Rick McKay tried to warn me, but my journalistic instincts got the better of me.
I looked at the legendary Fay Wray in the eye and asked the legendary actress THE question,
"How does it feel to be First Ever Scream Queen in motion picture history?"
Fay Wray shot me a look that would have made King Kong himself put on an apron and do the dishes in a banana tree for six months. Ms. Wray replied, "I do NOT like it at all, would you?"
As much as horror movie mavens love her horror movies, Fay Wray was not a fan of the genre.
"I don't like it at all...being called Scream Queen," Fay Wray told me. Sadly when Fay Wray passed away last Summer, most mainstream Entertainment magazines labeled her by the title, "Scream Queen."
Fay Wray realized that this not-so-objective journalist was a fan and she must have sensed my discomfort. Her face brigtened up and she told me that she fled to England to escape the "Scream Queen" label and explore different acting opportunities. Miss Wray stated that the first thing the British casting directors asked her to do in an audition was to scream. After "King Kong " was released, Miss Wray starred in several classic horror movies ("Mystery of the Wax Museum" and "Doctor X") that have influenced many actresses in the twenty first century.
"King Kong" was released during the darkest days of the Depression of the 20th century, went on to break box office records and save the R.K.O. Studio from bankruptcy. Fay Wray's participation in "King Kong" involved ten months of filming in 1932. Since she was not needed on the set everyday, due to the special effects, Miss Wray worked on several motion pictures at the same time, including "The Most Dangerous Game" with Joel McCrae.
Miss Wray's participation in "King Kong" involved ten months of filming in 1932. Since she was not needed on the set everyday, due to the special effects, Miss Wray worked on several motion pictures at the same time, including "The Most Dangerous Game" with Joel McCrae. This David O. Selznick/Merian Cooper/ Ernest B. Schoedsack production utilized the same sets from "King Kong" with some of the same actors; Robert Armstrong and Noble Johnson.
This 1932 classic is the blueprint for all modern day thrillers and horror movies. Leslie Bank's Count Zaroff must be a blood ancestor of Dr. Hannibal Lector. There is nightmarish imagery and brutal action sequences featuring man battling beast. The movie is only 63 minutes long, but it packs a powerful punch 72 years after release. The Broward County Main Library "Literary Cinema" presented a free screening of "The Most Dangerous Game" in March 2005. To experience of a Saturday matinee event, the program opened with the six minute test reel for "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow," a film inspired by both "The Most Dangerous Game" and "King Kong."
Wray's favorite role was in "The Wedding March," a film directed by Erich Von Stroheim. During the 1920's Von Stroheim was billed as the man you loved to hate. Wray found this to be far from the truth and refered to him as "The man you loved to love!" Fay Wray enthusiastically refered to Von Stroheim as "Wonderful, there is no one like him." While best known for his portrayal as Gloria Swanson's butler in "Sunset Blvd," Von Stroheim directed the silent movie classic, "Greed."
While performing in a stage play, Wray persuaded her costar Archie Leach to change his name to that of Cary Grant. She refered to Cary Grant as a "Good friend and a nice person." and she was looking forward to watching his tribute on cable television. Among the Hollywood community, Fay Wray was also known as a Ping Pong champion.
She also wrote "Nikki," "Meadowlark" and cowrote a play with Clifford Odets. It her connection to the stage that lead to Wray's return to the big screen for the first time in forty five years with "Broadway the Golden Age, by the Legends who were There." Rick McKay's documentary is a living history of Broadway theatre. It was the winner of the Best Documentary award at the recent Palm Beach Film Festival. Of note Fay Wray's first husband, the late John Monk Saunders, won an Oscar for "Wings'" the first ever Oscar recipient for Best Picture.
Fresh from his Oscar triumph for "The Pianist" in 2003, Adrien Brody was honored with the "Newcomer" award at the 8th Annual Palm Beach Film Festival when Fay Wray honored with the "Legend" award. In Peter Jackson's remake of "King Kong," Brody will be portraying the Bruce Cabot inspired role, who happened to be Fay Wray's love interest from the original movie. Originally, Peter Jackson had planned to cast Fay Wray in a cameo role in a remake. The intent was for the legendary actress to utter the immortal line, "It was beauty that killed the best."
In her mid nineties, Fay Wray still knew how to soothe the savage beasts. She charmed a room full of cynical reporters at the 8th Annual Palm Beach Film Festival press conference and she commanded the respect and awe of young local filmmakers. Despite an injured hand and going against doctor's orders, Fay Wray signed autographs for eager and appreciative fans. It was a classy move and modern day actors should take a tip from this Hollywood Legend, Fay Wray sincerely wanted to be certain that every audience member received respectful and individualized attention. As for the secret of her success at being a very spunky 95 year old, Wray commented "I eat simple and do not combine different foods." Her one indulgence was vanilla ice cream.
She didn't dwell on her halcyon days when she was defeating Charlie Chaplin in the Hollywood ping pong championships, but focused on the present moment. She wrote and found new ways to challenge herself. For the first time ever on the big screen, Fay Wray sang during the closing credits of her last movie, " Broadway the Golden Age, by the Legends who were There."
While documenting history with his "Broadway Legend" series of movies, Rick McKay has now become a footnote to cinematic history. Rick hosted the historical dinner in which Fay Wray met Naomi Watts with Peter Jackson. While she still claimed to be Ann Darrow, it was at this dinner that Fay Wray passed the torch of Ann Darrow to Naomi Watts.
(Portions of this article can be found in an April edition of
"the Observer" http://www.deerfieldbeachobserver.com/page/page/2528262.htm