Film star Kay Francis's dark, wide-set eyes, dark hair, sultry-but-sophisticated manner, and glamorous wardrobe marked her as one of Hollywood's most beautiful, and highly paid, leading ladies of the 1930s. Francis began life as Katharine Edwina Gibbs in Oklahoma City on January 13, 1905. Educated in upscale schools in New York and Katharine Gibbs Secretarial School, she began a career as a stenographer.
In 1925 Kay Francis made her acting debut on Broadway. After working in stock theater, in 1929 she made her screen debut in Gentleman of the Press. A Paramount Pictures contract brought her roles in the 1930 films Street of Chance, with William Powell, and Raffles, with Ronald Colman, followed by a role in the Marx Brothers' The Cocoanuts.
In 1932 she signed with Warner Brothers. Soon she was being cast in the female lead opposite important leading men, such as fellow Oklahoman William Boyd (False Madonna, 1932), William Powell (One-Way Passage, 1932), Erroll Flynn (Another Dawn, 1937), Cary Grant (In Name Only, 1939), and Humphrey Bogart (King of the Underworld, 1939). She also appeared with Alice Faye, Martha Raye, and Carole Landis in Four Jills in a Jeep (1944).
Kay Francis always played in "women's pictures," usually portraying a long-suffering woman, a scorned wife, or an innocent victim. Love triangles and romantic tragedies were her specialty. Less often she was cast as a professional woman (Dr. Monica, 1934) or an historical heroine, such as Florence Nightingale, in The White Angel (1936), or in a light comedy, such as Charley's Aunt (1941, with Jack Benny), or a classic such as Little Men (1940).
When Warner dropped her, in 1945-46 she contracted with Monogram, a "B" studio, where she produced and starred in three films. In 1946-48 she appeared in Broadway productions and in the national touring company with State of the Union. That show played Oklahoma City for two nights in January 1948. Francis played summer stock through 1952 and then retired. She died in New York City on August 26, 1968.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Carole Landis, Four Jills in a Jeep (Cleveland: World, 1944). David Thomson, A Biographical Dictionary of Film (3rd ed.; New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995). James Vinson, ed., International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, 4 Vols. (Chicago: St. James Press, 1986).
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