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Oh, Kay! TCM honors Francis this month



The photo above finds Cary Grant sharing space with the two upcoming stars of the month for Turner Classic Movies in the U.S. We've already talked a bit about Carole Lombard's honor in October, but here let's focus on the September star, Kay Francis, shown with Grant and Lombard in a scene from the 1939 romantic drama "In Name Only," a film which will be shown in both months.

You'll have plenty of opportunities to sample Francis' screen work this month, as 42 of her movies -- more than three-fifths of her feature-film output -- will be shown. (That's a TCM record for any star of the month, by the way.) The schedule will be shown below, but first some thoughts about Francis, her life and career.



Tall (5-foot-9, probably the equivalent of a six-footer today), willowy and graceful, Kay Francis was one of screendom's most elegant clotheshorses, and part of her appeal was seeing what chic outfits she'd wear on screen. She often admitted she was in the film business to make money, and that she did (in her will, she donated $1 million to The Seeing Eye to aid its fabled guide dog program). But she was a capable actress in a variety of genres, and her intelligence frequently shines on screen.

Nearly half of the films on TCM's schedule are from the pre-Code era (up to mid-1934), when Francis was at her peak of popularity. She played all sorts of proto-feminist roles, including several films where she portrayed a doctor. Among actresses of that era, perhaps only Norma Shearer has been more aided by the pre-Code revival of the past 15 years.

Born Katherine Gibbs in 1905 in the Oklahoma Territory (it didn't became a state for another two years), she became an actress in her teens, graduated to Broadway for a while in the 1920s, then turned to movies when sound arrived. One of her earliest films was the 1929 adaptation of the Marx Brothers' stage hit "The Cocoanuts," which isn't on the schedule; neither is her other film with Lombard, 1931's "Ladies' Man," or the gold-digging saga she made that year, "Girls About Town."

After the Code was enforced, Francis remained popular for a while, but as times changed, her appeal began to fade and her home studio, Warners, began putting her in second-tier films. Her friend Lombard gave her a good second lead in "In Name Only," but it didn't really stem her decline. By the mid-forties, she was reduced to the low-grade Monogram studio, even producing a few of her own films. Aside from two television appearances in the early fifties, her post-1946 career was limited to stage work. She was married three times and had numerous affairs with both men and women, all of which she noted with characteristic frankness (and self-deprecating humor) in her journals. Francis died in August 1968.



Here's the schedule (all times Eastern):

Sept. 4

* 8 p.m. --
"Raffles" (1930). Her first starring role, with Ronald Colman (who's a jewel thief).

* 9:15 p.m. -- "Jewel Robbery" (1932). More jewel thievery, this time by William Powell. There's a gag involving marijuana here, several decades before Cheech and Chong.

* 10:30 p.m. -- "One Way Passage" (1932). Again with Powell, and a highlight for both. An ocean voyage leads to romance for a dying heiress and a condemned criminal. Directed by Tay Garnett.

* 11:45 p.m. -- "Divorce" (1945). One of Kay's later vehicles, co-starring actors who also had seen better days, Bruce Cabot and Helen Mack.

* 1 a.m. -- "Man Wanted" (1932). Back to pre-Code Kay, and a scenario where gender roles are reversed, as a female executive falls for her male secretary. With David Manners and Una Merkel.

* 2:15 a.m. -- "Women Are Like That" (1938). A couple reunite years after breaking up. One of the "B" pictures Warners relegated Francis to in the late 1930s. With Pat O'Brien and Ralph Forbes.

* 3:45 a.m. -- "Comet Over Broadway" (1938). Another "B" film for Francis, a backstage murder yarn directed by Busby Berkeley (no big dance sequences here, though).

* 5 a.m. -- "I Loved A Woman" (1933). How would Edward G. Robinson fare as a Francis leading man? Find out in this pre-Code domestic drama about a Chicago meat packer and his social-climbing wife.

* 6:45 a.m. -- "Living On Velvet" (1935). Directed by Frank Borzage, this has Francis as a society girl in love with pilot George Brent; the cast also includes Warren William.

Sept. 11

* 8 p.m. --
"Trouble In Paradise" (1932). Arguably Francis' greatest and best-known film, another jewel thievery story with a love triangle on the side. An Ernst Lubitsch classic, with Miriam Hopkins and Herbert Marshall.

* 9:30 p.m. -- "Cynara" (1932). Again with Ronald Colman, this tale of infidelity was directed by King Vidor.

* 11 p.m. -- "A Notorious Affair" (1930). This provides a rare chance to see late-twenties beauty Billie Dove, as well as Basil Rathbone (doing an Italian accent). Francis completes the love triangle.

* 12:15 a.m. -- "The Feminine Touch" (1941). A good second lead role for Francis in this romantic comedy co-starring Rosalind Russell and Don Ameche and directed by Woody Van Dyke.

* 2 a.m. -- "Street Of Women" (1932). Pre-Code drama of infidelity co-starring Roland Young.

* 3 a.m. -- "Give Me Your Heart" (1936). Francis as a socialite who has to give up her baby. With George Brent and Patric Knowles.

* 4:30 a.m. -- "Stolen Holiday" (1937). Kay's a Paris fashion model who marries fortune hunter Claude Rains. Directed by Michael Curtiz.

* 6 a.m. -- "Mary Stevens, M.D." (1933). A woman doctor decides to have a baby without benefit of marriage. Mick La Salle praised this film in his groundbreaking pre-Code book, "Complicated Women." With Glenda Farrell.

* 7:15 a.m. -- "Passion Flower" (1930). A society woman falls for her chauffeur. Directed by William de Mille.

* 8:45 a.m. -- "Another Dawn" (1937). Kay's an officer's wife at a British outpost in Africa who falls for another man. With Errol Flynn. The title is sort of an industry in-joke, as for several years "Another Dawn" was used on movie theater marquees in films as sort of a generic title.

* 10 a.m. -- "The Goose And The Gander" (1935) Kay's a divorcee who can't stop meddling in her ex-husband's affairs. With George Brent.

* 11:15 a.m. -- "The House On 56th Street" (1933). Kay loses her family after being falsely convicted of a crime. With Ricardo Cortez and Gene Raymond.

Sept. 18

* 8 p.m. --
"Transgression" (1931). When Kay's lover is killed, she tries to intercept the confession she mailed her husband. With Ricardo Cortez and Paul Cavanagh.

* 9:15 p.m. -- "Secrets Of An Actress" (1938). A leading lady falls for a married architect who's invested in her play. With George Brent and Ian Hunter; directed by William Keighley.

* 10:30 p.m. -- "Women In The Wind" (1939). Kay's an aviatrix in a women's air race. Directed by John Farrow.

* 11:45 p.m. -- "King Of The Underworld" (1939). Kay's a doctor again, and she gets mixed up with a criminal gang. With Humphrey Bogart, who as of yet hadn't moved to the top tier of Warners stars.

* 1 a.m. -- "It's A Date" (1940). Kay plays a singer vying for a stage part -- and a man -- against her daughter, played by Deanna Durbin. With Walter Pidgeon.

* 2:45 a.m. -- "Play Girl" (1940). Kay plays an aging gold digger, and Nigel Bruce plays a non-Watson role.

* 4:15 a.m. -- "Little Men" (1940). A con artist tries to save the boarding school where his son has found a home. From the Louisa May Alcott book. With Jack Oakie and George Bancroft.

* 5:45 a.m. -- "My Bill" (1938). Kay plays an impoverished widow with four children, one of whom is Bonita Granville.

* 7 a.m. -- "In Name Only" (1939). Lombard, Grant and Francis in a love triangle, directed by John Cromwell. Carole's daughter is portrayd by Peggy Ann Garner of "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn" fame.

* 8:45 a.m. -- "The Keyhole" (1933). Michael Curtiz directed this pre-Code tale of a private eye specializing in divorce cases who falls for the woman he's been hired to frame. With George Brent and Glenda Farrell.

* 10 a.m. -- "I Found Stella Parish" (1935). Kay's an actress who does all she can to protect her daughter from her shady past. With Paul Lukas and Ian Hunter; directed by Mervyn LeRoy.

Sept. 25

* 8 p.m. --
"Mandalay" (1934). A woman with a past tries to get rid of a former lover. With Ricardo Cortez and Lyle Talbot; directed by Michael Curtiz. This film, more than any other, probably cemented Francis' reputation for saying her "r's" as "w's."

* 9:15 p.m. -- "Doctor Monica" (1934). Kay's final pre-Code film, she plays a doctor who learns that her husband loves another woman. With Warren William and Jean Muir.

* 10:15 p.m. -- "Confession" (1937). Kay's a singer who commits murder to protect her daughter's virtue. With Basil Rathbone and Ian Hunter.

* midnight -- "First Lady" (1937). Here, Kay is a president's granddaughter who wants to get back to the White House -- but in order to do that, she has to steer her husband away from a femme fatale. A comedy adapted from a George S. Kaufman play. With Victor Jory, Anita Louise and the always-welcome Walter Connolly.

* 1:30 a.m. -- "Always In My Heart" (1942). A convict returns home to find his family has forgotten him. With Walter Huston and Gloria Warren.

* 3:15 a.m. -- "Stranded" (1935). Another Frank Borzage film casts Kay as a Traveler's Aid worker who gets mixed up with gangsters. With George Brent and Patricia Ellis.

* 4:30 a.m. -- "Storm At Daybreak" (1933). A fictionalized account of the events leading up to Archduke Ferdinand's assassination and the start of World War I. With Walter Huston and Nils Asther.

* 6 a.m. -- "Guilty Hands" (1931). Lionel Barrymore stars with Kay in a plot that sounds like a twist on "A Free Soul": A district attorney tries to frame an innocent girl for the murder he committed. With Madge Evans; directed by Woody Van Dyke.

* 7:15 a.m. -- "Allotment Wives" (1945). Unscrupulous women marry servicemen for their pay; this was one of Kay's Monogram films. With Paul Kelly and Otto Kruger.

* 8:45 a.m. -- "The White Angel" (1936). Kay Francis as Florence Nightingale? That offbeat casting may explain why this biopic failed at the box office, but she's actually pretty good. With Ian Hunter and Donald Woods.
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