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The Mystery of Kay Francis:


Palmerin
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why did her career flounder so badly after being one of the major stars of the 1930s?

I think after many failed marriages (with men), she started having intimate relationships with women. We saw what that did to Nazimova and to Patsy Kelly's career. 

 

She also wasn't crazy about television and decided to call it a day and spent her time focusing on philanthropic causes.

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I think after many failed marriages (with men), she started having intimate relationships with women. We saw what that did to Nazimova and to Patsy Kelly's career. 

 

She also wasn't crazy about television and decided to call it a day and spent her time focusing on philanthropic causes.

hey, at least she didn't go the lupe velez route. :D

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why did her career flounder so badly after being one of the major stars of the 1930s?

 

What made her career flounder?   Having to deal with Jack Warner!   While she was cast in some fine movies at the start of her WB 7 year contract over time she was placed in more and more secondary projects while Bette Davis became queen of the studio.    Also the type of films Kay was so good in (sophisticated,  light,  comedy dramas) were not the type of film WB was known for, per se.    But Kay had a great contract paying her 5K a week.   So she showed up at the studio each day and did what she was told,  like training younger actresses.   This upset Jack even more since he was hoping to place her on suspension so he could stop paying her.   

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Being reduced to starring in B movies would cause anyones career to flounder. She wound up finishing up her contract, so Warners was forced to pay her, but she would have been better off breaking her contract and freelancing........She did take Warners to court, but dropped the lawsuit and there's some mystery why she did that.....(speculation they had some dirt on her. but if they did, why did they allow her to finish out her contract?)

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Being reduced to starring in B movies would cause anyones career to flounder. She wound up finishing up her contract, so Warners was forced to pay her, but she would have been better off breaking her contract and freelancing........She did take Warners to court, but dropped the lawsuit and there's some mystery why she did that.....(speculation they had some dirt on her. but if they did, why did they allow her to finish out her contract?)

 

Very hard to really know if  'she would have been better off breaking her contract and freelancing'.    From a total revenue POV I don't think so since she was making around 260k a year.  Would a studio have given her a guaranteed,  say,  80k per picture,  3 picture deal after 1936 or so (when her star was shinning less bright)?    A percentage of take type of deal would have been very risky for her.

 

As for better of for her legacy;  well that may be true.  Even if she made less money the films she would have been in freelancing might have been higher quality projects even if they weren't box office hits.

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Very hard to really know if  'she would have been better off breaking her contract and freelancing'.    From a total revenue POV I don't think so since she was making around 260k a year.  Would a studio have given her a guaranteed,  say,  80k per picture,  3 picture deal after 1936 or so (when her star was shinning less bright)?    A percentage of take type of deal would have been very risky for her.

 

As for better of for her legacy;  well that may be true.  Even if she made less money the films she would have been in freelancing might have been higher quality projects even if they weren't box office hits.

 

 

She would've had to work at a lesser salary, but at least she would've done the projects she wanted to do, not star in B movies which damaged her reputation and caused her to be labeled "box office poison". But Kay apparently wanted WB to pay her salary and she succeeded. Still I feel it was a pyrrhic victory in the end......

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I must have seen at least 30 Kay Francis movies by now, but about the only four that really stand out are Trouble in Paradise, Jewel Robbery, One Way Passage, and The House on 56th Street.  She was one of the most drop-dead gorgeous actress who ever walked the Earth, but in retrospect most of her films just kind of dissolve into one big blur of fancy clothes and big beautiful smiles.  All in all I'll take Joan or Glenda.

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Andy, I love Kay Francis and I've also probably seen dozens of her films. Agree with your list, but I'd add CONFESSION. She's excellent in this role (although most likely Joan would have also been excellent in the role). As much as I like Glenda, something so special about Kay Francis and that intelligent, beautiful face. Kay's eyes were incredible. Just love watching her, even in those films that are forgettable.

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Andy, I love Kay Francis and I've also probably seen dozens of her films. Agree with your list, but I'd add CONFESSION. She's excellent in this role (although most likely Joan would have also been excellent in the role). As much as I like Glenda, something so special about Kay Francis and that intelligent, beautiful face. Kay's eyes were incredible. Just love watching her, even in those films that are forgettable.

 

Yeah, I might put Confession up there along with I Found Stella Parrish, not quite on the level of the other four, but still pretty good melodramas.  Of course in the case of Stella Parish, I might just be adding my utter captivation by Sybil Jason, my all time favorite child star.

 

Francis and Glenda are of course just different.  Kay gets paired with elegant thieves like William Powell and Herbert Marshall, while Glenda pines for Barton MacLane and runs away from the likes of Guy Kibbee.  Kay's the glamour girl, Glenda's a nice looking but unglamorous gumsnapper with the quick comeback and the heart of gold.  Much as I think of Kay as one of Hollywood's all time beauties,  I just tend to go more for the latter type.  

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Andy, I love Kay Francis and I've also probably seen dozens of her films. Agree with your list, but I'd add CONFESSION. She's excellent in this role (although most likely Joan would have also been excellent in the role). As much as I like Glenda, something so special about Kay Francis and that intelligent, beautiful face. Kay's eyes were incredible. Just love watching her, even in those films that are forgettable.

I agree. Like Carole Lombard, she was talented and gorgeous and the designers probably begged her to wear their clothes. I even love listening for her speech quirk, which btw I never noticed until it was pointed out here.

 

I'll take Kay Fwancis (and Carole) over Joan and Bette and Kate any day of the week. If I want acting chops, I'll take Ann Harding over those scene chewers too.

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She would've had to work at a lesser salary, but at least she would've done the projects she wanted to do, not star in B movies which damaged her reputation and caused her to be labeled "box office poison". But Kay apparently wanted WB to pay her salary and she succeeded. Still I feel it was a pyrrhic victory in the end......

 

Well kind of a chicken \ egg things going on there depending on if one is the actor or if one is the studio boss;   From the boss POV she was put into 'B' movie since the box-office on her 'A' pictures started to drop off.    From Kay's POV she was put into 'B' movies and this lead to her lack of appeal at the box office.

 

Not sure what you mean by 'Kay apparently wanted WB to pay her salary';   WB had to pay her salary as long as Kay meet the terms of the contract, which she did.   5K a week was just too much money to pass up.

 

If you meant that Kay could have bucked Jack Warner for better film projects by not meeting the terms of her contact and therefore going on suspension and not getting paid  (like Cagney would do); well I don't see Jack giving in to Kay (like he did with Cagney).

 

In the case of Cagney Jack had faith Cagney films would make him a lot of money.   He didn't feel the same about Kay for that chicken \ egg reason above.      But Jack was the clear overall loser IMO,  since he did end up paying Kay over half a million dollars for those last few years of her contact and didn't get much in return.  

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Well kind of a chicken \ egg things going on there depending on if one is the actor or if one is the studio boss;   From the boss POV she was put into 'B' movie since the box-office on her 'A' pictures started to drop off.    From Kay's POV she was put into 'B' movies and this lead to her lack of appeal at the box office.

 

Not sure what you mean by 'Kay apparently wanted WB to pay her salary';   WB had to pay her salary as long as Kay meet the terms of the contract, which she did.   5K a week was just too much money to pass up.

 

If you meant that Kay could have bucked Jack Warner for better film projects by not meeting the terms of her contact and therefore going on suspension and not getting paid  (like Cagney would do); well I don't see Jack giving in to Kay (like he did with Cagney).

 

In the case of Cagney Jack had faith Cagney films would make him a lot of money.   He didn't feel the same about Kay for that chicken \ egg reason above.      But Jack was the clear overall loser IMO,  since he did end up paying Kay over half a million dollars for those last few years of her contact and didn't get much in return.  

 

 

I meant Kay chose to ride out her contract and get paid for it, rather than leave the studio. So though, well paid, her career suffered due to the lackluster vehicles they put her in in order to get her to quit.......There was something in her contract that precluded them using her to sweep floors and such, or I'm sure they would've put her to work doing that too......

 

Kay never really risked going on suspension like others did, even though she wasnt happy about many of her film roles. By the time she got fed up, Warners wanted to get rid of her, then it was too late........

 

Kay's boxoffice had slipped some, but her films were still bringing in money...........(The White Sister being an exception)....

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I meant Kay chose to ride out her contract and get paid for it, rather than leave the studio. So though, well paid, her career suffered due to the lackluster vehicles they put her in in order to get her to quit.......There was something in her contract that precluded them using her to sweep floors and such, or I'm sure they would've put her to work doing that too......

 

Kay never really risked going on suspension like others did, even though she wasnt happy about many of her film roles. By the time she got fed up, Warners wanted to get rid of her, then it was too late........

 

Kay's boxoffice had slipped some, but her films were still bringing in money...........(The White Sister being an exception)....

 

Since Jack was mostly about the money,  if he felt putting her in A pictures would have been 'worth it' (i.e. a sound profit),  he would have done so.   This is why I mentioned the chicken \ egg thing.    Now Jack might have been wrong (in terms of her potential box office take) by giving up on her,  but of course we will never know. 

 

According to the book Those Crazy Wonderful Years When We Ran Warner Bros. by Stuart Jerome (a mail room boy at the studio),  Kay did have to train younger actresses.     I assume this wasn't fun for her but it didn't break her.

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Since Jack was mostly about the money,  if he felt putting her in A pictures would have been 'worth it' (i.e. a sound profit),  he would have done so.   This is why I mentioned the chicken \ egg thing.    Now Jack might have been wrong (in terms of her potential box office take) by giving up on her,  but of course we will never know. 

 

According to the book Those Crazy Wonderful Years When We Ran Warner Bros. by Stuart Jerome (a mail room boy at the studio),  Kay did have to train younger actresses.     I assume this wasn't fun for her but it didn't break her.

 

 

Yes, I read that book. Had a lot of funny anecdotes, but I've forgotten most of them. The only thing I remember was how the "boys" would complain how badly Claude Raines'  dressing room would smell, but no one knew why. Yes, Jane Wyman talked about Kay teaching her things in one of those between films spots....

 

Hard to say if Kay's career at that point was just hitting a bump in the road or not. (she wound up freelancing for another 7 or 8 years, so it wasn't exactly over). She was hardly over the hill, being only 34, I think, when she left Warners in '39. Warners had purchased Tovarich for her as well as Dark Victory and The Sisters, these could've been big hits for her. Colbert was cast in Tovarich and Davis inherited the other 2 projects when Warner decided to get rid of her (one way or the other)............

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Andy, I love Kay Francis and I've also probably seen dozens of her films. Agree with your list, but I'd add CONFESSION. She's excellent in this role (although most likely Joan would have also been excellent in the role). As much as I like Glenda, something so special about Kay Francis and that intelligent, beautiful face. Kay's eyes were incredible. Just love watching her, even in those films that are forgettable.

 

 

Yes, I agree. Confession is the one jewel in her later Warners period. It really stands out. Too bad it didnt lead to better things....

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I must have seen at least 30 Kay Francis movies by now, but about the only four that really stand out are Trouble in Paradise, Jewel Robbery, One Way Passage, and The House on 56th Street.  She was one of the most drop-dead gorgeous actress who ever walked the Earth, but in retrospect most of her films just kind of dissolve into one big blur of fancy clothes and big beautiful smiles.  All in all I'll take Joan or Glenda.

 

Try also Guilty Hands, and British Agent.

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Try also Guilty Hands, and British Agent.

 

Seen both of them.  Didn't think much of British Agent.  Guilty Hands had possibilities with Lionel Barrymore, but the movie as a whole was way overacted, including IMO even by Francis.  I gave that one a second try but it didn't seem any better than the first time.

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Try also Guilty Hands, and British Agent.

 

Seen both of them.  Didn't think much of British Agent.  Guilty Hands had possibilities with Lionel Barrymore, but the movie as a whole was way overacted, including IMO even by Francis.  I gave that one a second try but it didn't seem any better than the first time.

 

Too bad you didn't like British Agent.  Love the opening scene where the elite gala gets machine-gunned.  Radical.  Also like the concept of Francis being a personal assistant to Lenin, all the while appearing as a fashion plate.

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Too bad you didn't like British Agent.  Love the opening scene where the elite gala gets machine-gunned.  Radical.  Also like the concept of Francis being a personal assistant to Lenin, all the while appearing as a fashion plate.

 

Well, I do admit that on the latter score she had a bit of an edge on Lenin's wife Krupskaya. B)

 

british-agent-kay-francis-1934.jpg

 

Krupskaia.gif

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Too bad you didn't like British Agent.  Love the opening scene where the elite gala gets machine-gunned.  Radical.  Also like the concept of Francis being a personal assistant to Lenin, all the while appearing as a fashion plate.

 

Well, I do admit that on the latter score she had a bit of an edge on Lenin's wife Krupskaya. B)

 

british-agent-kay-francis-1934.jpg

 

Krupskaia.gif

 

It was the eyebrows, I think.  And do I notice an overbite?  O, that's so sexy.

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What made her career flounder? Having to deal with Jack Warner! While she was cast in some fine movies at the start of her WB 7 year contract over time she was placed in more and more secondary projects while Bette Davis became queen of the studio. Also the type of films Kay was so good in (sophisticated, light, comedy dramas) were not the type of film WB was known for, per se. But Kay had a great contract paying her 5K a week. So she showed up at the studio each day and did what she was told, like training younger actresses. This upset Jack even more since he was hoping to place her on suspension so he could stop paying her.

 

WB did specialize in a type of drama which was a Kay Francis speciality; she looked chic and beautiful while she suffered nobly. In fact, before her fall from grace, the studio had purchase properties such as THE SISTERS and DARK VICTORY for her, as these we're the types of roles she excelled in and her fans preferred her in. When Bette Davis inherited both, there was commentary that she was playing parts suited to Kay.

 

Kay had always be amenable to whatever trash the studio tossed her way, and seldom complained. At least through 1937, her films usually did well at the Boxoffice; the one notable exception was 1936's biopic on Florence Nightingale, THE WHITE SISTER. However, the fault was not with Kay, but an unsatisfactory script and ending, plus Warners' unreasonable expectation that it be another huge prestigious hit along the lines of their Pasteur film.

 

But her popularity was not adversely affected by the outcome, except among studio executives. In 1937, a nationwide poll conducted found her the sixth most popular female movie star, and the year earlier, WB had renewed her contract under very favorable terms. She was the highest paid star of 1937. Her problems really started when the studio reneged on casting her in TOVARICH, which they had dangled at the time of her new contract, and borrowed Claudette Colbert for it. She sued the studio over this, but not being the fighter that other Warner stars like Cagney and Davis were, she dropped it, as Hibi says, with speculation that there was some potentially damaging information the studio could use. Anyway, the real boss, Harry Warner in NYC, decided the plan to break Kay's will to remain at the studio. The whole industry was SHOCKED when they announced that she would finish off her contract making films at their B unit. She was humiliated, but swore not not show it, and did what she could with the films.she was saddled with. The studio did not stop there; they had her Vacate her suite of rooms that had been her dressing room, and was given a tiny room with all the featured players. They stopped promoting her films, and even, in KING OF THE UNDERWORLD, gave her below the title Billing; costar Humphrey Bogart was billed above the title, in his first starring role. Bogie later commented on his discomfort with it all, even saying something to the effect that this must've been the first time a. a supporting player.made.20 times what the star made. All this was done to spite Kay, but she soldiered on, attempting to save face by stating she was only in it for the money .

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WB did specialize in a type of drama which was a Kay Francis speciality; she looked chic and beautiful while she suffered nobly. In fact, before her fall from grace, the studio had purchase properties such as THE SISTERS and DARK VICTORY for her, as these we're the types of roles she excelled in and her fans preferred her in. When Bette Davis inherited both, there was commentary that she was playing parts suited to Kay.

 

Kay had always be amenable to whatever trash the studio tossed her way, and seldom complained. At least through 1937, her films usually did well at the Boxoffice; the one notable exception was 1936's biopic on Florence Nightingale, THE WHITE SISTER. However, the fault was not with Kay, but an unsatisfactory script and ending, plus Warners' unreasonable expectation that it be another huge prestigious hit along the lines of their Pasteur film.

 

But her popularity was not adversely affected by the outcome, except among studio executives. In 1937, a nationwide poll conducted found her the sixth most popular female movie star, and the year earlier, WB had renewed her contract under very favorable terms. She was the highest paid star of 1937. Her problems really started when the studio reneged on casting her in TOVARICH, which they had dangled at the time of her new contract, and borrowed Claudette Colbert for it. She sued the studio over this, but not being the fighter that other Warner stars like Cagney and Davis were, she dropped it, as Hibi says, with speculation that there was some potentially damaging information the studio could use. Anyway, the real boss, Harry Warner in NYC, decided the plan to break Kay's will to remain at the studio. The whole industry was SHOCKED when they announced that she would finish off her contract making films at their B unit. She was humiliated, but swore not not show it, and did what she could with the films.she was saddled with. The studio did not stop there; they had her Vacate her suite of rooms that had been her dressing room, and was given a tiny room with all the featured players. They stopped promoting her films, and even, in KING OF THE UNDERWORLD, gave her below the title Billing; costar Humphrey Bogart was billed above the title, in his first starring role. Bogie later commented on his discomfort with it all, even saying something to the effect that this must've been the first time a. a supporting player.made.20 times what the star made. All this was done to spite Kay, but she soldiered on, attempting to save face by stating she was only in it for the money .

 

Thanks for filling in some of the gaps.

 

To me it comes down to when studio bosses decide to work with an actor or not to, when there is a dispute.   Bette Davis went to England to try to get out of her contract.  When that failed and she returned to Hollywood WB put her in first rate projects.  (starting with a picture with Bogart, Marked Women).  So to me its clear WB felt it was in their best interest to work with Davis.

 

Only Harry Warner knows why he decide to play hardball with Kay.  

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