Pre-Code star Kay Francis, a Warner Brothers treat through the 1930’s


With a unique look and certainly a unique sound, I suppose Kay Francis is a bit of an acquired taste.  I was totally sold the first time I saw Trouble In Paradise (1932), though you stick anybody in a masterpiece and your bound to come away with positive vibes. 

Though her exact date of birth appears to fluctuate most sources have settled on January 13, 1905.  Born Katherine Gibbs, she brought her first husband's surname to the stage with her in 1925 and according to Daniel Bubbeo in The Women of Warner Brothers shortened her first name from Katherine to Kay at the suggestion of Dangerous Curves (1929) co-star Clara Bow so that her name would fit on the marquee better.

After her start at Paramount in 1929 Kay would move on to Warner Brothers, where by the time of today's TCM features she would become the highest paid star on the lot.  And thus the troubles would begin.  After a few flops Warners started giving the better assignments to other stars with Kay's loss of Tovarich (1937) to Claudette Colbert leading to a major blow-out with the studio.  While classics such as The Sisters (1938), Dark Victory (1939), and Juarez (1939) helped crown the studio's new Queen, Bette Davis, Kay was left to toil in many of the films TCM chooses to air today, which are fine, some popular with her fans, but certainly none as strong as that Davis trio.

Kay Francis completed her Warner's contract in 1939 and then freelanced for the next few years making movies at RKO, Universal, and MGM.  After playing herself in Four Jills in a Jeep (1944) where real life USO exploits were recreated on screen alongside cohorts Martha Raye, Carole Landis and Mitzi Mayfair, Kay took one last shot at a comeback but did so in three pictures at Poverty Row studio Monogram Pictures.  Subsequently there was a return to Broadway followed by a retirement filled with illness and depression.  Kay Francis died August 26, 1968, just 63 years old.


Kay Francis on the IMDb.

This page features three vintage collectibles picturing Kay Francis beginning with the 9” X 11” black & white 1934 Dixie Premium photo at the top of the page.  Later Dixie’s are more popular because of their vivid colors, but as you can see by Francis’ image a case can be made for this early black & white issue as well!

The next couple of items are both British tobacco cards, both very different in appearance.  Up above is a 1936 Godfrey Phillips “Screen Stars” tobacco card featuring attractive images inside embossed oval borders.  A personal favorite because the otherwise ordinary images are really made to stand out by the tremendous amount of white space the borders afford.

Finally, the colorful card you’ll find under today’s TCM schedule is actually an oversized piece measuring 4-1/2” X 6-1/4” issued by Nestle’s out of Britain approximately 1936.  Nestle’s issued 150 of these oversized blazing beauties over two years and also issued a card set of a smaller more traditional dimension during that same time.

TCM Schedule, Wednesday, January 13, 2010

All times EST.

7:00 am The Goose and the Gander (1935) starring Kay Francis, George Brent, Genevieve Tobin

8:15 am Another Dawn (1937) starring Errol Flynn, Kay Francis, Ian Hunter

9:30 am Comet Over Broadway (1938) starring Kay Francis, Ian Hunter, Donald Crisp

10:45 am My Bill (1938) starring Kay Francis, Bonita Granville, Anita Louise

12:00 pm Secrets of an Actress (1938) starring Kay Francis, George Brent, Ian Hunter

1:15 pm Women Are Like That (1938) starring Kay Francis, Pat O’Brien, Ralph Forbes

2:45 pm It’s a Date (1940) starring Deanna Durbin, Walter Pidgeon, Kay Francis

4:30 pm The Feminine Touch (1941) starring Rosalind Russell, Don Ameche, Kay Francis

6:15 pm Always in My Heart (1942) starring Walter Huston, Kay Francis, Gloria Warren

I hate to do this, as I always seem to find myself beating up TCM when I see a schedule like this, but I must remark that I find it interesting that Scott O'Brien, the man who literally wrote the book on Kay Francis, named his top ten Kay Francis favorites back when he was interviewed by TCM's own in September 2008 (when Kay was Star of the Month), and none of his ten picks are among the nine movies airing today.

Still, I'm going to record a few that I haven't seen today and hope for the best, at the very least I get to enjoy some Kay Francis!


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