Vina Fay Wray
September 15, 1907
Cardston, Alberta, Canada
|Died||August 8, 2004 (aged 96)|
New York City, U.S.
|Resting place||Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, California|
|Years active||1923–1942, 1952–1965, 1980|
(m. 1928; div. 1939)
(m. 1942; died 1955)
(m. 1971; died 1991)
|Children||3, including Victoria Riskin|
Vina Fay Wray (September 15, 1907 – August 8, 2004) was a Canadian-born American actress best remembered for starring as Ann Darrow in the 1933 film King Kong. Through an acting career that spanned nearly six decades, Wray attained international recognition as an actress in horror films. She has been dubbed one of the early "scream queens".
After appearing in minor film roles, Wray gained media attention after being selected as one of the "WAMPAS Baby Stars" in 1926. This led to her being contracted to Paramount Pictures as a teenager, where she made more than a dozen feature films. After leaving Paramount, she signed deals with various film companies, being cast in her first horror film roles, in addition to many other types of roles, including in The Bowery (1933) and Viva Villa (1934), both of which starred Wallace Beery. For RKO Radio Pictures, Inc., Wray starred in the film she is most identified with, King Kong (1933). After the success of King Kong, she made numerous appearances in both film and television, retiring in 1980.
Wray was born on a ranch near Cardston in the province of Alberta, Canada to parents who were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elvina Marguerite Jones, who was from Salt Lake City, Utah, and Joseph Heber Wray, who was from Kingston upon Hull, England. She was one of six children and was a granddaughter of LDS pioneer Daniel Webster Jones. Her ancestors came from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Wray was never baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Her family returned to the United States a few years after she was born; they moved to Salt Lake City in 1912 and moved to Lark, Utah, in 1914. In 1919, the Wray family returned to Salt Lake City, and then relocated to Hollywood, where Fay attended Hollywood High School.
Early acting career
In 1923, Wray appeared in her first film at the age of 16, when she landed a role in a short historical film sponsored by a local newspaper. In the 1920s, Wray landed a major role in the silent film The Coast Patrol (1925), as well as uncredited bit parts at the Hal Roach Studios.
In 1926, the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers selected Wray as one of the "WAMPAS Baby Stars", a group of women whom they believed to be on the threshold of movie stardom. She was at the time under contract to Universal Studios, mostly co-starring in low-budget Westerns opposite Buck Jones.
The following year, Wray was signed to a contract with Paramount Pictures. In 1926, director Erich von Stroheim cast her as the main female lead in his film The Wedding March, released by Paramount two years later. While the film was noted for its high budget and production values, it was a financial failure. It also gave Wray her first lead role. Wray stayed with Paramount to make more than a dozen films and made the transition from silent films to "talkies".
Horror films and King Kong
After leaving Paramount, Wray signed with other film studios. Under these deals, Wray was cast in several horror films, including Doctor X (1932) and Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933). However, her best known films were produced under her deal with RKO Radio Pictures. Her first film with RKO was The Most Dangerous Game (1932), co-starring Joel McCrea. The production was filmed at night on the same jungle sets that were being used for King Kong during the day, and with Wray and Robert Armstrong starring in both movies.
The Most Dangerous Game was followed by the release of Wray's best remembered film, King Kong. According to Wray, Jean Harlow had been RKO's original choice, but because MGM put Harlow under exclusive contract during the pre-production phase of the film, she became unavailable. Wray was approached by director Merian C. Cooper to play the blonde captive of King Kong; the role of Ann Darrow for which she was paid $10,000 ($200,000 in 2020 dollars) to play her. The film was a commercial success and Wray was reportedly proud that the film saved RKO from bankruptcy.
Wray continued to star in films, including The Richest Girl in the World, but by the early 1940s, her appearances became less frequent. She retired from acting in 1942 after her second marriage but due to financial exigencies she soon resumed her acting career, and over the next three decades, Wray appeared in several films and frequently appeared on television. Wray portrayed Catherine Morrison in the 1953–54 sitcom The Pride of the Family. Wray appeared in Queen Bee, released in 1955.
Wray appeared in three episodes of Perry Mason: "The Case of the Prodigal Parent" (1958); "The Case of the Watery Witness" (1959), as murder victim Lorna Thomas; and "The Case of the Fatal Fetish" (1965), as voodoo practitioner Mignon Germaine. In 1959, Wray was cast as Tula Marsh in the episode "The Second Happiest Day" of Playhouse 90. Other roles around this time were in the episodes "Dip in the Pool" (1958) and "The Morning After" of CBS's Alfred Hitchcock Presents. In 1960, she appeared as Clara in an episode of 77 Sunset Strip, "Who Killed Cock Robin?" Another 1960 role was that of Mrs. Staunton, with Gigi Perreau as her daughter, in the episode "Flight from Terror" of The Islanders.
Wray appeared in a 1961 episode of The Real McCoys titled "Theatre in the Barn". In 1963, she played Mrs. Brubaker in the episode "You're So Smart, Why Can't You Be Good?" of The Eleventh Hour. She ended her acting career in the 1980 made-for-television film Gideon's Trumpet.
In 1988, she published her autobiography On the Other Hand. In her later years, Wray continued to make public appearances. In 1991, she was crowned Queen of the Beaux Arts Ball, presiding with King Herbert Huncke.
She was approached by James Cameron to play the part of Rose Dawson Calvert for his blockbuster Titanic (1997) with Kate Winslet to play her younger self, but she turned down the role, which ended up being played by Gloria Stuart. She was a special guest at the 70th Academy Awards, where the show's host Billy Crystal introduced her as the "Beauty who charmed the Beast." She was the only 1920s Hollywood actress in attendance that evening with fellow 1930s actress Gloria Stuart nominated for an award. On October 3, 1998, she appeared at the Pine Bluff Film Festival, which showed The Wedding March with live orchestral accompaniment.
In January 2003, the 95-year-old Wray appeared at the 2003 Palm Beach International Film Festival to celebrate the Rick McKay documentary film Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There, where she was honored with a "Legend in Film" award. In her later years, she visited the Empire State Building frequently; in 1991, she was a guest of honor at the building's 60th anniversary, and in May 2004, she made one of her later public appearances. Her final public appearance was at an after-party at Sardi's restaurant in New York City, following the premiere of the documentary film Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There.
Wray married three times – to writers John Monk Saunders and Robert Riskin and the neurosurgeon Sanford Rothenberg (January 28, 1919 – January 4, 1991). She had three children: Susan Saunders, Victoria Riskin, and Robert Riskin Jr.
She became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1933.
In 2004, Wray was approached by director Peter Jackson to appear in a small cameo for the 2005 remake of King Kong. She met with Naomi Watts, who was to play the role of Ann Darrow. She politely declined the cameo, and claimed that the original "Kong" was the true "King." Before the filming of the remake commenced, Wray died in her sleep of natural causes on August 8, 2004, in her apartment in Manhattan, five weeks before her 97th birthday. Wray is interred at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California.
In 1989, Wray was awarded the Women in Film Crystal Award. Wray was honored with a Legend in Film award at the 2003 Palm Beach International Film Festival. For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Wray was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6349 Hollywood Blvd. She received a star posthumously on Canada's Walk of Fame in Toronto on June 5, 2005. A small park near Lee's Creek on Main Street in Cardston, Alberta, her birthplace, was named Fay Wray Park in her honour. The small sign at the edge of the park on Main Street has a silhouette of King Kong on it, remembering her role in the film King Kong. A large oil portrait of Wray by Alberta artist Neil Boyle is on display in the Empress Theatre in Fort Macleod, Alberta. In May 2006, Wray became one of the first four entertainers to be honored by Canada Post by being featured on a postage stamp.
- Gasoline Love (1923 short subject)
- The Coast Patrol (1925) as Beth Slocum
- Sure-Mike (1925 short) as Salesgirl at Department Store
- What Price Goofy (1925 short) as Concerned Girl with Perfume (uncredited)
- Isn't Life Terrible? (1925 short) as Potential Pen-Buyer (uncredited)
- Thundering Landlords (1925 short) as The Wife
- Chasing the Chaser (1925 short) as Nursemaid
- Madame Sans Jane (1925 short)
- No Father to Guide Him (1925 short) as Beach House Cashier (uncredited)
- Unfriendly Enemies (1925 short) as The Girl
- Your Own Back Yard (1925 short) as Woman in Quarrelsome Couple
- A Lover's Oath (1925) (uncredited) *lost film
- Moonlight and Noses (1925 short) as Miss Sniff, the Professor's Daughter
- Should Sailors Marry? (1925 short) as Herself
- Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925) as Slave Girl (unconfirmed, uncredited)
- WAMPAS Baby Stars of 1926 (1926 short) as Herself
- One Wild Time (1926 short)
- Don Key (A Son of a Burro) (1926 short)
- The Man in the Saddle (1926) as Pauline Stewart *lost film
- Don't Shoot (1926 short) as Nancy Burton
- The Wild Horse Stampede (1926) as Jessie Hayden
- The Saddle Tramp (1926 short)
- The Show Cowpuncher (1926 short)
- Lazy Lightning (1926) as Lila Rogers
- Loco Luck (1927) as Molly Vernon
- A One Man Game (1927) as Roberta
- Spurs and Saddles (1927) as Mildred Orth
- A Trip Through the Paramount Studio (1927 short) as Herself
- The Legion of the Condemned (1928) as Christine Charteris *lost film
- Street of Sin (1928) as Elizabeth *lost film
- The First Kiss (1928) as Anna Lee *lost film
- The Wedding March (1928) as Mitzi / Mitzerl Schrammell
- The Four Feathers (1929) as Ethne Eustace
- Thunderbolt (1929) as Ritzie
- Pointed Heels (1929) as Lora Nixon
- Behind the Make-Up (1930) as Marie Gardoni
- Paramount on Parade (1930) as Sweetheart (Dream Girl)
- The Texan (1930) as Consuelo
- The Border Legion (1930) as Joan Randall
- The Sea God (1930) as Daisy
- The Honeymoon (1930, unreleased) as Mitzi
- Captain Thunder (1930) as Ynez
- Stub Man (1931)
- The Slippery Pearls (1931 short) as Herself
- Dirigible (1931) as Helen Pierce
- The Conquering Horde (1931) as Taisie Lockhart
- Three Rogues (1931) as Lee Carleton
- The Finger Points (1931) as Marcia Collins
- The Lawyer's Secret (1931) as Kay Roberts
- The Unholy Garden (1931) as Camille de Jonghe
- Hollywood on Parade (1932 short subject) as Herself
- Stowaway (1932) as Mary Foster
- Doctor X (1932) as Joanne Xavier
- The Most Dangerous Game (1932) as Eve Trowbridge
- The Vampire Bat (1933) as Ruth Bertin
- Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) as Charlotte Duncan
- King Kong (1933) as Ann Darrow
- Below the Sea (1933) as Diana
- Ann Carver's Profession (1933) as Ann Carver Graham
- The Woman I Stole (1933) as Vida Carew
- Shanghai Madness (1933) as Wildeth Christie
- The Big Brain (1933) as Cynthia Glennon
- One Sunday Afternoon (1933) as Virginia Brush
- The Bowery (1933) as Lucy Calhoun
- Master of Men (1933) as Kay Walling
- Madame Spy (1934) as Marie Franck
- The Countess of Monte Cristo (1934) as Janet Krueger
- Once to Every Woman (1934) as Mary Fanshane
- Viva Villa! (1934) as Teresa
- Black Moon (1934) as Gail Hamilton
- The Affairs of Cellini (1934) as Angela
- The Richest Girl in the World (1934) as Sylvia Lockwood
- Cheating Cheaters (1934) as Nan Brockton
- Woman in the Dark (1934) as Louise Loring
- Mills of the Gods (1934) as Jean Hastings
- The Clairvoyant (1935) (US title: The Evil Mind) as Rene
- Bulldog Jack (1935) as Ann Manders
- Come Out of the Pantry (1935) as Hilda Beach-Howard
- White Lies (1935) as Joan Mitchell
- When Knights Were Bold (1936) as Lady Rowena
- Roaming Lady (1936) as Joyce Reid
- They Met in a Taxi (1936) as Mary Trenton
- It Happened in Hollywood (1937) as Gloria Gay
- Murder in Greenwich Village (1937) as Kay Cabot aka Lucky
- The Jury's Secret (1938) as Linda Ware
- Smashing the Spy Ring (1938) as Eleanor Dunlap
- Navy Secrets (1939) as Carol Mathews – Posing as Carol Evans
- Wildcat Bus (1940) as Ted Dawson
- Adam Had Four Sons (1941) as Molly Stoddard
- Melody for Three (1941) as Mary Stanley
- Not a Ladies' Man (1942) as Hester Hunter
- This Is the Life (1944, co-author of play with Sinclair Lewis)
- Treasure of the Golden Condor (1953) as Annette, Marquise de St. Malo
- Small Town Girl (1953) as Mrs. Kimbell
- The Cobweb (1955) as Edna Devanal
- Queen Bee (1955) as Sue McKinnon
- Hell on Frisco Bay (1956) as Kay Stanley
- Rock, Pretty Baby (1956) as Beth Daley
- Crime of Passion (1957) as Alice Pope
- Tammy and the Bachelor (1957) as Mrs. Brent
- Summer Love (1958) as Beth Daley
- Dragstrip Riot (1958) as Norma Martin / Mrs. Martin
- Gideon's Trumpet (1980) as Edna Curtis
- Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasen's (1997 documentary) as Herself
- Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There (2003 documentary) as Herself
- In The Rocky Horror Picture Show, extraterrestrial transvestite mad scientist Frank N. Furter sings "Whatever happened to Fay Wray? / That delicate satin-draped frame / As it clung to her thigh / How I started to cry / 'Cause I wanted to be dressed just the same".
- Mentioned in the chorus of the Jimmy Ray song "Who Wants To Know?"
- Type O Negative, on their album Bloody Kisses, has a track titled "Fay Wray Come Out to Play"
- Mentioned repeatedly in Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow
- Fay Wray has been mentioned in the Peanuts comic strip a couple of times, mostly involving characters Snoopy and Woodstock in reenacting the iconic scenes from King Kong. The first one was in a September 11, 1976 strip with Snoopy playing as King Kong while holding Woodstock as Ann Darrow (with a brief mention of her co-star Bruce Cabot); and in a August 29, 1976 Sunday strip format where Snoopy is dreaming that his nose is the Empire State Building and Woodstock, as King Kong, is climbing atop of it in real time. Waking up from it, Snoopy complains afterwards that "Fay Wray didn't even show up" in it.
- Roy Kinnard; Tony Crnkovich (October 25, 2005). The Films of Fay Wray. p. 14. ISBN 9781476604152. Retrieved July 17, 2016.
- "'King Kong' damsel Fay Wray dies at 96". TODAY.com. Retrieved July 17, 2016.
- "Ancestry of Fay Wray". Wargs.com. Retrieved March 9, 2011.
- "Fay Wray". Northern Stars. Archived from the original on June 11, 2011. Retrieved March 9, 2011.
- "Utah-Hollywood connection runs deep", p. B2, The Salt Lake Tribune, January 26, 2009.
- SL Tribune, January 26, 2009
- "Fay Wray". TCM.com. Retrieved March 9, 2011.
- Parish, James Robert; Mank, Gregory W.; Stanke, Don E. (1978). The Hollywood Beauties. New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House Publishers. p. 203. ISBN 0-87000-412-3.
- "Fay Wray". Emol.org. Retrieved March 9, 2011.
- "Fay Wray by Kendahl Cruver". Things-and-other-stuff.com. September 15, 1907. Retrieved March 9, 2011.
- Terrace, Vincent (2011). Encyclopedia of Television Shows, 1925 through 2010 (2nd ed.). Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. p. 853. ISBN 978-0-7864-6477-7.
- Wray, Fay (1989). On the Other Hand: A Life Story (1st ed.). St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-0-312-02265-5. OCLC 17917980.
- "Beaux Arts Society: Royal Family". Archived from the original on January 2, 2014. Retrieved February 24, 2014.
- "UPI.com". UPI.com. Retrieved March 9, 2011.
- "Social Security Death Index". Ssdi.rootsweb.ancestry.com. July 15, 2010. Retrieved March 9, 2011.
- "Fay Wray – Empire State Building to Dim Lights in Remembrance of Actress Fay Wray". UPI.com. Retrieved March 9, 2011.
- "Past Recipients: Crystal Award". Women In Film. Archived from the original on June 30, 2011. Retrieved May 10, 2011.
- "Peanuts, August 29, 1976".
- "Peanuts, September 11, 1976".
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