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Kay Francis

She achieved her greatest success between 1930 and 1936, when she was the number one female star at the Warner Brothers studio and the highest-paid American film actress.

Kay Francis

Filmography

1929      

The Cocoanuts 

Gentlemen of the Press 

Dangerous Curves 

 

1930      

Behind the Make-Up

Street of Chance 

Paramount on Parade 

A Notorious Affair 

For the Defense 

Raffles 

Let’s Go Native 

The Virtuous Sin 

Passion Flower 

 

1931      

Ladies’ Man 

Transgression 

Guilty Hands 

24 Hours 

Girls About Town 

The False Madonna 

 

1932      

Man Wanted 

Jewel Robbery 

One Way Passage 

Trouble in Paradise 

Street of Women 

Cynara 

 

1933      

The Keyhole 

Storm at Daybreak 

Mary Stevens, M.D. 

I Loved a Woman 

The House on 56th Street 

 

1934      

Mandalay 

Wonder Bar 

Dr. Monica 

British Agent 

 

1935      

Living on Velvet 

Stranded 

The Goose and the Gander 

I Found Stella Parish 

 

1936      

The White Angel 

Give Me Your Heart 

 

1937      

Stolen Holiday 

Another Dawn 

Confession 

First Lady 

 

1938      

Women Are Like That 

My Bill 

Secrets of an Actress 

Comet Over Broadway 

 

1939      

King of the Underworld 

Women in the Wind 

In Name Only 

 

1940      

It’s a Date 

When the Daltons Rode 

Little Men 

 

1941      

Play Girl 

The Man Who Lost Himself 

Charley’s Aunt 

The Feminine Touch 

 

1942      

Always in My Heart 

Between Us Girls 

 

1944      

Four Jills in a Jeep 

 

1945      

Divorce 

Allotment Wives 

 

1946      

Wife Wanted 

Awards

Kay Francis was never nominated for an Academy Award

A dog has kindliness in his heart and dignity in his demeanor. The finest qualities anyone can have. ~ Kay Francis

Kay Francis was born Katherine Edwina Gibbs in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on January 13, 1905. Her parents, Joseph Sprague Gibbs and his actress wife Katharine Clinton Francis, had been married in 1903; however, by the time their daughter was four, Joseph had left the family. Francis inherited her unusual height from her father, who stood 6 feet 4 inches, she was to become Hollywood’s tallest leading lady (5 ft 9 in) in the 1930s.

While she never discouraged the assumption that her mother was the pioneering American businesswoman who established the “Katharine Gibbs” chain of vocational schools, Francis was raised in the hardscrabble theatrical circuit of the period. In reality, her mother had been born in Nova Scotia, Canada, and eventually became a moderately successful actress and singer under the stage name Katharine Clinton.

Young Kay was often out on the road with her mother, and attended Catholic schools when it was affordable, becoming a student at the Institute of the Holy Angels at age five. After also attending Miss Fuller’s School for Young Ladies in Ossining, New York (1919) and the Cathedral School (1920), she enrolled at the Katharine Gibbs Secretarial School in New York City. At age 17, Kay became engaged to a well-to-do Pittsfield, Massachusetts man, James Dwight Francis. Their December 1922 marriage at New York’s Saint Thomas Church ended in divorce.

In the spring of 1925, Francis went to Paris to get a divorce. While there, she was courted by a former Harvard athlete and member of the Boston Bar Association, Bill Gaston. Kay and Bill saw each other only on occasion; he was in Boston and Kay had decided to follow her mother’s footsteps and go on the stage in New York. She made her Broadway debut as the Player Queen in a modern-dress version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in November 1925. Francis claimed she got the part by lying a lot, to the right people. One of the “right” people was producer Stuart Walker, who hired Kay to join his Portmanteau Theatre Company, and she soon found herself commuting between Dayton, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati, playing wisecracking secretaries, saucy French floozies, walk-ons, bit parts, and heavies.

By February 1927, Francis returned to Broadway in the play Crime. Sylvia Sidney, although a teenager at the time, had the lead in Crime but would later say that Kay stole the show.

After Kay’s divorce from Gaston, she became engaged to a society playboy, Alan Ryan Jr. She promised Alan’s family that she would not return to the stage – a promise that lasted only a few months before she was back on Broadway as an aviator in a Rachel Crothers play, Venus.

Francis was to appear in only one other Broadway production, a play called Elmer the Great in 1928. Written by Ring Lardner and produced by George M. Cohan, the play starred Walter Huston. He was so impressed by Francis that he encouraged her to take a screen test for the Paramount Pictures film Gentlemen of the Press (1929). Francis made this film and the Marx Brothers film The Cocoanuts (1929) at Paramount’s Astoria Studios in Astoria, Queens, New York

By that time, major film studios, which had formerly been based in New York, were already well-established in California, and many Broadway actors had been enticed to travel west to Hollywood to make sound films, including Ann Harding, Aline MacMahon, Helen Twelvetrees, Barbara Stanwyck, Humphrey Bogart, and Leslie Howard. Francis, signed to a contract with Paramount Pictures, also made the move and created an immediate impression. She frequently costarred with William Powell and appeared in as many as six to eight movies a year, making a total of 21 films between 1929 and 1931.

Francis’s career flourished in spite of a slight but distinctive speech impediment (she pronounced the letters “r” and “l” as “w”) that gave rise to the nickname “Wavishing Kay Fwancis.”

Kay Francis & Miriam Hopkins-The Trouble in Paradise 1932

Francis’ career at Paramount changed gears when Warner Bros. promised her star status at a better salary. She appeared in George Cukor’s Girls About Town (1931) and Twenty-Four Hours (1931). After Francis’ career skyrocketed at Warner Bros., she would return to Paramount for Ernst Lubitsch’s Trouble in Paradise (1932).

In 1932, Warner Bros. persuaded both Francis and Powell to join the ranks of Warner’s stars, along with Ruth Chatterton. In exchange, Francis was given roles that allowed her a more sympathetic screen persona. For example, in The False Madonna (1932), she played a jaded society woman nursing a terminally ill child who learns to appreciate the importance of hearth and home. On December 16, 1931, Francis and her co-stars opened the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, California with a gala preview screening of The False Madonna.

From 1932 through 1936, Francis was the queen of the Warner’s lot and increasingly her films were developed as star vehicles. By the mid-thirties, Francis was one of the highest-paid people in the United States. From the years 1930 to 1937, Francis appeared on the covers of 38 film magazines, the most for any adult performer and second only to Shirley Temple who appeared on 138 covers during that period.

She had married writer-director John Meehan in New York, but soon after her arrival in Hollywood, she began an affair with actor and producer Kenneth MacKenna, whom she married in January 1931. When MacKenna’s Hollywood career foundered, he found himself spending more time in New York, and they divorced i