“I’ve lived by a man’s code designed to fit a man’s world, yet at the same time I never forget that a woman’s first job is to choose the right shade of lipstick.”
— Carole Lombard
Actress Fay Wray achieved screen immortality as Ann Darrow, the girl in King Kong’s paw, the beauty who tamed, at least for a while, the raging beast.
For most of us growing up after Hollywood’s Golden Age, Fay Wray (born Vina Fay Wray; September 15, 1907 – August 8, 2004) was nothing more than a fetching, half-naked prop, screaming endlessly, eyes wide with terror.
But Fay Wray, the lovely, Canadian-born actress, had a long, distinguished Hollywood career that stretched from 1923 to 1980 — over eighty movies, and then guest appearances on television. On the surface, it seems a life drenched in glamour.
But in reality, Fay Wray played beauty to several human beasts.
Elizabeth Taylor lived in a diamond encrusted bubble.
Hers was a life utterly devoid of any sense of normalcy. From age twelve, when she became a child star in National Velvet, (1944) Elizabeth Taylor was thrust into an aberrant existence. Here was a young girl who never went through the ordinary rites of passage that create well-rounded, mature adults. Her school house was MGM. She never went to a prom, never shopped for groceries. Instead, she made love to adult men on-screen. While ordinary American teenagers did chores around the house and collected a weekly allowance, Elizabeth Taylor had an entourage of hair-dressers, clothing designers, and make-up men, while earning thousands of dollars a week.
In the hot house environment of the Hollywood studio, where other child stars, like Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, burned the candle at both ends, Elizabeth never internalized the basic vocabulary of love and affection based on common values. All she knew of the world was learned in the movies. The high drama that fueled the narratives in which she starred became, for Elizabeth, the model for her life, most notably, her mad, passionate loves and marriages.
Condemned by the Vatican and denounced on the Senate floor, Elizabeth Taylor’s romance with Richard Burton was known as “Le Scandale.”
In Lady Killer (1933) Dan Quigley (Jimmy Cagney) a movie theater usher, gets fired and drifts into a life of petty crime with a gang of con men and their slinky, hardboiled gun moll, Myra, played by the incomparable Mae Clarke. On the lam from the police and the gang who betrays him, Dan flees to California where he ends up as an extra in the movies, and then, presto, he’s a high-living movie star.
Cagney and Clarke seem to be having a swell time making this movie, building on their partnership which started in The Public Enemy (1931) when Cagney smashed a grapefruit into Mae’s face, 41 seconds that, for better or worse, has given Mae, a great but emotionally fragile actress, Hollywood immortality.
Growing up on the tough streets of New York, Cagney’s friends were Jewish kids who taught the Irish lad their mother tongue. Thus, in this wonderful little comedy, Cagney unexpectedly tosses off some Yiddish which roughly translates as: “My ass is killing me.”