110 years ago, Kay Francis the Raven-haired Beauty was Born

Kay Francis (January 13 1905 – August 26 1968)

kaygaze2Kay Francis was one of the highest paid stars of her day, and the Queen of the Warner Brothers lot before Bette Davis came around. She was gorgeous and was frequently on the best-dressed lists of the day. At 5’9 she was one of the tallest actresses around, and made for a spectacular clothes horse (seriously, she can never look bad in anything she wears).

Largely forgotten until TCM came around, she is celebrated now as being one of the greats of her day. She was always natural and sincere in her performances, which is why she still translates well in the modern day (as opposed to some of the more stagey actresses of those times).

She donated her personal diaries to Wesleyan University before she had died. They contain some of the most personal musings I’ve seen an actress/actor of the time bear. Perhaps the most quoted one is this, from 1938 (emphasis mine):

“My life? Well, I get up at a quarter to six in the morning if I’m going to wear an evening dress on camera. That sentence sounds a little ga-ga, doesn’t it? But never mind, that’s my life…As long as they pay me my salary, they can give me a broom and I’ll sweep the stage. I don’t give a damn. I want the money…When I die, I want to be cremated so that no sign of my existence is left on this earth. I can’t wait to be forgotten.” —From Kay Francis’s private diaries, ca. 1938

Whereas Bette fought for the good roles, Kay just wanted the money. This may or may not be why she faded away and eventually retired (relatively early) in 1946 from film, I don’t know. I do know that she was extremely talented and whether just for the money or not, I really think she put her heart into it.

My recommended Kay Francis films: One Way Passage (1932), Trouble in Paradise (1932), and Confession (1937).

Thanks for reading and happy watching! 🙂

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79 Years Ago Today, John Gilbert (The ‘Great Lover’) Died

John Gilbert  (July 10, 1897 – January 9, 1936)

The ‘Great Lover’ of the silent screen (he even rivaled silent sex symbol Rudolph Valentino) died 79 years ago today. He was only 38 years old.

John Gilbert is perhaps best known for his collaborations with Greta Garbo, the Swedish MGM star who retired while her career was still in full swing. They first stared together in Flesh and the Devil (1926). Their genuine on-screen chemistry was a studio’s dream–because they could milk it for all it was worth, and they did. They later appeared together in the cleverly named 1927 film “Love“. The cleverness in the name comes from the fact that MGM could bill the film as ‘John Gilbert, Greta Garbo in Love‘ like such:

Love_(1927_film)

In 1927 he set to marry Garbo but she never showed to the ceremony. MGM head Louis B Mayer was not happy (might be an understatement) that Gilbert tried to marry his big up-and-coming star Garbo, and said: “What do you have to marry her for? Why don’t you just screw her and forget about it?”. Gilbert proceeds to start beating up on Mayer. Not one to take being somebody’s punching bag lightly, Mayer reportedly said from the floor: “You’re finished John Gilbert, I’ll destroy you if it cost me a million dollars.” And, that’s what ended up happening. His career dwindled and never recovered. He died of a heart attack, but his health was already in decline from years of alcoholism.

In real life, John Gilbert was a tragic figure. But in film, he was magnetic and intense. It’s easy to see how his image became to be known as the Great Lover. Some of his best talkie films are Downstairs (1932) and Queen Christina (1933). Seeing those, it’s hard to imagine that his career was more or less over but it was. To remember him, I think I’ll try to track down a copy of Eve Golden’s biography on John Gilbert. She did one on Theda Bara that I’m dying to read, and she will for sure be an entry sometime in the future.

Thank you (as always) for reading and happy watching 🙂

No Man of Her Own (1932) had its US premiere 82 years ago today!

No Man of Her Own premiere

  • December 15th 1932 (NYC premiere)
  • December 30th 1932 (rest of US premiere)

No Man of Her Own is a must-see film for one big reason. That being, it stars budding stars Clark Gable and Carole Lombard as the two leads years before they even got together in real life (The film was done in 1932, they started dating in ’36 and married in ’39). They never made any films after this, even after they started dating and got married; which makes this film all the more special. While they were making the picture they were married to different people–Clark Gable to socialite Rhea Langham and Carole Lombard to actor William Powell. While filming they didn’t think much of each other, any feelings they had certainly weren’t romantic. Gable gave Lombard a pair of ballerina slippers with a card attached that said  “To a true primadonna.” Lombard got the last word in however when she sent to Gable a ten-pound ham with a picture of his face on it (ha! what I wouldn’t give to see his reaction to that…).

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