Friday, September 14, 2007
Twas Beauty Thrilled the Beast
A fine actress, as articulate as she was ornamental, and one of the greatest screamers the movies have ever known, Fay Wray is the quintessential goddess of the 1930s fantastique. KONG was the sort of film no career could ably follow; she refused to appear in the hastily made sequel SON OF KONG, but went on to appear in Maurice Elvey's fantastical THE CLAIRVOYANT (aka THE EVIL MIND) and Roy William Neill's voodoo piece BLACK MOON in 1934. For the next decade she played scrappy, spirited independent women, often born of privilege but determined to prove themselves on equal turf. After appearing in 1942's NOT A LADIES' MAN, she temporarily retired from the screen to raise her three children, the first from a failed marriage to playwright John Monk Saunders, and to concentrate on a somewhat successful second career as a playwright.
When she returned to the screen in the early 1950s, she made the adjustment to playing married, staid women -- as in the MGM musical SMALL TOWN GIRL (1953) and Gerd Oswald's CRIME OF PASSION (1957). The great parts never returned, but she had already left an indelible mark. Appearing occasionally in guest slots on TV series like PERRY MASON and ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, Wray remained remarkably youthful looking well into her sixties, which she ascribed in part to a sensible diet. Having turned down the TITANIC role that won Gloria Stuart her Oscar, Wray died in August 2004, just as Peter Jackson's colossal remake of KING KONG was entering production. The lights of the Empire State Building were dimmed for 15 minutes in her memory.
You can read more about Fay Wray in Lorraine LoBianco's fine overview at the Turner Classic Movies website here, and make plans to spend some time watching TCM's Fay Wray centenary celebration -- six of her films, including the rarely screened BELOW THE SEA and DIRIGIBLE (a Frank Capra picture!) -- tomorrow night, beginning at 8:00pm eastern.