Wavishing Kay Fwancis

January 13 marks the birth of Katharine Edwina Gibbs, better known by her stage name of ‘Kay Francis’. This year, I spent much of that day watching some of the Turner Classic Movie channel’s 12 hour Kay Francis movie marathon. I can sit through just about anything if she’s in it. Even if a movie isn’t completely satisfying, she makes it worth watching with her luminous screen presence, through which she conveys infectious enthusiasm and amusement.

Of six time Kay Francis co-star William Powell, Roger Ebert once said, “William Powell is to dialogue as Fred Astaire is to dance. His delivery is so droll and insinuating, so knowing and innocent at the same time, that it hardly matters what he’s saying”. I have a similar perception of Kay Francis. I love listening to her no matter what she’s saying and when she speaks words that are actually funny and clever in her melodic voice, it’s like listening to music with superior vocals and lyrics. Sometimes I just love Kay’s lines because her tendency to pronounce ‘Rs’ like ‘Ws’ (hence the nickname ‘Wavishing Kay Fwancis’) makes them cuter than they’re supposed to be. I kept smiling during “Secrets of An Actress” as she repeatedly addressed her friend “Marion” as “Mawian”.

I love how when Kay Francis is in a good mood on screen, she looks happier to be alive and herself than anyone, always game for some banter or verbal one-upmanship with a worthy partner. Fed up with fame, Kay Francis once said, “I can’t wait to be forgotten”. She got her wish. The one-time ‘Queen of Warner Brothers’ is almost completely unknown today. I know I’ll never forget her. Movies that would be forgettable without her are the domain of lines that reside in my memory, ready to be accessed when I want to smile. Unfortunately, very few of Kay’s movies provided co-stars and scripts that consistently put her life force and gift of gab to their best use. I cherish the movies that did, like “Trouble In Paradise”, “One Way Passage”, “Girls About Town”, and “Jewel Robbery”. When a movie gets it as right as those do, my heart soars. SEWIOUSLY.


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