Filled Under: Fay Wray
Fay Wray was a Canadian-American actress most remembered for playing the lead in “King Kong” (1933). Through an acting career that spanned 57 years, Wray attained international stardom as an actress in horror film roles, leading to many considering her as the first “scream queen”.
Fay Wray was born Vina Fay Wray on September 15, 1907 in Cardston, Alberta, Canada. Her parents were Elvina Marguerite Jones, who was from Salt Lake City, and Joseph Heber Wray, who was from Kingston upon Hull, England. She was one of six children. Her family moved to Salt Lake City in 1912 and then to Lark, Utah in 1914. In 1919, they returned Salt Lake City, before moving to Hollywood, California, where Fay attended Hollywood High School. In 1923, Wray appeared in her first film at the age of 16, landing a role in a short historical film sponsored by a local newspaper. In the 1920s, Wray landed roles in several silent films such as “The Coast Patrol” (1925), as well as uncredited bit parts at the Hal Roach Studios. In 1926 Wray gained media attention when she was selected as one of the “WAMPAS Baby Stars”. This led to Wray being signed to Paramount Pictures where she made more than a dozen films. After leaving Paramount, she signed deals with various film companies, being cast in her first horror film roles among many other types of roles, including in “The Bowery” (1933) and “Viva Villa” (1934), both huge productions starring Wallace Beery. Wray’s greatest known films were with RKO Radio Pictures. Her first film under RKO was “The Most Dangerous Game” (1932), co-starring Joel McCrea. Her next film for RKO was the film with which she is most identified with, “King Kong” (1933). The film was a huge commercial success, reportedly saving RKO from bankruptcy. After “Kong”, her career began a slow decline that put her into low-budget action films by the mid ’30s. She retired from film in 1942 after making “Not a Ladies’ Man” (1942). In 1953 she made a comeback with a role in the movie “Treasure of the Golden Condor” (1953) and also appeared on television as Catherine, Natalie Wood’s mother, in “The Pride of the Family” (1953). She continued to appear in films until 1958 and on television with her last performance before the cameras a made-for-television movie called “Hallmark Hall of Fame: Gideon’s Trumpet” in 1980.
Fay Wray became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1933.
Wray was married three times, the first to John Monk Saunders in 1928. They had one child, Susan Saunders. The marriage ended in divorce in 1939. Her second marriage was to screenwriter Robert Riskin Robert in 1942. They had two children, Victoria Riskin and Robert Riskin Jr and remained married until his death in 1955. Her third marriage was to neurosurgeon Dr. Sanford Rothenberg in 1971 and they remained married until his death in 1991.
Fay Wray died in her sleep of natural causes on August 8, 2004, in her Manhattan apartment. Her friend Rick McKay, said that “she just kind of drifted off quietly as if she was going to sleep… she just kind of gave out.” She was 96 years old. Wray was buried at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California.
Two days after her death, the lights of the Empire State Building were extinguished for 15 minutes in her memory.