, with a contract stated she be paid $5,250 per week. At this point in her career, Francis wielded enough power to insist she get top billing, even over her male co-stars. In 1935 she stared in the lavish melodrama I Found Stella Parish at the titular character, Stella Parish. In the film she plays a stage actress running to escape a scandalous past. She then went on to star in the biographical film, The White Angel, chronicling the life of Florence Nightingale. The film was a commercial success and though critic reviews were fairly harsh, most agreed that Francis shined in her role as the famed nurse.
Feud with Warner Brothers
Although her innate sense of fashion allowed her to ascend to the tops of the Hollywood hierarchy, Francis reputation 'Hollywood's Best Dressed' would soon become a point of contention. She was constantly cast in films that put much of their emphasis on lavish wardrobe design that and lacked in refinement in script or story. This fact, combined with her salaries demands (she was making more than her boss, producer Hal B. Wallis at this time), caused problems between Francis and the studio. The student began offering Francis less challenging roles in subpar 'woman's pictures,' such as Woman Are Like That, Women in the Wind and It's a Date. By end of the decade Warner Brothers had crowned Bette Davis as their new 'Queen of the Lot,' and in 1939 terminated Francis's contract.
For the next few years, Francis found her career in a tale spin. In 1938 she included in the now famous Hollywood Reporter ad as 'box office poison,' and after leaving Warner Brothers was unable find another studio contract. By the start of the new decade, she moved from leading parts to supporting and character roles in films like The Feminine Touch, Between Us Girls, and Four Jills in a Jeep. Despite her failing career, Francis still did her patriotic duties and volunteered for numerous USO tours.
After World War II was unable to find any meaningful work in films. She starred in a few films produced by minor studios but found more success returning to Broadway to take over the lead role in the comedy State of the Union in 1947. She gave a hand at the burgeoning medium of television, making her small screen debut in The Prudential Family Playhouse. The next year she would make her final screen appearance guest starring on the TV series Lux Video Theatre. She then quietly retired from show business.
Kay Francis died of breast cancer on August 26th, 1968 in New York City. She was 63 years old.(Source: article by Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub).
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The Style Essentials - Battles in Bias Cut in 1932's TROUBLE IN PARADISEon Jul 22, 2019 From GlamAmor
Last Saturday was the second in my STYLE OF SIN series at the American Cinematheque, and it was focused on the Queen of Pre-Code herself - . I spoke all about the Production Code, Kay's life and career, and then the backstories of our double feature Girls About Town (1931) and Jewel Robbe... Read full article
You're Invited! Presenting THE STYLE OF SIN: at Egyptian Theatre 7/20on Jul 17, 2019 From GlamAmor
This Saturday is the next event in my 6-part Pre-Code speaker/screening series at the American Cinematheque! THE STYLE OF SIN: PRE-CODE FILM WITH KIMBERLY TRUHLER Egyptian Theatre Hollywood, CA Talk starts at 1:00 pm followed by screenings of Girls About Town (1931) and Jew... Read full article
On DVD: in Comet Over Broadway (1938)By KC on May 11, 2018 From Classic Movies
No actress gave the classic melodramatic weeper more depth than . In a genre crafted to manipulate emotions, she threw herself into the drama with such abandon that you can’t help forgiving her for working your tear ducts so relentlessly. Now on DVD from Warner Archive, Comet Over B... Read full article
Warner Archive: Deanna Durbin and in It's a Date (1940)By KC on Aug 4, 2016 From Classic Movies
As a and Deanna Durbin completist, I was delighted to see the pair starring in the recent Warner Archive release of It's a Date (1940), which is making its DVD debut. The first of four films Durbin would make with director William Seiter at Universal Studios, it's a breezy, charming litt... Read full article
Warner Archive: The Lighter Side of in The Feminine Touch (1941)By KC on Sep 11, 2015 From Classic Movies
After all melodrama I sniffled through in the pair of Francis flicks I reviewed earlier in the week, I needed something lighter, and I got it with The Feminine Touch. Francis takes a supporting role in this comedy about jealousy in romantic relationships now available on DVD from Warner Archive. Do... Read full article
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Nellie Woods: [to Elliott] If you're lying, I'll kill you and go to the chair with a song on my lips.
Sheila Seymour: [last words as she dies after having been shot] Nice shooting.
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