January 13th, 2010

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Celebrate her birthday. Kay?

By "Kay" we are of course referring to the tall and terrific Kay Francis, who was born Jan. 13, 1905 in Oklahoma City (in the territory of Oklahoma; it didn't become a state until 1907). Turner Classic Movies in the U.S. is honoring her today by showing nine films.

While Francis has been one of the major beneficiaries of the pre-Code revival, TCM today is focusing on her later work. Most of these films aren't well known ("In Name Only" isn't included), so chances are you haven't come across these movies unless you saw TCM's celebration of Francis as its star of the month for September 2008, a month before her friend Carole Lombard got similar treatment for the centennial of her birth). In fact, all nine of these films were shown that month. Here's what I wrote about them at the time, with today's schedule (all times Eastern)

* 7 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.

* 8:15 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.

* 9:30 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). By the way, this movie inspired a blog called "Comet Over Hollywood" (http://pickensj.blogspot.com/); the blog had previously been called "Living On Velvet," the title of another Francis film. Moreover, there's the fine pre-Code blog "Trouble In Paradise" (http://precodecinema.blogspot.com/).

* 10:45 a.m. -- "My Bill" (1938). Kay plays an impoverished widow with four children, one of whom is Bonita Granville.

* noon -- "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.

* 1:15 p.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.

* 2:45 p.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.

* 4:30 p.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.

* 6:15 p.m. -- "Always In My Heart" (1942). A convict returns home to find his family has forgotten him. With Walter Huston and Gloria Warren.
Francis-related Web sites and blogs are popping up all over the place. A few include "Kay Francis' Life And Career" (http://www.kayfrancisfilms.com/), "The Kay Francis Web Site" (http://www.kayfrancis.com/), "The Kay Francis Fan Page" (http://www.kayfrancis.net/), and "I Can't Wait To Be Forgotten" (http://www.kayfrancisbiography.com/), the title of one of several books about this fascinating woman. Sorry, Kay hasn't been forgotten...but I bet she'd secretly be pleased.

We'll leave you with this rarity -- Kay Francis, in color, a portrait taken in 1936:

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Television's debut and Russ Columbo

Last week the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was held in Las Vegas where production 3-D televisions were unveiled for consumers.   But according to research done by Lou Milano for his biography of Russ Columbo  television was first displayed publicly at the eighth annual Radio Electrical World’s Fair in New York’s Madison Square Garden in 1931.  A total of 28,000 people attended the opening day to hear David Sarnoff,  president of the Radio Corporation of America predict that “sight will be transmitted though the air to large numbers.  We are on the threshold of television.”   

Periodically demonstrations of television were held throughout the evening.  The hot lights were switched on in a cramped makeshift television studio that had been set up inside Madison Square Garden.  A viewing audience was ushered into the television theater and all eyes were glued to the ten foot screen as the shadowy image of a human being appeared before them.  (The image was projected onto the ten foot high screen from a much smaller television.)



A familiar face came into focus singing, You Call It Madness.  Russ Columbo made his live television debut at the Radio Electrical World’s Fair and the audience response clearly indicated that it had been a success.  You can hear the song here.


After his song Russ stepped away from the hot lights and mopped the beads of perspiration from his head.  He observed the scene for a few moments then left the studio welcoming the cooler air outside the door.  He paused briefly, lit a cigarette, then headed down the hallway for an autograph session sponsored by the Daily Mirror.

As Vince reminded us January 14 marks the102nd anniversary of the birth of Russ Columbo.   He was 23 years old when he debuted on television.  Happy birthday Russ.