Friday, September 5, 2008

A Conversation with Scott O'Brien About Kay Francis

Kay Francis was a presence in movies between 1929 and 1946. Her acting was characterized by her elegantly comic, audacious, sometimes melodramatic, yet wistfully tender and groundbreaking portrayals of independently minded women. Thanks in part to TCM, she has renewed fame. Interest in the nearly forgotten actress has also grown in recent years with the rediscovery of films of the pre-code era, and the changing attitudes toward cinematic portrayals of women, (for better and worse). Kay Francis was on screen from the shaky years of the early talkies through the war years, and TCM offers a festival of 42 of her films this month--some very rarely seen outside of an archive, and few of which are available on dvd. This month's festival of all things Kay offers an unprecedented opportunity to review the range of films that Ms. Francis appeared in over time. The films include some of her earliest work, such as Raffles (1930) and Cynara (1932), (pairing her with Ronald Colman), as well as some of Kay's last movies, (which allowed her to produce as well as star at the low-rent studio Monogram), including Divorce (1945), and the critically noted Allotment Wives (1945). Since TCM has chosen to honor Kay Francis as the Star of the Month in September, I thought that this might be a good time to have a chat with Kay's biographer, Scott O'Brien, the author of Kay Francis: "I Can't Wait To Be Forgotten" (BearManor Media).

In this thoroughly researched and nimbly written homage, Scott O'Brien, chronicles her films, her adventures, her later career on stage and and long years in retirement. Drawing on years of research and the actress' revelatory diaries, (which were written in a form of shorthand, and only relatively recently deciphered by scholars at Wesleyan University ), Mr. O'Brien succeeded in bringing this complex woman to life on the page.

Moira: Welcome Scott, and thank you for helping me shine a spotlight on Kay Francis this month. As someone who's only discovered what racy fun her movies are in the last few years, I was wondering: When did you first become aware of Kay Francis?
Scott: My first impression of Kay Francis wasn’t exactly “ecstatic.” At 16, I especially enjoyed watching over-the-top moments from Bette Davis films. My parents, who were old movie fans, drove me into San Francisco for a film revival double-bill: Of Human Bondage and One Way Passage. Davis’ wildly momentous “I wipe my mouth!” scene with Leslie Howard made the whole trip worth it. Kay Francis? She just seemed like a normal everyday person to me. While working on my Master’s Degree in Library Science (1971-73), I went with friends to see Trouble In Paradise. I had matured. Kay’s subtlety as an actress was like drinking fine wine. We were all raving about her afterwards. Upon seeing a revival of Confession, I was completely hooked. In 1976, George Eells’ book “Ginger, Loretta, & Irene Who?” had a fascinating, yet depressing mini-biography on Kay. A couple of decades later, when Mick LaSalle was researching his insightful work, “Complicated Women,” I loaned him some of Kay’s films. I told him about Kay’s diaries at Wesleyan University, and suggested his next project should be a biography on Kay. He told me, “No, Scott. You should write Kay’s biography.” In 2003, I finally got tired of waiting for someone else to tell Kay’s story, and took Mick up on his suggestion....More on the TCM Movie Morlocks


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