Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Fay Wray (1907-2004)

Birth name: Vina Fay Wray
Birthdate: Sunday, September 15th, 1907
Location: Alberta, Canada

Died: Sunday, August 8th, 2004
Location: New York City, USA
Cause of death: Natural causes

Best known for: Despite an acting career that spread across five decades, Fay was forever remembered for her principal role in the 1933 monster movie King Kong, whose shadow she never escaped - however, she earned a $10,000 salary for the film and the knowledge that the movie's success saved RKO from bankruptcy.

Fay had actually been acting since she was aged 16 but hit upon her big success playing Ann Darrow in 1933's King Kong. She never managed to escape the glare of success from that film, but did continue to enjoy a healthy acting career until the mid-1960s, when she retired from the screen at the age of 58 (she'd originally retired, aged just 35, after 1942's Not a Ladies' Man, but financial concerns forced her to return to acting 11 years later). Before this retirement she'd had TV success as Catherine Morrison in The Pride of the Family (1953-54) and various roles in Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Wagon Train and Perry Mason.

After her role as Mignon Germaine in Perry Mason and the Case of the Fatal Fetish (broadcast March 4th 1965), Fay shied away from the screen, making only one return, in 1980 at the age of 73, in the TV movie Gideon's Trumpet. This starred Henry Fonda as Clarence Earl Gideon who fought for the right to have publicly funded legal counsel for the needy. Fay played Edna Curtis in this film, which was nominated for no fewer than three Primetime Emmys.

Fay at the 1998 Oscars ceremony,
not looking her 91 years.
However, Fay did not become a recluse in her retirement, and still appeared on documentaries about the history of film (such as 1987's The RKO Story) and awards shows such as the 70th Academy Awards (the Oscars) in 1998, when she was aged 91. She was also approached by director James Cameron to play the elderly version of Rose Dawson Calvert in the 1997 blockbuster Titanic, but she turned it down and the role instead went to Gloria Stuart.

Her links to the Roaring Twenties were never severed, and she appeared at the 2003 Palm Beach International Film Festival, aged 95, to help promote the documentary Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There.

In May 2004 she made an appearance at the Empire State Building, such an iconic part of her movie legacy, while her final public appearance was at Sardi's restaurant in New York in June 2004 at the premiere after-party for the same documentary film.

One of the final photos of Fay at
Sardi's restaurant in New York in
June 2004. She was 96 years old.
It was around this time that director Peter Jackson approached Fay to make a small cameo appearance in his remake of the film King Kong, but Fay declined, proclaiming her 1933 version to be the king of Kongs.

Before filming on Jackson's remake began, Fay died in her sleep on August 8th, 2004, aged 96, in her Manhattan apartment. A friend present at her death said she simply drifted off, as if going to sleep: "she just kind of gave out".

Fay is interred at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in California. On August 10th, 2004, all the lights in the Empire State Building were extinguished for 15 minutes in her memory - a fitting tribute to an icon of Hollywood.

Fay Wray at a May 2004 appearance at the Empire
State Building. She would pass away in her sleep
three months later.
A bit of fun: Here's an 81-year-old Fay Wray on Terry Wogan's BBC chat show in 1988, in which Fay is effervescent, and grateful of Terry's flirtatious, "fresh" approach!

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