Fay Wray


Actor
Fay Wray

About

Also Known As
Vina Fay Wray
Birth Place
Alberta, CA
Born
September 15, 1907
Died
August 08, 2004

Biography

Gripped in the giant hand of "King Kong" (1933) in a simulated New York City on the RKO backlot, Fay Wray emitted screams of terror that reverberated throughout a nation stunned by the Great Depression. By the time the Canadian native was cast in the role of Ann Darrow, human inamorata of the eighth Wonder of the World, Wray was already a successful Hollywood actress whose previous leadi...

Photos & Videos

King Kong - American Movie Posters
Queen Bee - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Queen Bee - Publicity Stills

Family & Companions

John Monk Saunders
Husband
Playwright, screenwriter. Married in 1928; divorced in 1938; committed suicide in 1940.
Robert Riskin
Husband
Screenwriter. Married from 1942 until his death in 1955.
Stanford Rothenberg
Husband
Doctor.

Bibliography

"On the Other Hand: A Life Story"
Fay Wray, St. Martin's Press (1989)

Notes

Some sources list her date of birth as September 10.

"At the premiere of 'King Kong' I wasn't too impressed. I thought there was too much screaming. I didn't realize then that King Kong and I were going to be together for the rest of our lives, and longer ..." --Fay Wray

Biography

Gripped in the giant hand of "King Kong" (1933) in a simulated New York City on the RKO backlot, Fay Wray emitted screams of terror that reverberated throughout a nation stunned by the Great Depression. By the time the Canadian native was cast in the role of Ann Darrow, human inamorata of the eighth Wonder of the World, Wray was already a successful Hollywood actress whose previous leading men included William Powell, Gary Cooper and Fredric March. Her reputation with the major studios undermined by her marriage to brilliant but unstable writer John Monk Saunders, Wray divorced, remarried and retired on her own terms in 1942. The death of her second husband, screenwriter Robert Riskin, drove the aging actress back to work in character parts, including a comical turn as an affluent hypochondriac in "Tammy and the Bachelor" (1957). An iconic figure in cult film circles, Wray eventually turned her back on performing to enjoy frequent public appearances as herself. Living well into her nineties, Wray turned down the offer to contribute a cameo appearance to director Peter Jackson's 2005 remake of "King Kong" shortly before her death from natural causes in late 2004. Though she appeared in all manner of movies, from dramas and comedies to horror films and the early Westerns in which she had performed her own stunts, Fay Wray was resigned to the fate of being remembered principally for just one role, as well as for the honor of being cinema's first bona fide scream queen.

Vina Fay Wray was born on Sept. 15, 1907, in Cardston, Alberta, Canada. At the time, she was the youngest of the four children of rancher and saw mill proprietor Joseph Herber Wray and his wife, Elvina Marguerite Jones, a former school teacher. The harsh Canadian winters eventually drove Vina Wray to the brink of a nervous breakdown; while she recovered in a sanitarium, her children were farmed out to local families. Immigrating to the United States after World War I, the Wrays settled in Salt Lake City, UT, where Joseph Wray worked as a night watchman. As a young girl, Wray enjoyed trips to the local movie theater and made her stage debut as Mrs. Claus in a school Christmas pageant. Wray's parents separated shortly after the family relocated again, to Lark, UT, where her father had found work in a copper mine. By this time, the family had grown with the addition of two more children.

When she was 12 years old, Wray took part in a Salt Lake City newspaper subscription drive whose grand prize was a starring role in a moving picture. When her film debut turned out to be no more than a single scene photographed as part of a publicity stunt, Wray accepted a menial job with the same newspaper, stuffing envelopes. When she was 14 years old, Wray was sent with her older sister Willow to the more forgiving climate of Los Angeles, where she lived with a succession of friends and enrolled as a student, first at the Thirtieth Street Junior High School and eventually Hollywood High School. At the age of 15, Wray lodged her foot in the door of the burgeoning film industry with bits in two-reelers before winning a starring role in Bud Barsk's "The Coast Patrol" (1925). Given a six-month contract with Hal Roach Studios, Wray appeared in a number of silent comedies, earning $60 a week, and sometimes carpooling to the studio with future Academy Award winner Janet Gaynor.

Lured away to Universal Studios with the promise of more work and a $15 a week pay increase, Wray appeared in a string of Westerns, often performing her own stunts on horseback. She was the leading lady of cowboy actor Hoot Gibson in "The Man in the Saddle" (1926) and appeared in several films by director William Wyler. Along with Joan Crawford, Mary Astor and Delores Del Rio, Wray was one of the WAMPAS (Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers) Baby Stars of 1926. On loan to Paramount, she was paired with rising star Gary Cooper in William Wellman's "The Legion of the Condemned" (1928). Wray abdicated her spot at Universal to work with auteur Erich von Stroheim on "The Wedding March" (1928). After nine months of filming, the ambitious project was taken away from its creator (its running time split down the middle and released as two separate films) by Paramount, who subsequently claimed Wray's contract.

As a Paramount employee, Wray survived Hollywood's transition to sound films that had finished many a career from the silent epoch. For director Merian C. Cooper, she appeared in "The Four Feathers" (1929), alongside William Powell and Richard Arlen, while reuniting with Gary Cooper for "The Texan" and "The First Kiss" (1928). After the stock market crash of 1929, a cash-strapped Paramount began to loan out its contract players to other studios. For Columbia, Wray played the leading lady to Jack Holt in "Dirigible" (1931), an early film by director Frank Capra, and for the Samuel Goldwyn Company she was paired with Ronald Colman in the Sahara-set "The Unholy Garden" (1931). Married in 1928 to John Monk Saunders, Wray lost the lead role in William Dieterle's "The Last Flight" (1931), based on Saunders' novel Single Lady; she made her Broadway debut in a short-lived musical adaptation of the book in the fall of that year alongside a young British actor named Archie Leach who would find success in Hollywood as Cary Grant.

Back in Hollywood, the diminutive and dimpled actress was put to good use as a prototypical scream queen in a number of early horror thrillers - among them the early Technicolor spookshows "Doctor X" (1932) and "Mystery of the Wax Museum" (1933), both directed by Michael Curtiz, and Frank Strayer's Poverty Row cheapie "The Vampire Bat" (1933). The apotheosis of Wray's tenure as a damsel-in-distress came with her casting in Merian C. Cooper's "King Kong" (1933), directed in tandem with Ernest B. Schoedsack at RKO. The quintessential monster-on-the-loose story benefited greatly from the pioneering stop-motion special effects of Willis O'Brien, allowing a giant ape to run amuck on an uncharted South Seas atoll and later in Depression era New York City and to come to his sad end after climbing - with Fay Wray clutched in one massive hairy mitt - to the top of the Empire State Building, then still under construction. Her blood curdling screams as the obsessed ape took possession of her would become one of cinema's most iconic scenes in the history of the medium.

Though Wray worked on "King Kong" for a total of 10 weeks, production tied her up for 10 full months, from which she collected a paycheck of only $10,000. During the making of the film, Cooper and Schoedsack produced a modestly-priced island thriller, which Schoedsack co-directed with Irving Pichel. Based on the story by Richard Connell, "The Most Dangerous Game" (1932) utilized standing jungle sets from "King Kong" and some of the film's supporting actors. Cast opposite Joel McCrae as a pair of island castaways hunted by a Russian nobleman with a taste for human trophies, Wray did less screaming than in "King Kong" and revealed a markedly grittier and more resourceful side. Though her acting career would continue for several decades, the cultural impact of her career rested squarely with two performances. By 1933, she had also become a naturalized citizen of the United States.

Signing a non-exclusive contract with Columbia, Wray appeared around town in a flurry of features through the next few years. At Paramount, she played an atypical bad girl role in "One Sunday Afternoon" (1933), again opposite Gary Cooper. At Fox, she was paired with Spencer Tracy in John G. Blystone's "Shanghai Madness" (1933), and at Universal she played a young actress who passes herself off as "The Countess of Monte Cristo" (1934). At Columbia, she fled from voodoo practitioners in "Black Moon" (1934) and at RKO she switched places with Miriam Hopkins to play at being "The Richest Girl in the World" (1934). In England, she appeared in "Alias Bulldog Drummond" (1935) with Ralph Richardson and "The Clairvoyant" (1935), starring Claude Rains, but lost out back home on a coveted role in Frank Capra's classic "Lost Horizon" (1937). In 1939, Wray divorced Saunders, whose alcoholism had spiraled towards increasing mental instability. He committed suicide by hanging in Florida in 1940. In 1942, Wray married legendary screenwriter Robert Riskin and effectively retired from show business.

Crippled by a stroke in 1950, Riskin died in 1955. During this time, Wray appeared in a few films in supporting roles before resuming her career as a regular on the ABC situation comedy "The Pride of the Family" (1954-55), which also provided two seasons of work for a 15-year-old Natalie Wood. In Vincente Minnelli's "The Cobweb" (1955), Wray enjoyed the small but pivotal role of the wife of Charles Boyer's disgraced psychiatrist, and she reteamed with her fellow WAMPAS star Joan Crawford for the campy "Queen Bee" (1955). In "Hell on Frisco Bay" (1956), Wray's testimony saved the reputation and neck of star-producer Alan Ladd and in "Tammy and the Bachelor" (1957), she was the stick-in-the-mud mother of leading man Leslie Nielson. Working mainly in television through the end of the decade, Wray capped her career with an appearance in a 1965 episode of the long-running courtroom drama "Perry Mason" (CBS, 1957-1966), though she again came out of retirement for the fact-based telefilm "Gideon's Trumpet" (1980), starring Henry Fonda.

In 1970, Wray married one of the doctors who had attended her late husband, Riskin, and retreated into family life, world travel and occasional public appearances, such as the 70th Academy Awards Presentation. An iconic figure in cult film circles, Wray enjoyed frequent public appearances as herself. In 1989, she published her memoirs, which bore the wry title On the Other Hand. Filmmaker Peter Jackson attempted to lure the nonagenarian out of retirement one last time to contribute a cameo to his proposed big budget remake of "King Kong" (2005), but Wray demurred. Following her death at age 96 from natural causes in Manhattan on Aug. 8, 2004, the lights at the top of the Empire State Building were dimmed in her honor. Wray was buried at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, not far from the former citrus groves in which she had strolled as a young woman and the studios for which she had made for herself a life in pictures.

By Richard Harland Smith

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

Fay Wray: A Life (2008)
Broadway: The Golden Age (2004)
Herself
Universal Horror (1998)
Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasen's (1996)
Herself
Joe's Apartment (1996)
Gideon's Trumpet (1980)
Edna Curtis
Dragstrip Riot (1958)
Mrs. [Norma] Martin
Summer Love (1958)
Beth Daley
Rock, Pretty Baby (1957)
Beth Daley
Tammy and the Bachelor (1957)
Mrs. Brent
Crime of Passion (1957)
Alice Pope
Hell on Frisco Bay (1956)
Kay Stanley
Queen Bee (1955)
Sue McKinnon
The Cobweb (1955)
Edna Devanal
Small Town Girl (1953)
Mrs. Gordon Kimbell
Treasure of the Golden Condor (1953)
Annette, Marquise de St. Malo
Not a Ladies' Man (1942)
Miss [Pat] Hunter
Melody for Three (1941)
Mary Stanley
Adam Had Four Sons (1941)
Molly [Stoddard]
Wildcat Bus (1940)
Ted Dawson
Navy Secrets (1939)
Carol Evans, also known as Matthews
Smashing the Spy Ring (1938)
Eleanor Dunlap
The Jury's Secret (1938)
Linda Ware
It Happened in Hollywood (1937)
Gloria Gay
Murder in Greenwich Village (1937)
["Lucky"] Kay Cabot
They Met in a Taxi (1936)
Mary Trenton
Roaming Lady (1936)
Joyce Reid
The Clairvoyant (1935)
Rene, his wife
Alias Bulldog Drummond (1935)
Ann Manders
White Lies (1934)
Joan [Mitchell]
Once to Every Woman (1934)
Mary Fanshawe
Black Moon (1934)
Gail
Mills of the Gods (1934)
Jean Hastings
Woman in the Dark (1934)
Louise Loring
Cheating Cheaters (1934)
Nan Brockton
Madame Spy (1934)
Maria
The Countess of Monte Cristo (1934)
Janet Krueger
The Richest Girl in the World (1934)
Sylvia [Lockwood]
Viva Villa (1934)
Teresa
The Affairs of Cellini (1934)
Angela
The Woman I Stole (1933)
Vida Corew
Master of Men (1933)
Kay Walling
Below the Sea (1933)
Diana [Templeton]
One Sunday Afternoon (1933)
Virginia Brush
The Vampire Bat (1933)
Ruth Bertin
Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933)
Charlotte Duncan
Shanghai Madness (1933)
Wildeth Christie
Ann Carver's Profession (1933)
Ann [Carver]
The Big Brain (1933)
Cynthia Glennon
The Bowery (1933)
Lucy Calhoun
King Kong (1933)
Ann Darrow
Doctor X (1932)
Joan Xavier
The Most Dangerous Game (1932)
Eve [Trowbridge]
Stowaway (1932)
Mary Foster
The Conquering Horde (1931)
Taisie Lockhart
Not Exactly Gentlemen (1931)
Lee Carleton
The Finger Points (1931)
Marcia Collins
The Unholy Garden (1931)
Camille de Jonghe
Dirigible (1931)
Helen Pierce
The Lawyer's Secret (1931)
Kay Roberts
Paramount on Parade (1930)
Galas de la Paramount (1930)
The Texan (1930)
Conseulo
The Sea God (1930)
Daisy
Captain Thunder (1930)
Ynez Domínguez
The Border Legion (1930)
Joan Randall
Behind the Make-Up (1930)
Marie
Pointed Heels (1929)
Lora Nixon
Thunderbolt (1929)
"Ritzy"
The Four Feathers (1929)
Ethne Eustace
The Wedding March (1928)
Mitzi Schrammell
The Street of Sin (1928)
Elizabeth
Legion of the Condemned (1928)
Christine Charteris
The First Kiss (1928)
Anna Lee
Spurs and Saddles (1927)
Mildred Orth
A One Man Game (1927)
Roberts
Loco Luck (1927)
Molly Vernon
The Wild Horse Stampede (1926)
Jessie Hayden
Lazy Lightning (1926)
Lila Rogers
The Man in the Saddle (1926)
Pauline Stewart
The Coast Patrol (1925)
Beth Slocum
Isn't Life Terrible (1925)
What Price Goofy? (1925)

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

Broadway: The Golden Age (2004)
Other
Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasen's (1996)
Other

Cast (Special)

The 70th Annual Academy Awards (1998)
Performer
It's Always Sunday (1956)
Mary Parker; Charles'S Wife

Cast (Short)

Just a Good Guy (1924)

Life Events

1923

Film acting debut in "Gasoline Love"

1928

Star-making role, "The Wedding March"

1932

Breakthrough sound role, "The Most Dangerous Game"

1933

Most famous role, "King Kong"

1937

Starred opposite Richard Dix in "It Happened in Hollywood"

1942

Retired from motion pictures

1944

Co-wrote film "This is the Life"

1953

Returned to the screen as character actress, "Small Town Girl"

1953

TV series debut, "The Pride of the Family"

1958

Retired from the screen

1980

Returned to acting to play Henry Fonda's landlady, "Gideon's Trumpet" (CBS)

1988

Reflected on RKO in "Hollywood: The Golden Years"

Photo Collections

King Kong - American Movie Posters
Following are several American movie posters from King Kong (1933), both original release and reissue posters. The film was reissued theatrically in the U.S. in 1938, 1946, 1952, and 1956.
Queen Bee - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Queen Bee - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Queen Bee - Publicity Stills
Queen Bee - Publicity Stills
Viva Villa! - Lobby Cards
Here are several Lobby Cards from MGM's Viva Villa! (1934), starring Wallace Beery and Fay Wray. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
The Vampire Bat - Lobby Card
Here is the Title Lobby Card from The Vampire Bat (1933). Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
King Kong - Lobby Cards
Here are a few Lobby Cards from King Kong (1933). Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
King Kong - Merian C. Cooper Publicity Stills
Here are a few publicity stills taken of Merian C. Cooper, the producer and co-director of RKO's King Kong (1933).
The Most Dangerous Game - Movie Poster
Here is the original movie poster art for RKO Pictures' The Most Dangerous Game (1932), starring Joel McCrea, Fay Wray, and Leslie Banks.
King Kong - Publicity Stills
Here are a number of publicity stills of the human cast of RKO's King Kong (1933). Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.

Videos

Movie Clip

Once To Every Woman (1933) - Men Aren't Born Great We’ve just met Fay Wray as take-charge head nurse Mary Fanshawe, and she’s summoned distracted trainee Doris (Mary Carlisle) for a chewing-out, followed by her first visit with Dr. Preston (Walter Byron), discussing a rival, and her projected ambitions, early in Once To Every Woman, 1933.
Once To Every Woman (1933) - I Can Get Away With It All exposition here as we’ve just met junior hot-shot surgeon Jim (Ralph Bellamy) and his mentor and boss Selby (Walter Connolly), and they move quickly to the challenging brain patient on their ward, in RKO’s racy Once To Every Woman, 1933, starring Fay Wray.
Once To Every Woman (1933) - Nothing Professional Conscientious surgeon Jim Barclay (Ralph Bellamy) has just made good his threat to resign, but feels a need to take a crack at ambitious but chilly nurse Mary (Fay Wray), and winds up warning her about her beau Freddie (Walter Byron), himself busy with Mary Carlisle, in Once To Every Woman, 1933.
Viva Villa! (1934) - Fiction Woven Out Of Truth Commanding prologue and screenplay by Ben Hecht, directed by either ultimately-dismissed Howard Hawks or credited Jack Conway, with Phillip Cooper as the young title character and Frank Puglia his dad, from MGM’s hit Viva Villa!, 1934, starring Wallace Beery.
Viva Villa! (1934) - Pancho Villa Sent For Me Some scale as the revolution gathers pace, Wallace Beery (title character) rallies volunteers, visits sympathetic aristocrat Teresa (Fay Wray) and reporter Sykes (Stuart Erwin), then a montage, with writer Ben Hecht more successful than the rear-screen process shots, David Durand the bugle boy, inViva Villa! , 1934.
Vampire Bat, The (1933) - Two Puncture Wounds The doc (Lionel Atwill) studies vampires, with aide (Fay Wray) and her reporter boyfriend (Melvyn Douglas), Aunt Gussie (Maude Eburne) fusses, and the burogmeister (Lionel Belmore) and sidekicks bring news of another murder and missing suspect, in the programmer The Vampire Bat, 1933.
One Sunday Afternoon (1933) - All The Girls Were Kinda Crazy About Me At a turn-of-the-century amusement park, in flashback, bachelors Hugo and Biff (Neil Hamilton, Gary Cooper) have a loose appointment to meet the girls they will later marry, local belle Virginia (Fay Wray) and shy friend Amy (Frances Fuller), in One Sunday Afternoon, 1933.
Crime of Passion (1957) - Satisfactory Answer Crafty Kathy Doyle (Barbara Stanwyck), wife of unambitious detective Bill (Sterling Hayden), discusses her traffic accident at a party hosted by Alice (Fay Wray), the wife of his boss Tony (Raymond Burr), whom she's pursuing on Bill's behalf, in Crime of Passion, 1957.
Thunderbolt (1929) - Don't You Try To Ritzy Me Josef von Sternberg directs with camera movement constrained by early-talkie sound recording, brassy Ritzy (Fay Wray) not buckling under pressure from cop William L. Thorne, asking after her old gangster boyfriend and threatening her new one (Richard Arlen), in Thunderbolt, 1929.
Thunderbolt (1929) - It's Only A Little Raid Backstage at a Harlem night club Ritzy (Fay Wray) has just told her fugitive gangster boyfriend (George Bancroft, title character) she’s going straight and wants out, he’s more concerned that he might have a rival, until the cops show up, in Thunderbolt, 1929, directed by Josef von Sternberg.
Wildcat Bus (1940) - Such A Lovely Beginning Ted (Fay Wray), who’s under-cover as a rider with an un-licensed car service that’s trying to put her family bus-line out of business, has discovered that broke ex-playboy Jerry (Charles Lang) is one of their drivers, making trouble then attracting the cops, in the RKO programmer Wildcat Bus, 1940.
Wildcat Bus (1940) - The Magic Wand Has Waved Fay Wray is “Ted,” whose dad (Oscar O’Shea) is grappling with unexplained troubles for their bus line, and after reassuring him, she deals with broke playboy Jerry (Charles Lang) and his ex-chauffeur Donovan (Paul Guilfoyle), looking for work, not realizing she’s the boss, in Wildcat Bus, 1940.

Trailer

Family

John H Wray
Father
Rancher.
John Wray
Brother
Susan Riskin
Daughter
Actor. Father, John Monk Saunders.
Robert Riskin
Son
Father, Robert Riskin.
Victoria Riskin
Daughter
Father, Robert Riskin.

Companions

John Monk Saunders
Husband
Playwright, screenwriter. Married in 1928; divorced in 1938; committed suicide in 1940.
Robert Riskin
Husband
Screenwriter. Married from 1942 until his death in 1955.
Stanford Rothenberg
Husband
Doctor.

Bibliography

"On the Other Hand: A Life Story"
Fay Wray, St. Martin's Press (1989)

Notes

Some sources list her date of birth as September 10.

"At the premiere of 'King Kong' I wasn't too impressed. I thought there was too much screaming. I didn't realize then that King Kong and I were going to be together for the rest of our lives, and longer ..." --Fay Wray