Today is the birthday of Fay Wray (1907-2003).
For decades she was unfairly known for only one role, that of Ann Darrow, the reluctant love interest of the title character in King Kong (1933). This was because it was the only one of her over 100 screen roles that was regularly shown in the late twentieth century. Since then thankfully access to a great many of her other films allows for a much more thorough assessment. (I caught her in Frank Capra’s 1931 Dirigible on TCM a few weeks back – -excellent!)
A native of Canada, she had been in films for a decade by the time of King Kong. She started out in bit parts in Hal Roach silent comedies such as Charley Chase’s What Price Goofy? (1925) and Should Sailors Marry? (1925) with Clyde Cook and Oliver Hardy. In 1926, the beautiful starlet was voted one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars. While she starred in films of all genres, for a couple of years she was closely associated with horror and was dubbed a “Scream Queen”. In addition to King Kong, her scary movies included Doctor X and The Most Dangerous Game (both 1932), The Vampire Bat and Mystery of the Wax Museum (both 1933), Black Moon (1934) and The Clairvoyant (1935). She continued to act on film and television for another quarter century, and then re-emerged from retirement one last time in 1980 to act in Gideon’s Trumpet with Henry Fonda, Jose Ferrer and John Houseman. She reportedly turned on offer from Peter Jackson to appear in a came in his 2005 King Kong remake (she was still alive when it was in production).
Now here’s one of my Gothic favorites, containing a Fay Wray performance that ought to be better known: The Most Dangerous Game. Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks) is one of the best villains in all of cinema.
To learn more about early film history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc
To learn about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.