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Francis, Kay (c. 1899–1968)

Francis, Kay (c. 1899–1968)

American film actress of the 1930s. Born Katherine Edwina Gibbs in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on January 13, 1899 (some sources cite 1903 or 1905); died of cancer at her home in New York City on August 26, 1968; daughter of Katherine Clinton (a vaudeville star); educated in a convent; four marriages, all ending in divorce, including third husband, actor Kenneth MacKenna (1931–33).

Selected filmography:

Gentlemen of the Press (1929); The Coconuts (1929); Dangerous Curves (1929); Illusion (1929); The Marriage Playground (1929); Behind the Makeup (1930); Street of Chance (1930); Paramount on Parade (1930); A Notorious Affair (1930); For the Defense (1930); Raffles (1930); Let's Go Native (1930); The Virtuous Sin (1930); Passion Flower (1930); Scandal Sheet (1931); Ladies' Man (19131); The Vice Squad (1931); Transgression (1931); Guilty Hands (1931); Twenty-Four Hours (1931); Girls About Town (1931); The False Madonna (1931); Strangers in Love (1932); Man Wanted (1932); Street of Women (1932); Jewel Robbery (1932); One Way Passage (1932); Trouble in Paradise (1932); Cynara (1932); The Keyhole (1933); Storm at Daybreak (1933); Mary Stevens MD (1933); I Loved a Woman (1933); The House on 56th Street (1933); Mandalay (1934); Wonder Bar (1934); Doctor Monica (1934); British Agent (1934); Living on Velvet (1935); Stranded (1935); The Goose and the Gander (1935); I Found Stella Parish (1935); The White Angel (1936); Give Me Your Heart (1936); Stolen Holiday (1937); Another Dawn (1937); Confession (1937); First Lady (1937); Women Are Like That (1938); My Bill (1938); Secrets of an Actress (1938); Comet Over Broadway (1938); King of the Underworld (1939); Women in the Wind (1939); In Name Only (1939); It's a Date (1940); When the Daltons Rode (1940); Little Men (1940); Play Girl (1941); The Man Who Lost Himself (1941); Charley's Aunt (1941); The Feminine Touch (1941); Always in My Heart (1942); Between Us Girls (1942); Four Jills in a Jeep (1944); Divorce (1945); Allotment Wives (1945); Wife Wanted (1946).

One of the most glamorous and highly paid film stars of the 1930s, Kay Francis worked as a stenographer and a real-estate agent before deciding to become an actress. Summer stock and a few Broadway roles led her to a film contract and the role of a vamp in Gentlemen of the Press (1929), followed by a supporting part in the first Marx Brothers film The Coconuts (1929). Despite a slight speech impediment, her popularity grew during the 1930s, partly due to her doll-like features and her reputation as the best-dressed star in Hollywood. With Paramount, then with Warner Bros., she typically portrayed stylish, worldly women in romantic melodramas and an occasional comedy. Her best-known films were Trouble in Paradise (1932), Cynara (1932), The White Angel (1936), and The Feminine Touch (1941). Francis was eventually passed over for brighter stars in the Warner's hierarchy and by the mid-1940s was relegated to B pictures. From 1945 to 1946, Francis co-produced and starred in three low-budget films for Monogram and then toured in stock for several years before retiring.

Kay Francis was married and divorced four times, once to actor Kenneth MacKenna. By most accounts, she ended her career on a bitter note and in later years would not grant interviews. She died of cancer, age 65, leaving her considerable estate to The Seeing Eye, founded by Dorothy Eustis , to help allay costs for dogs for the blind.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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