Kay Francis


Actor
Kay Francis

About

Also Known As
Katherine Edwina Gibbs
Birth Place
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA
Born
January 13, 1899
Died
August 26, 1968
Cause of Death
Cancer

Biography

One of the most glamorous stars of the 1930s, Kay Francis spent much of her screen time dressed to the nines in a series of the latest fashions. An imposing 5'9" tall, she received her start on stage and then graduated into the movie industry as a contract player at first, Paramount Pictures, and then Warner Brothers. Despite a mild speech impediment, she swiftly became one of Hollywood'...

Photos & Videos

The Feminine Touch - Publicity Stills
The House on 56th Street - Movie Poster
Trouble in Paradise - Movie Poster

Family & Companions

James Dwight Francis
Husband
First husband; divorced.
William Gaston
Husband
Second husband; divorced.
John Meehan
Husband
Third husband; divorced.
Kenneth MacKenna
Husband
Actor. Married in 1931; divorced in 1933; fourth husband.

Biography

One of the most glamorous stars of the 1930s, Kay Francis spent much of her screen time dressed to the nines in a series of the latest fashions. An imposing 5'9" tall, she received her start on stage and then graduated into the movie industry as a contract player at first, Paramount Pictures, and then Warner Brothers. Despite a mild speech impediment, she swiftly became one of Hollywood's premiere leading ladies, thanks to successes like "One Way Passage" (1932), "Trouble in Paradise" (1932), "Mandalay" (1934), and "I Found Stella Parish" (1935), and was the country's highest-paid actress in 1936. No one's idea of a wallflower, Francis relished the wild life, going through several husbands and numerous lovers, which resulted in a number of unwanted pregnancies. At the height of her fame, a falling out with Warner resulted in fewer prestige assignments for Francis and her popularity diminished. Once free from their dictates, she worked for various studios and devoted much of her free time to USO tours and entertaining American troops overseas. However, by the mid-1940s, film employment had dried up and fans would only be able to catch her in a handful of stage and television productions during the years that followed. A larger-than-life personality both on and off-screen, Francis was mostly forgotten in later years, but both the actress' life and acting career were too rich and intriguing for her to languish in such undeserved obscurity.

A native of Oklahoma City, OK, Kay Francis was born Katherine Edwina Gibbs on Jan. 13, 1905. Her father departed when she was still young, leaving Francis to be raised by her actress-singer mother. That early exposure may have intrigued her about the possibilities of such a life, but it would be some time before she decided to pursue show business. Following her days as a student at Miss Fuller's School for Young Ladies and the Cathedral School, Francis was engaged for a time as a secretary, but eventually decided to give performing a try. Confident and outgoing, Francis eventually made her Broadway bow via a revival of "Hamlet" (1925-26) before gaining additional experience with the Portmanteau Theatre Company. She returned to the Great White Way in the melodrama "Crime" (1927), the comedic "Venus" (1927-28) and George M. Cohan's "Elmer the Great" (1928). Her work in the latter led to a screen test and contract offer. As a member of the talent stable at Paramount Pictures, Francis first graced movie screens with small parts in the Marx Brothers' farce "The Cocoanuts" (1929) and "Gentlemen of the Press" (1929), but quickly progressed to a bigger assignment in the Clara Bow vehicle "Dangerous Curves" (1929).

Her first lead role came while on loan out to the Samuel Goldwyn Company for the lightweight adventure "Raffles" (1930), but Paramount soon followed suit and used her as the female star in pictures like "A Virtuous Sin" (1930) and "Scandal Sheet" (1931). However, they opted to let Francis go and she joined the ranks at Warner Bros., where she quickly made waves in vehicles like "Man Wanted" (1932), "Street of Women" (1932), and "One Way Passage" (1932). A particularly prestigious credit came with her participation in Ernest Lubitsch's superbly witty "Trouble in Paradise" (1932), one of Francis' finest movies and a key comedy from the period. The transition from silent cinema to talkies brought about the end of several major careers. Despite a slight speech impediment that caused her to pronounce "R" with a "W" sound and led to occasional jokes at her expense, Francis was able to maintain and grow her stardom. As was common for contract players of the time, the studio kept their crowd pleaser busy, but Francis still managed to raise considerable hell in her personal life. By that point, she had been through three short, unhappy marriages. Husband No. 4 was actor Kenneth McKenna, but she remained unlucky in love and the couple called it quits after two years. Reportedly quite sexually active both in and out of wedlock, Francis also underwent several abortions and reportedly had a high tolerance for alcohol. Her times away from the set were, by all accounts, anything but dull.

Francis' popularity with filmgoers continued to rise via pictures like "Mary Stevens M.D." (1933), "Mandalay" (1934), and "I Found Stella Parish" (1935). Unfortunately, a major rift developed between her and Warner Brothers. While several of her pictures had turned a major profit, it was felt that Francis' salary - the highest of any female performer at the time - was disproportionate to the amount of money coming in. Francis was also growing unhappy with the parts that she was being assigned. In response, Warner put her in a string of largely second-rate productions that gradually squelched her appeal. While there were occasionally interesting projects, such as the dramatically potent and visually stylish drama "Confession" (1937) and the political satire "First Lady" (1937), the damage was done and her star status had diminished by the end of the decade.

The Warner contract completed and now divorced from a fifth husband, Francis tried her hand at freelancing, appearing in the lackluster Universal Western "When the Daltons Rode" (1940) and toplining "Little Men" (1940), a forgettable adaptation of the Louisa May Alcott novel. She joined Jack Benny for the amusing remake of "Charley's Aunt" (1941), but could do little to enliven "Between Us Girls" (1942), a minor farce wherein she was cast as the mother of troubled actress Diana Barrymore. During this period, Francis also donated her time to the war effort by serving as a USO entertainer in the British Isles and North Africa. She joined fellow USO ladies Carole Landis, Martha Raye, and Mitzi Mayfair in "Four Jills and a Jeep" (1944), a light-hearted musical loosely based on Landis' like-named book that chronicled their experiences together. Although "Four Jills and a Jeep" was a reasonably prestigious release, no additional big studio offers were forthcoming, so Francis began to work for B-movie outfit Monogram Pictures. "Divorce" (1945), "Allotment Wives" (1945), and "Wife Wanted" (1946) were fairly low-rent affairs, but Francis earned some additional experience by serving as a producer on all three of those quickies.

With her film career clearly running on empty, Francis resumed stage work, including a turn in "Windy Hill" (1945) and a Broadway run in the cast of "State of the Union" (1945-47) as a replacement for original lead Ruth Hussey. She was able to parlay the success of the latter into further live theater engagements, but in January 1948, Francis made unfortunate headlines by ingesting an overdose of sleeping pills. Reports conflicted on the details, but the actress also sustained severe burns on her legs and required a lengthy recovery period. She surfaced a couple of years later to appear on the television dramatic programs "The Prudential Family Playhouse" (CBS, 1950-51) and "Lux Video Theatre" (CBS/NBC, 1950-57) and made her final stage bow in a touring version of Somerset Maugham's "Theatre." Francis received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960, but remained largely out of the limelight. By mid-decade, she had come down with cancer and the disease ended her life on Aug. 26, 1968. The majority of Francis' more than $1 million in personal wealth was left to The Seeing Eye, a service that trained guide dogs for use by visually impaired individuals.

By John Charles

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

Wife Wanted (1946)
Carole Raymond
Allotment Wives (1945)
Mrs. Shelia Seymour
Divorce (1945)
Diane Carter
Four Jills in a Jeep (1944)
Kay Francis
Always in My Heart (1942)
Marjorie Scott
Between Us Girls (1942)
[Christine] Chris [Bishop]
Charley's Aunt (1941)
Donna Lucia [d'Alvadorez]
The Man Who Lost Himself (1941)
Adrienne Scott
Play Girl (1941)
Grace Herbert
Little Men (1941)
Jo
The Feminine Touch (1941)
Nellie Woods
When the Daltons Rode (1940)
Julie King
It's a Date (1940)
Georgia Drake
King of the Underworld (1939)
[Dr.] Carol Nelson
Women in the Wind (1939)
Janet Steele
In Name Only (1939)
Maida Walker
Comet over Broadway (1938)
Eve Appleton
Women Are Like That (1938)
Claire Landin
My Bill (1938)
Mary Colbrook
Secrets of an Actress (1938)
Fay Carter
First Lady (1937)
Lucy Chase Wayne
Stolen Holiday (1937)
Nicole Picot
Another Dawn (1937)
Julia Ashton
Confession (1937)
Vera [Kowalska]
The White Angel (1936)
Florence Nightingale
Give Me Your Heart (1936)
Belinda [Bill] Warren
I Found Stella Parish (1935)
Stella Parish
Living on Velvet (1935)
Amy Prentiss
The Goose and the Gander (1935)
Georgiana
Stranded (1935)
Lynn Palmer
Wonder Bar (1934)
Liane [Renaud]
British Agent (1934)
Elena [Moura]
Mandalay (1934)
Tanya
Dr. Monica (1934)
Dr. Monica [Braden]
I Loved a Woman (1933)
Laura McDonald
The House on 56th Street (1933)
Peggy [Martin]
Mary Stevens, M.D. (1933)
Mary Stevens
The Keyhole (1933)
Anne [Vallee Brooks]
Storm at Daybreak (1933)
Irina [Radovic]
Strangers in Love (1932)
Diane Merrow
Trouble in Paradise (1932)
Mariette [Colet]
One Way Passage (1932)
Joan [Ames]
Cynara (1932)
Clemency Warlock
Jewel Robbery (1932)
Baroness Teri
Man Wanted (1932)
Lois Ames
Street of Women (1932)
Natalie Upton
Scandal Sheet (1931)
Edith Flint
The Vice Squad (1931)
Alice Morrison
Guilty Hands (1931)
Marjorie West
24 Hours (1931)
Fanny Towner
Ladies' Man (1931)
Norma Page
Girls About Town (1931)
Wanda Howard
Transgression (1931)
Elsie Maury
The False Madonna (1931)
Tina
Let's Go Native (1930)
Constance Cook
Raffles (1930)
Gwen
The Virtuous Sin (1930)
Marya Ivanovna
For the Defense (1930)
Irene Manners
Passion Flower (1930)
Dulce Morado
Behind the Make-Up (1930)
Kitty Parker
Street of Chance (1930)
Alma Marsden
A Notorious Affair (1930)
Countess Balakireff
Paramount on Parade (1930)
Galas de la Paramount (1930)
The Cocoanuts (1929)
Penelope
Illusion (1929)
Zelda Paxton
The Marriage Playground (1929)
Zinnia La Crosse
Dangerous Curves (1929)
Zara Flynn

Writer (Feature Film)

Four Jills in a Jeep (1944)
Contract Writer

Producer (Feature Film)

Wife Wanted (1946)
Producer
Divorce (1945)
Producer
Allotment Wives (1945)
Producer

Cast (Short)

Things You Never See on the Screen (1935)
Herself
Movies On Sundays (1935)
Herself

Life Events

1925

Broadway debut in "Hamlet"

1929

Film actress in "Gentlemen of the Press"

1930

Achieved star status at Paramount Studios

1932

Moved to Warner Brothers

1939

Left Warners

1945

Served as co-producer for her last three films

1946

Last film, "Wife Wanted"

Photo Collections

The Feminine Touch - Publicity Stills
Here are a few publicity stills from The Feminine Touch (1941), starring Rosalind Russell, Don Ameche and Kay Francis. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
The House on 56th Street - Movie Poster
The House on 56th Street - Movie Poster
Trouble in Paradise - Movie Poster
Here is a Window Card movie poster for Ernst Lubitsch's Trouble in Paradise (1932), starring Mirian Hopkins, Kay Francis, and Herbert Marshall.
King of the Underworld - Movie Posters
Here are a few original release movie posters for Warner Bros' King of the Underworld (1939), starring Humphrey Bogart and Kay Francis.
Women in the Wind - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for Women in the Wind (1939), starring Kay Francis. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
Storm at Daybreak - Lobby Card
Here is a lobby card from MGM's Storm at Daybreak (1933), starring Kay Francis. 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.
One Way Passage - Scene Stills
Here are a few scene stills from Warner Bros' One Way Passage (1932), starring William Powell and Kay Francis.
Wonder Bar - Scenes Stills
Here are a few scene stills from Wonder Bar (1934), starring Al Jolson and Kay Francis.
Kay Francis - State Express Cigarette Card
This is a small cigarette card of actress Kay Francis. These trading cards were included in Cigarette packs in the 30's and 40's and were collectible items. Customers could even purchase books to organize and collect these cards. State Express was an active Cigarette Card producer, creating a wide range of cards featuring famous people of which film stars were an often popular draw.

Videos

Movie Clip

In Name Only (1939) - People In Our Position Following his car crash, Maida (Kay Francis) thinks she's caught spouse Alec (Cary Grant) red-handed, leading to his righteous denial and turnabout, early in John Cromwell's In Name Only, 1939.
I Found Stella Parish (1935) - Open, Norman Theater Opening credits and some framing by theater fans awaiting the star, from Warner Bros. I Found Stella Parish, 1935, starring Kay Francis, Ian Hunter and Paul Lukas, directed by Mervyn LeRoy.
I Found Stella Parish (1935) - Am I A Wonderful Actress? Title character (Kay Francis) with daughter Gloria (Sybil Jason) and confidante-servant Nana (Jessie Ralph) in domestic bliss and hiding the truth from the child, in an early scene from I Found Stella Parish, 1935.
I Found Stella Parish (1935) - Three Old Liars Finishing her performance in a fictional London play, and flush from curtain calls, the title character (Kay Francis) is confronted in the literal sense by her past, the obscured Jeffords (Barton MacLane), in a critical scene from I Found Stella Parish, 1935.
I Found Stella Parish (1935) - Quitting The Stage Disguised as an older lady on board ship, title character (Kay Francis) bumps into inquisitive journalist Lockridge (Ian Hunter) who's beginning to catch the scent, in Mervyn LeRoy's I Found Stella Parish, 1935.
I Found Stella Parish (1935) - This Brief Hour With both their names on the marquee outside, impresario Stephen (Paul Lukas) settles for a date when the title character (Kay Francis) refuses his proposal, in an early scene from I Found Stella Parish, 1935.
In Name Only (1939) - Crashing Garden Parties Maida (Kay Francis) social engineering at her party, with friend Ned (Jonathan Hale) and her in-laws (Charles Coburn, Nella Walker), framing husband Alec (Cary Grant) and neighbor Julie (Carole Lombard), in John Cromwell's In Name Only, 1939.
Jewel Robbery (1932) - Kindly Put Up Your Hands First appearance of the star William Powell, who never is named throughout the picture, in his suave invasion of a top Vienna jewelry store, Baroness Kay Francis gasping with her perfectly cordial husband and lover (Henry Kolker, Hardie Albright), Lee Kohlmar the jeweler, in Warner Bros. Jewel Robbery, 1932.
Jewel Robbery (1932) - I Studied In Paris From William Powell's first scene as "The Robber," Countess Teri (Kay Francis), her husband (Henry Kolker), the proprietor (Lee Kohlmar) and the commissioner (Hardie Albright), irritated but impressed in a Vienna jewel shop, in Jewel Robbery, 1932.
Jewel Robbery (1932) - Neither Am I Short And Fat Victim of an elegant robber earlier in the day, Viennese Countess Teri (Kay Francis) frets with friend Marianne (Helen Vinson), then is visited by the man himself (William Powell), making charming demands, in Jewel Robbery, 1932.
Jewel Robbery (1932) - To Supplant My Jewels Opening in Vienna with Kay Francis as droll baroness Teri, with her friend Marianne (Helen Vinson) lamenting their circumstances, directed by William Dieterle, from a Ladislas Fodor play, in what was primarily a William Powell vehicle, in his Warner Bros.’ period, Jewel Robbery, 1932.
Four Jills In A Jeep (1943) - You Look Like Somebody I've Seen Just arrived on a base in England, in a story supposedly based on their own real experience on USO tours, Kay Francis, sparky Martha Raye, blonde Carole Landis and Mitzi Mayfair get collected by their minder Eddie (Phil Silvers), and meet handsome flier Ted (John Harvey), early in Four Jills In A Jeep, 1943.

Trailer

I Loved A Woman - (Original Trailer) A Chicago meat-packer (Edward G. Robinson) begins an affair with an opera singer (Kay Francis) in I Loved A Woman (1933).
Stolen Holiday - (Original Trailer) A Paris fashion model (Kay Francis) marries a fortune hunter (Claude Rains) to protect him from the law in Stolen Holiday (1936).
Man Wanted - (Original Trailer) A female executive (Kay Francis) falls in love with her male secretary (David Manners) in Man Wanted (1932).
Goose And The Gander, The - (Original Trailer) An ex-wife (Kay Francis) schemes to expose her former husband's philandering new wife in the comedy The Goose and the Gander (1935).
Mary Stevens, M.D. - (Original Trailer) Kay Francis shocked pre-code audiences playing an doctor who is also an unwed mother in Mary Stevens, M.D. (1933).
First Lady - (Original Trailer) Kay Francis wants to be First Lady (1937) in the movie version of the Broadway hit comedy by George S. Kaufman and Katharine Dayton.
Doctor Monica - (Original Trailer) Doctor Monica (1934) learns that her husband loves another woman. With Kay Francis as the doctor and Warren William as the drifting hubby.
Jewel Robbery - (Original Trailer) A jewel thief falls for a tycoon's wife in Vienna in the pre-Code romantic comedy, Jewel Robbery (1932), starring Kay Francis & William Powell.
British Agent - (Original Trailer) Leslie Howard is the British Agent (1934) falling in love with Russian agent Kay Francis during the Bolshevik Revolution.
Give Me Your Heart - (Original Trailer) A socialite (Kay Francis) has to give up the baby she bore to a married man in Give Me Your Heart (1936).
Feminine Touch, The -- (Original Trailer) Humorous poet Ogden Nash co-wrote The Feminine Touch (1941) with Don Ameche as an expert on jealousy who has his theories tested when his publisher goes after his wife.
Street of Women - (Original Trailer) Kay Francis stars in the pre-code drama Street Of Women (1932) about a property developer who is torn between his wife and his mistress.

Family

Katherine Clinton
Mother
Actor.

Companions

James Dwight Francis
Husband
First husband; divorced.
William Gaston
Husband
Second husband; divorced.
John Meehan
Husband
Third husband; divorced.
Kenneth MacKenna
Husband
Actor. Married in 1931; divorced in 1933; fourth husband.
Eric Barnekow
Husband
Married in 1939; divorced.

Bibliography