Kay Kendall


Actor
Kay Kendall

About

Also Known As
Kay Justine Kendall Mccarthy
Birth Place
Yorkshire, England, GB
Born
May 21, 1926
Died
September 06, 1959
Cause of Death
Leukemia

Biography

Effervescent British leading lady of the 1950s who epitomized screwball elegance in a handful of films, most unworthy of her talents. Kendall was born into a theatrical environment, her grandmother Marie had been a music hall great and other members of her family were also performers. She and her sister Kim formed an act during WWII, and Kendall began appearing in film and television pro...

Family & Companions

Rex Harrison
Husband
Actor. Met while filming "The Constant Husband" (1954); married June 23, 1957 until her death.

Notes

"I look like a female impersonator with these long skinny legs of mine. I'm 5'9", I eat like a horse, and I couldn't become a ballet dancer because I got too big. When I rose up on my toes I was 10'6" and my feet collapsed. Imagine how I'd look, prancing about in a fluffy tutu."--Kay Kendall, quoted in newspaper interview, 1957

On Rex Harrison: "She knew how to handle him; she could really cut him down to size. She would say, 'come along, you stuffy bugger,' or something like that--which he was."--sister Kim Kendall, quoted in undated newspaper article

Biography

Effervescent British leading lady of the 1950s who epitomized screwball elegance in a handful of films, most unworthy of her talents. Kendall was born into a theatrical environment, her grandmother Marie had been a music hall great and other members of her family were also performers. She and her sister Kim formed an act during WWII, and Kendall began appearing in film and television productions in the late 1940s. After one disaster ("London Town," 1946), she worked her way up in supporting parts, including "Lady Godiva Rides Again" (1951), "It Started in Paradise" (1952), and her first big break, "Genevieve" (1953), in which her character tussled with a huge dog named Suzy and displayed unexpected talent as a trumpeter.

Few of her British-made films were memorable, but Kendall shone in all of them: "Doctor in the House" and "The Constant Husband" (both 1954), "Abdullah the Great" (1955) and "The Adventures of Quentin Durward" and "Simon and Laura" (both 1956). She was whisked off to MGM to add her sparkle to the Gene Kelly musical "Les Girls" (1957).

By this time, Kendall was diagnosed with myloid leukemia and given two years to live. Her fiance Rex Harrison never told her the prognosis, obtained a divorce from wife Lili Palmer and married Kendall in 1957. She cut back on her film work to accompany Harrison on his "My Fair Lady" and "Bell, Book and Candle" tours, appearing in only two more films, the arch society comedy "The Reluctant Debutante" (1958) and "Once More with Feeling" (1960). Harrison also directed her in a play, "The Bright One," in 1958. Kendall died at the London Clinic in 1959, while making plans to shoot a television show. She was 32 years old.

Life Events

1939

Moved to Scotland with sister when war broke out

1944

Film debut as extra, "Caesar and Cleopatra"

1946

First starring role, "London Town"

1953

Breakthrough role, "Genevieve"

1957

First Hollywood film, "Les Girls"

1957

Diagnosed with myloid leukemia

1958

Final stage show, "The Bright One"

1960

Final film, "Once More, With Feeling" (released posthumously)

Photo Collections

Les Girls - Publicity Stills
Here are several stills used to publicize Les Girls (1957), starring Gene Kelly, Mitzi Gaynor, Kay Kendall, and Taina Elg. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.

Videos

Movie Clip

Les Girls (1957) - I've Seen You Dance Auditioning in Paris, Joanne (Mitzi Gaynor) and Sybil (Kay Kendall) are snarky and sweet as their boss Barry (Gene Kelly) hires French Angele (Tania Elg) for their act, in the first flashback, in George Cukor's loose adaptation of Vera Caspary's Idiot's Delight, Les Girls, 1957.
Reluctant Debutante, The (1958) - You're A Gigolo Bored at the first London ball of the season, Lord Jimmy (Rex Harrison) meets unattached David (John Saxon), whom he introduces to his daughter Jane (Sandra Dee), as she chats with his wife Sheila (Kay Kendall, the real Mrs. Harrison), in Vincente Minnelli's The Reluctant Debutante, 1958.
Reluctant Debutante, The (1958) - Married To A Banker Lord Broadbent (Rex Harrison) and second wife Sheila (Kay Kendall, Harrison's wife) have just picked up his daughter Jane (Sandra Dee) at the airport when relative Mabel (Angela Lansbury) and daughter Clarissa (Diane Clare) pounce, in The Reluctant Debutante, 1958.
Reluctant Debutante, The (1958) - The Season Director Vincente Minnelli's opening, London banker Lord Broadbent (Rex Harrison) anticipating his teenage daughter (pictured Sandra Dee) and receiving his second wife Sheila (Harrison's wife, Kay Kendall), in The Reluctant Debutante, 1958.
Les Girls (1957) - You're Just Too Too Her vocals dubbed by Betty Wand, Kay Kendall as British Sybil, in her widely praised performance opposite Gene Kelly, as a showgirl getting involved with her American song-and-dance man boss, with a Cole Porter original tune, in George Cukor's Les Girls, 1957.
Quentin Durward - Be Kind Enough To Die Barber (Wilfrid Hyde-White) shaving French King Louis (Robert Morley), who calls on newly-hired Scottish knight Robert Taylor (title character) to guard Countess Isabelle (Kay Kendall) from unwelcome visitors, in Quentin Durward, 1955, from the Sir Walter Scott novel.
Quentin Durward - I Will Not Be Sold First scene for Kay Kendall as French countess "Isabelle," resisting the Duke (Alec Clunes) arranging her marriage, Scottish Lord Malcolm (Moulrtie Kelsall) consulting with emissary Robert Taylor (title character), in MGM's Quentin Durward, 1955.
Doctor in the House (1955) - Opening, St. Swithin's New student Sparrow (Dirk Bogarde) arrives at the medical college in the opening sequence from the hit British comedy Doctor in the House, 1953, produced by Betty E. Box.
Doctor in the House (1955) - New Medical Student Student Sparrow (Dirk Bogarde) encounters first Kay Kendall (as "Isobel") then Muriel Pavlow (as "Joy") en route to his first class in Doctor in the House 1955.

Trailer

Family

Marie Kendall
Grandmother
Actor.
Terry McCarthy
Father
Actor.
Pat Kendall
Aunt
Actor.
Kim McCarthy
Sister
Actor. Older.
Terry McCarthy Jr
Brother

Companions

Rex Harrison
Husband
Actor. Met while filming "The Constant Husband" (1954); married June 23, 1957 until her death.

Bibliography

Notes

"I look like a female impersonator with these long skinny legs of mine. I'm 5'9", I eat like a horse, and I couldn't become a ballet dancer because I got too big. When I rose up on my toes I was 10'6" and my feet collapsed. Imagine how I'd look, prancing about in a fluffy tutu."--Kay Kendall, quoted in newspaper interview, 1957

On Rex Harrison: "She knew how to handle him; she could really cut him down to size. She would say, 'come along, you stuffy bugger,' or something like that--which he was."--sister Kim Kendall, quoted in undated newspaper article

"Well, in the movies, let's face it, you're making faces at a camera. You feel foolish. People say I'm glamorous but really, I'm not. Why do you suppose producers make me get under those huge hats--to show my face? Don't believe it!"--Kay Kendall, quoted in undated CUE MAGAZINE.