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Fay Wray

Even though she appeared in over 90 films, she is mostly

known for her role in King Kong.

Fay Wray

1923Gasoline Love (short subject)
1924Sweet Daddy (Short)
Just a Good Guy (Short)
1925The Coast Patrol  
Sure-Mike (short) 
What Price Goofy (short)  
Isn’t Life Terrible? (short)  
Thundering Landlords (short) 
Chasing the Chaser (short)  
Madame Sans Jane (short)
No Father to Guide Him (short) 
Unfriendly Enemies (short)  
Your Own Back Yard (short)  
A Lover’s Oath 
Moonlight and Noses (short) 
Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ  
1926WAMPAS Baby Stars of 1926 (short) 
One Wild Time (short)
Don Key (A Son of a Burro) (short)
The Man in the Saddle 
Don’t Shoot (short) 
The Wild Horse Stampede 
The Saddle Tramp (short)
The Show Cowpuncher (short)
Lazy Lightning  
1927Loco Luck  
A One Man Game 
Spurs and Saddles 
A Trip Through the Paramount Studio (short) 
1928The Legion of the Condemned  
Street of Sin  
The First Kiss 
The Wedding March  
1929The Four Feathers  
Pointed Heels  
1930Behind the Make-Up  
Paramount on Parade 
The Texan 
The Border Legion  
The Sea God 
The Honeymoon (unreleased)  
Captain Thunder 
1931The Stolen Jools 
The Conquering Horde 
Three Rogues  
The Finger Points  
The Lawyer’s Secret  
The Unholy Garden  
1932Hollywood on Parade (short subject) 
Doctor X  
The Most Dangerous Game 
1933The Vampire Bat 
Mystery of the Wax Museum 
King Kong  
Below the Sea  
Ann Carver’s Profession  
The Woman I Stole  
Shanghai Madness  
The Big Brain  
One Sunday Afternoon  
The Bowery 
Master of Men  
1934Madame Spy  
The Countess of Monte Cristo  
Once to Every Woman 
Viva Villa!  
Black Moon 
The Affairs of Cellini  
The Richest Girl in the World  
Cheating Cheaters
Woman in the Dark  
Mills of the Gods 
1935The Clairvoyant  
Alias Bulldog Drummond  
Come Out of the Pantry 
White Lies  
1936When Knights Were Bold  
Roaming Lady  
They Met in a Taxi  
1937It Happened in Hollywood  
Murder in Greenwich Village 
1938The Jury’s Secret  
1939Smashing the Spy Ring  
Navy Secrets 
1940Wildcat Bus 
1941Adam Had Four Sons 
Melody for Three 
1942Not a Ladies’ Man  
1953Treasure of the Golden Condor  
Small Town Girl  
1955The Cobweb  
Queen Bee  
Hell on Frisco Bay  
1956Rock, Pretty Baby 
1957Crime of Passion  
Tammy and the Bachelor 
1958Summer Love  
1958Dragstrip Riot  
1997Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasen’s (documentary) 
2003Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There (documentary) 

Fay Wray was never nominated for an Academy Award.

When I’m in New York, I look at the Empire State Building and feel as though it belongs to me, or is it vice-versa? ~ Fay Wray

Vina Fay Wray was born September 15, 1907 on a ranch near Cardston in the province of Alberta, Canada, to Mormon parents, Elvina Marguerite Jones, who was from Salt Lake City, Utah, and Joseph Heber Wray, who was from Kingston upon Hull, England. She was one of six children. Wray was never a Mormon herself.

Her family returned to the United States a few years after she was born; they moved to Salt Lake City in 1912 and moved to Lark, Utah in 1914. In 1919, the Wray family returned to Salt Lake City, and then relocated to Hollywood, where Fay attended Hollywood High School.

Fay Wray in The Coast Patrol (1925)

Fay Wray in The Coast Patrol (1925)

In 1923, Wray appeared in her first film at the age of 16, when she landed a role in a short historical film sponsored by a local newspaper. In the 1920s, Wray landed a major role in the silent film The Coast Patrol (1925), as well as uncredited bit parts at the Hal Roach Studios.

In 1926, the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers selected Wray as one of the “WAMPAS Baby Stars”, a group of women whom they believed to be on the threshold of movie stardom. She was at the time under contract to Universal Studios, mostly co-starring in low-budget Westerns opposite Buck Jones.

Erich von Stroheim and Fay Wray in The Wedding March (1928)

Erich von Stroheim and Fay Wray in The Wedding March (1928)

The following year, Wray was signed to a contract with Paramount Pictures. In 1926, director Erich von Stroheim cast her as the main female lead in his film The Wedding March, released by Paramount two years later. While the film was noted for its high budget and production values, it was a financial failure, but gave Wray her first lead role. Wray stayed with Paramount to make more than a dozen films and made the transition from silent films to “talkies”.

After leaving Paramount, Wray signed to various film companies. Under these deals, Wray was cast in various horror films, including Doctor X. However, her greatest known films were produced under her deal with RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. Her first film under RKO was The Most Dangerous Game (1932), co-starring Joel McCrea and shot at night on the same jungle sets that were being used for King Kong during the day, with Wray and Robert Armstrong starring in both movies.

Fay Wray with Bruce Cabot in King Kong

Fay Wray with Bruce Cabot in King Kong

The Most Dangerous Game was followed by Wray’s most memorable film, King Kong. According to Wray, Jean Harlow had been RKO’s original choice, but because MGM put Harlow under exclusive contract during the pre-production phase of the film, she became unavailable and Wray was approached by director Merian C. Cooper to play the role of Ann Darrow, the blonde captive of King Kong. Wray was paid $10,000 to play the role. The film saved RKO from bankruptcy. Wray’s role would become the one with which she would be most associated.

She continued to star in various films, including The Richest Girl in the World, a second film with Joel McCrea, but by the early 1940s, her appearances became less frequent. She retired from acting in 1942 after her second marriage but due to financial exigencies soon resumed her acting career, and over the next three decades, Wray appeared in several films and also frequently on television. Wray was cast in the 1953-54 ABC situation comedy The Pride of the Family as Catherine Morrison. Paul Hartman played her husband, Albie Morrison. Natalie Wood and Robert Hyatt played their children, Ann and Junior Morrison, respectively. In 1955, Wray appeared with fellow WAMPAS Baby Star, Joan Crawford in Queen Bee.

Reginald Denny, Henry Stephenson, and Fay Wray in The Richest Girl in the World (1934)

Reginald Denny, Henry Stephenson, and Fay Wray in The Richest Girl in the World (1934)

Wray appeared in three episodes of CBS’s courtroom drama Perry Mason: “The Case Of The Prodigal Parent” (1958); “The Case of the Watery Witness” (1959), as murder victim Lorna Thomas; and “The Case of the Fatal Fetish” (1965), as voodoo practitioner Mignon Germaine. In 1959, Wray was cast as Tula Marsh in the episode “The Second Happiest Day” of the CBS anthology series Playhouse 90. Other roles around this time were in the episodes “Dip in the Pool” (1958) and “The Morning After” of CBS’s Alfred Hitchcock Presents. In 1960, she appeared as Clara in an episode of 77 Sunset Strip, “Who Killed Cock Robin?”. Another 1960 role was that of Mrs. Staunton, with Gigi Perreau as her daughter, in the episode “Flight from Terror” of the ABC adventure series The Islanders.

Wray appeared in a 1961 episode of The Real McCoys titled “Theatre in the Barn”. In 1963, she played Mrs. Brubaker in the episode “You’re So Smart, Why Can’t You Be Good?” of the NBC medical drama about psychiatry, The Eleventh Hour. She ended her acting career in the 1980 made-for-television film Gideon’s Trumpet.

In 1988, she published her autobiography, On the Other Hand. In her later years, Wray continued to make public appearances. In 1991, she was crowned Queen of the Beaux Arts Ball presiding with King Herbert Huncke.

She was approached by James Cameron to play the part of Rose Dawson Calvert for his 1997 blockbuster Titanic with Kate Winslet to play her younger self, but she turned down the role, which was then won by Gloria Stuart. She was a special guest at the 70th Academy Awards, where the show’s host, Billy Crystal, introduced her as the “Beauty who charmed the Beast”. She was the only 1920s Hollywood actress in attendance that evening (with fellow 1930s actress Gloria Stuart winning an award, while male contemporaries Bob Hope and Milton Berle, with Sid Caesar were present). On October 3, 1998, she appeared at the Pine Bluff Film Festival, which showed “The Wedding March” (with live orchestral accompaniment).

 Fay Wray at an event for The 70th Annual Academy Awards (1998)  Photo by Steve Granitz/ - Image courtesy

Fay Wray at an event for The 70th Annual Academy Awards (1998) Photo by Steve Granitz/ – Image courtesy

In January 2003, the 95-year-old Wray appeared at the 2003 Palm Beach International Film Festival to celebrate the Rick McKay documentary film Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There, where she was also honored with a “Legend in Film” award. In her later years, she also visited the Empire State Building frequently, once visiting in 1991 as a guest of honor at the building’s 60th anniversary, and also in May 2004, which was among her last public appearances. Her final public appearance was at an after-party at the Sardi’s restaurant in New York City, following the premiere of the documentary film Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There.

Wray married three times – to writers John Monk Saunders and Robert Riskin and the neurosurgeon Sanford Rothenberg (January 28, 1919 – January 4, 1991). She had three children: Susan Saunders, Victoria Riskin, and Robert Riskin, Jr.

She became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1933.

In 2004, Wray was approached by director Peter Jackson to appear in a small cameo for the 2005 remake of King Kong. She met with Naomi Watts, who was to play the role of Ann Darrow. She politely declined the cameo and claimed the original “Kong” to be the true “King”. Before filming of the remake commenced, Wray died in her sleep of natural causes on August 8, 2004, in her Manhattan apartment, a month before her 97th birthday.

Wray is interred at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California.

Two days after her death, the lights of the Empire State Building were lowered for 15 minutes in her memory.


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