Fay Wray Sample

One of the best remembered actresses of the era because of her starring role in the 1933 film King Kong. Having said that what else do we know about her and her career. The aim is to provide the backgrounds that very often get forgotten, but all add to the overall appreciation of this era of film making.

 

Fay Wray

Born :    September 15, 1907 –  Cardston, Alberta, Canada

 

Died :    August 8, 2004  Manhattan, New York City,

                                    

 

Biography

 

Born Vina Fay Wray near Cardston, Alberta, Canada, on September 15, 1907, Fay was from a large family that included five siblings. She moved to Arizona when she was still small  as her  father was looking for better  work than he was able to get  in Alberta.  They moved  to California, but then her parents divorced. This inflicted tough times on the  rest of the family, but being in entertainment rich Los Angeles, there was ample opportunity to take advantage of the chances that might come her way in the entertainment industry. Whilst barely in her teens she started working as an extra and began her career as a heroine in westerns at Universal during the silent era. At the age of 16, Fay played her first role in a motion picture, albeit a small one. The film was Gasoline Love (1923).  The film was not a hit, nor was it a launching vehicle for her career. It would be two more years before she ever got another chance. When it did come, it was another lacklustre film called The Coast Patrol (1925). The only thing it did for Fay was give her a slightly more prominent role than the film two years earlier. Four more films followed in 1926, and eventually  her career finally started to move ahead.

In 1926 the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers selected 13 young starlets it deemed most likely to succeed in pictures. Fay was chosen as one of these starlets, along with Janet Gaynor and Mary Astor.  After three films in 1927, the following year established Fay as an actress to be reckoned with. She played the lead, Mitzi Schrammell, in the hit Erich von Stroheim film The Wedding March (1928). This was to be the start of her rise to fame. She had made the successful transition into the “talkie” era when most performers’ services were no longer needed because of the sound of their voices on film. She worked regularly after this, notable films from our perspective being in 1932 with Doctor X and The Most Dangerous Game. The latter was to see her becoming the hunted is a love struggle.  In 1933, Fay appeared in a further eleven films, including Enemies of Society (1933), The Vampire Bat (1933), and Ann Carver’s Profession (1933).

In 1933 it was all about to change for our starlet. Fay was approached by producer Merian C. Cooper, who told her that he had a part for her in a picture in which she would be working with a tall, dark leading man. What he didn’t tell her was that her “tall, dark leading man” was a giant gorilla, and the picture turned out to be the classic King Kong (1933). Perhaps no one in the history of pictures could scream more dramatically than Fay, and she really put on a show in “Kong”. Her character provided a combination of sex appeal, vulnerability and lung capacity as she was stalked by the giant beast all the way to the top of the Empire State Building. The film was an icon, but it did not really showcase any depth of versatility in her acting abilities. In the end the film became more famous than its actress.

After Kong, Fay came by more and better roles, but she is best remembered for that one performance. The movie wound up being named one of the 100 greatest films of all time by the American Film Institute. She continued her pace in films, making eleven films again in 1934, including, Viva Villa! (1934), and Bulldog Jack (1935), but her career was now beginning to decline. Compare this with the likes of Karloff, Lugosi and Lorre. They were always far bigger than the film and reached out way beyond the plot and the script. Unfortunately this was as far as  Fay would rise.

Movie roles were becoming fewer and fewer with new stars on the horizon. Her 11-year marriage to John Monk Saunders also ended in a painful divorce in 1939 and her career was all but over. In 1942 she married Robert Riskin and retired from the screen.

All over? No. You cannot keep a good actress down, so in 1953 she made a comeback, playing mature character roles and also appeared on television as Catherine, Natalie Wood’s mother, in The Pride of the Family (1953). She continued to appear in films until 1958 and television into the 1960s.

The films she appeared in during the latter ’50s were not the greatest screen epics ever made but then by this time there appeared to be very little interest and she was  approaching her 50’s. Her last performance before the camera was a made-for-television movie called Gideon’s Trumpet (1980).

Fay Wray died of natural causes on August 8, 2004. She was an excellent actress , but was never given the  chance to live up to her potential, especially after being cast in a number of horror films in the ’30s which were great films and should have showcased her talents.  Did Kong kill her career. Given the right role? Who knows. Fay could have been right up there with the screen goddesses of her day.  We do have, however some great films to remember her by. 

Filmography

Gasoline Love (1923 short subject)

Thundering Landlords (1925 short)

No Father to Guide Him (1925 short)

The Coast Patrol (1925)

Sure-Mike (1925 short)

What Price Goofy (1925 short)

Isn’t Life Terrible? (1925 short)

Chasing the Chaser (1925 short)

Madame Sans Jane (1925 short)

Unfriendly Enemies (1925 short)

Your Own Back Yard (1925 short)

Moonlight and Noses (1925 short)

Should Sailors Marry? (1925 short)

WAMPAS Baby Stars of 1926 (1926 short)

One Wild Time (1926 short)

Don Key (A Son of a Burro) (1926 short)

The Man in the Saddle (1926)

Don’t Shoot (1926 short)

The Wild Horse Stampede (1926)

The Saddle Tramp (1926 short)

The Show Cowpuncher (1926 short)

Lazy Lightning (1926)

Loco Luck (1927)

A One Man Game (1927)

Spurs and Saddles (1927)

A Trip Through the Paramount Studio (1927 short)

The Honeymoon (1928) (unreleased)

The Legion of the Condemned (1928)

Street of Sin (1928)

The First Kiss (1928)

The Wedding March (1928)

Thunderbolt (1929)

The Four Feathers (1929)

Pointed Heels (1929)

Behind the Make-Up (1930)

Paramount on Parade (1930)

The Texan (1930)

The Border Legion (1930)

The Sea God (1930)

Captain Thunder (1930)

Stub Man (1931)

The Conquering Horde (1931)

Three Rogues (1931)

The Slippery Pearls (1931 short)

Dirigible (1931)

The Finger Points (1931)

The Lawyer’s Secret (1931)

The Unholy Garden (1931)

Hollywood on Parade (1932)

Stowaway (1932)

Doctor X (1932)

The Most Dangerous Game (1932)

The Vampire Bat (1933)

Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933)

King Kong (1933)

Below the Sea (1933)

Ann Carver’s Profession (1933)

The Woman I Stole (1933)

Shanghai Madness (1933)

The Big Brain (1933)

One Sunday Afternoon (1933)

The Bowery (1933)

Master of Men (1933)

The Clairvoyant (1934)

Madame Spy (1934)

The Countess of Monte Cristo (1934)

Once to Every Woman (1934)

Viva Villa! (1934)

The Affairs of Cellini (1934)

Black Moon (1934)

The Richest Girl in the World (1934)

Cheating Cheaters (1934)

Woman in the Dark (1934)

Come Out of the Pantry (1935)

Mills of the Gods (1935)

Bulldog Jack (1935)

White Lies (1935)

When Knights Were Bold (1936)

Roaming Lady (1936)

They Met in a Taxi (1936)

It Happened in Hollywood (1937)

Murder in Greenwich Village (1937)

The Jury’s Secret (1938)

Smashing the Spy Ring (1939)

Navy Secrets (1939)

Wildcat Bus (1940)

Melody for Three (1941)

Adam Had Four Sons (1941)

Not a Ladies’ Man (1942)

This Is the Life (1944) co-author of play with Sinclair Lewis

Treasure of the Golden Condor (1953)

Small Town Girl (1953)

Hell on Frisco Bay (1955)

The Cobweb (1955)

Queen Bee (1955)

Rock, Pretty Baby (1956)

Crime of Passion (1957)

Tammy and the Bachelor (1957)

Summer Love (1958)

Dragstrip Riot (1958)

Gideon’s Trumpet (1980)

Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasen’s (1997 documentary)

Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There (2003 documentary)