Sunday, March 9, 2014

Kay Francis A Passionate Life and Career by Lynn Kear and John Rossman

Kay Francis, this dark-haired beauty was everything a movie star was supposed to be—beautiful, glamorous, sophisticated, gorgeously gowned and coiffed, photographed to best advantage, starring in movies with leading men like Ronald Colman and Cary Grant that helped audiences during the Great Depression and World War II escape from their ordinary humdrum lives and all their problems. But that was all an illusion created by the Dream Factory that was Hollywood.

The real Kay Francis shunned life’s luxuries like couture clothes, mansions, and limousines, was frugal with her finances, and, ironic for a woman with a reputation as Hollywood’s clothes’ horse, whose movies were often a fashion parade, she was in reality more at home in slacks and sandals, and rather than desiring silver screen immortality she could not wait to be forgotten.

This book, which draws on Ms. Francis’ personal diaries and papers, gives readers a glimpse into the real life of this enigmatic star and the often sad and ugly truths behind the beautiful façade, the failed marriages, one night stands, affairs with both men and women, numerous secret abortions, depression, and a long struggle with alcoholism. She often slept with stuffed animals and cried herself to sleep for being such “a damned fool” after tumbling into bed with someone. Sometimes it’s like watching a train wreck, but it’s a fascinating account of a largely, and unjustly, forgotten star’s tragic life. 

If you can, catch some of Kay's movies on Turner Classic Movies, and see why this woman was one of the biggest stars of the 1930s, I particularly recommend The House on 56th Street, an historical melodrama spanning the years 1905-1933 in the vein of Madame X and Stella Dallas about marriage, murder, and motherly love that often has viewers reaching for the Kleenex. Many, myself included, regard it as her finest performance.

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