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Kay Francis was born Katharine Edwina Gibbs in 1905 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Ask most movie fans (even film buffs) who was the number one female star of the first half of the 1930s, and they would likely guess Joan Crawford or Bette Davis, but actually it was Kay Francis, and yet she is mostly forgotten today! Her early life did not show evidence of what she would later become. She went to Catholic schools, but she matured early (and she was 5'9", extremely tall for a woman at that time) and at 17 she went to New York to become an actress. She married a rich man instead, but less than three years later they were divorced, and she got a part on Broadway. She had a few roles, then married another rich man, and then divorced again, and was signed to a Paramount contract when the studio still had a New York branch. She married a third time (another rich man, but that marriage did not last long either), and became Paramount's number one female star, appearing in an astonishing ten movies in 1930 and eight in 1931. Why? This was the "Pre-Code" era, and studios pushed the limits of how much raw sexuality they could show, and the public, both men and women, could not get enough of her! Francis had a great sexy speaking voice (many of the top pre-talkie sex stars did not, and Francis had an odd speech impediment that made her more endearing!) and she had a very "different" look from other actresses (sometimes quite androgynous), and she had an extreme sexiness that does not completely come across in still images. In 1931 she was married for the fourth time (and she was still only 26!). In 1932, Warners, which had become a top studio after The Jazz Singer, hired her away from Paramount, and she became their number one female star, appearing in a total of 20 movies in 1932 to 1935 (and she was divorced for the fourth time in 1933!). Warners also wisely hired away the great William Powell, who had starred in several movies with Francis at Paramount, and they would appear in some wonderful movies together at Warners, the best of which was likely the doomed romance, One Way Passage. The best movie she made at this time was her last for Paramount, and it was with Herbert Marshall, not Powell, in Trouble in Paradise, directed by the great Ernst Lubitsch and written by Samson Raphaelson, and likely the best romantic comedy ever made. Watching it helps to explain Francis' great appeal. When she talks to Marshall about their affair that never will be, and she says, "It would have been marvelous", you know she is right! At Warners, Francis played lead roles in all her movies, and she started specializing in "suffering women" roles. But after a series of successful movies in the mid and late 1930s, her career suddenly took a nosedive, and she got worse and worse roles, and Warners did not re-hire her when her contract ended. She married another rich man in 1939, and after that appeared in 12 minor movies, but her career was essentially over. She went from number one female star to no career in just a few years! What happened? For one thing, the Code didn't help. Her best movies had super sexy plots in the pre-Code era (but unlike Barbara Stanwyck's movies at that time, the sex was much more implied and less overt), and after the Code her movies were far less sexy and far more preachy, which didn't please her fans. It seems likely her private life didn't help her career. Between 1933 and 1939, when she was between her fourth and fifth husbands, she had affairs with lots of men (some top male actors), and she is said to have had affairs with three women as well! Francis never had any children, and when she passed away in 1968 at the age of 63, she left over a million dollars to a company which trained guide dogs for the blind.
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