Kay Katharine Edwina Gibbs Francis (1905 - 1968)

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Nicknames: "Kay"
Birthplace: Oklahoma City, OK, USA
Death: Died in New York, NY, USA
Occupation: American stage and film actress
Managed by: ניב כץ Niv Katz
Last Updated:
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About Kay Katharine Edwina Gibbs Francis

The highest paid actress from 1937-1938, Kay Francis reigned as the original Queen of Warner Brothers Studios. Getting her start in Hollywood’s early talking years, Francis started at Paramount, and went to Warner’s sometime around 1934.

She was born Katharine Edwina Gibbs in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in 1905. Her parents, Joseph Sprague Gibbs and his actress wife Katharine Clinton Francis, were married on December 3, 1903 in New York City at the Church of the Transfiguration, and they moved to Oklahoma City the following year. But, by the time Katharine was four, her father had left. Joseph Gibbs, who stood 6’4”, gave his daughter the gift of height—she was one of Hollywood's tallest leading ladies (5 ft 9 in) in the 1930s.

While she never discouraged rumors that her mother, Katharine ("Kay") Gibbs, was a pioneering businesswoman who established the "Katharine Gibbs" chain of vocational schools, Francis was actually raised in the hardscrabble theatrical circuit of the period. Her mother was actually a moderately successful actress and singer, who used the stage name "Katharine Clinton." In Nova Scotia where she was born to Capt. George Francis and Jennette Francis, née Burgess, she was known as Katie Francis. She performed at least one concert at Windsor, Hants County, Nova Scotia and was possibly part of a tour of her home province. Katie moved to the United States in 1897 with her parents. Katie Francis married Joseph Gibbs and became an American citizen. Her father Capt. George Francis returned to Nova Scotia before 1911 and died in the Freemasons Home in Windsor, NS in 1922. In later years, confusion over her origins and upbringing, in tandem with her raven hair and relatively dark complexion, led to the emergence of rumors that some of Katie Francis's ancestors were African American. Her mother's maiden name (Francis) led some to believe she was of Jewish descent, which is possible, but what is undeniable, is that Katherine Clinton, aka Katie Francis was of pure Irish descent.

Young Kay was out on the road with her mother, and attended Catholic schools when it was affordable, such as when she was a student at the Institute of the Holy Angels at age five. After 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 St. Thomas Church was not to last.

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 only saw each other 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 wise-cracking 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, however, her promise only lasted a few months and she was back on Broadway as an aviatrix in a Rachel Crothers play, Venus.

Francis was only to appear in one other Broadway production, a play called Elmer the Great in 1928.Written by Ring Lardner and produced by George M. Cohan, Walter Huston was the star. 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 New York.

By that time, film studios had started their exodus from New York to California, and many Broadway actors had been enticed to travel west to Hollywood to make films, including Ann Harding, Aline MacMahon, Helen Twelvetrees, Barbara Stanwyck, Humphrey Bogart and Leslie Howard. Francis, signed to a Paramount contract, 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.

A combination of striking dark beauty, stature, and a deep, supple voice ideally suited to early sound-reproduction technology made Francis one of the top film stars of the early 1930s. So striking were her looks and screen presence that Francis was widely publicized as the epitome of the "American glamour girl" throughout the 1930s. Her success came in spite of a minor, but distinct speech impediment (she pronounced the letters "r" and "l" as "w") that gave rise to the nickname "Wavishing Kay Fwancis."

Francis' career at Paramount changed gears when Warner Brothers promised her star status at a better salary. Nonetheless she did some fine portrayals in such films as George Cukor’s rollicking Girls About Town (1931) and the dark melodrama Twenty-Four Hours (1931). After Kay’s career skyrocketed at Warners, she would return to Paramount for Ernst Lubitsch's Trouble in Paradise (1932).

In 1932, Warner Brothers persuaded both Francis and Powell to join the ranks of Warners stars, along with Ruth Chatterton. In exchange, Francis was given roles that allowed her a more sympathetic screen persona than had hitherto been the case - in her first three featured roles she had played a villainess. 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.

Despite often being placed on Hollywood’s best dressed list, Francis was more than a clothes horse. To call her one of the great actresses is definitely overrating her, but she’s excellent in Mandalay and Dr. Monica (both 1934), and Confession (1937). After taking Warner Brothers to court after refusing their promise to give her the lead in Tovarich, the studio decided to sabotage her career. With her box office virtually diminished in less than a year, Francis freelanced thereafter, and retired from films in 1946 and moved to the stage. Other stars like Norma, Joan Crawford, or Bette Davis, would have been bitter the rest of their lives, but Kay Francis was the opposite. Having more than enough money, there was no need for her to work, and when she died, she left her million dollar estate to a The Seeing Eye of Morristown, NJ. (The money was for the training of dogs for the blind.) In 2006, two Kay Francis biographies were released.

To call her one of the great actresses is definitely overrating her, but from 1932 through 1936, Francis was the queen of the Warners 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.

She was excellent in Mandalay and Dr. Monica (both 1934), and Confession (1937). After taking Warner Brothers to court after refusing their promise to give her the lead in Tovarich, the studio decided to sabotage her career. With her box office virtually diminished in less than a year, Francis freelanced thereafter, and retired from films in 1946 and moved to the stage.

Francis married five times and had numerous well-publicized affairs. Francis had married writer-director John Meehan in New York, but soon after her arrival in Hollywood, she consummated 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 in 1934. Her diaries, preserved in an academic collection at Wesleyan University, paint a picture of a woman whose personal life was often in disarray and, at least in published excerpts, emphasize a strong attraction to men, actors Lee Tracy and Bob Stevens among them. Kay Francis - I Can't Wait to be Forgotten does mention that Francis confessed to her fourth husband (actor Kenneth MacKenna) of having slept with three women. She was 26 at the time.

In 1966 Francis was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy, but the cancer had spread and proved fatal. She died in the summer of 1968 and her body was immediately cremated after death; her ashes were scattered. Having no living immediate family members, Francis left her million dollar estate to a The Seeing Eye of Morristown, NJ. (The money was for the training of dogs for the blind.)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kay_Francis

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0290215/