Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What movie star?

"I can't wait to be forgotten."

Kay Francis uttered this quote during a media interview in the 1930s.

Sadly, she got her wish.

It is odd to think most people in the world today have never heard of one of the most famous movie stars from the 20th century.

She was the Queen of Hollywood. She was one of the first fashion icons in American history. She was a bisexual goddess, illuminating the silver screen with her secretive smile and spiraling out of control when the cameras were off.

Kay was raised during the first decade of the 1900s by a single mother, struggling to make it as a stage actress. They frequently moved, making Kay's childhood an unforgettable blur of different schools, faces, names, and places.

Desperate to escape her unstable home life, Kay married the son of a wealthy businessman when she was in her late teens. But the marriage ended in divorce a few years later.

As a newly single young woman, Kay turned to her mother's profession to see if she could find success on the stage. She did. After making a splash on Broadway in the 1920s, Kay was encouraged to pursue films. Kay did not long to be a movie star, however. She only agreed to go Hollywood because of the higher salary.

Kay's exotic looks worked in her favor. Movie-goers were enthralled by the mysterious dark-haired beauty who randomly appeared in the most eclectic film roles Hollywood had to offer.

While her star was rising, Kay became increasingly irritated with the media's growing obsession with her personal life. She married several times and collected lovers like candy. Her sexual escapades with both wealthy men and famous women made her the talk of the town.

During the height of her career, Kay was the highest paid actress in Hollywood. She had also become the biggest fashion icon of the 1930s. Jaw-droppingly gorgeous costumes were created for Kay, who paid extremely close attention to the designs she wore on camera. It was joked in Hollywood that Kay's fans cared more about what she was wearing than the movies themselves.

She starred in dozens of big hits, including my personal favorite, Trouble in Paradise. But the sweet smell of success could not dampen her growing depression. She attempted suicide, by slitting her wrists, but was rescued by her maid.

She was sick of being treated like a puppet by movie studios. She kept falling in love with deadbeats who milked her fame and money.

Movie studios were so impatient with her irate behavior, they started placing her in terrible films. They began lavishing their attention on younger, more modern talents, such as Bette Davis, who would one day outshine Kay as a Hollywood legend and fashion icon.

As she got older, the offers for films started to dwindle. She began to drink heavily, and she gradually lost all her friends. Her past included a series of husbands, but no children.

In the 1960s, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and she passed away in 1968. She left the bulk of her estate to a non-profit organization that trains guide dogs for the blind.

And today, barely anyone even knows Kay Francis was once the most famous woman in Hollywood.

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