FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES http://www.nytimes.com|
August 9, 2004 Fay Wray, Beauty to Kong's Beast, Dies at 96 By THE NEW YORK TIMES Fay Wray, an actress who appeared in about 100 movies but whose fame is inextricably linked with the hours she spent struggling helplessly and screaming in the eight-foot-hand of King Kong, died on Sunday night at her apartment on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. She was 96.
Rick McKay, a friend, announced her death.
The huge success of "King Kong," a beauty-and-the beast film that opened in New York at both Radio City Music Hall and the Roxy in 1933, led to roles for Miss Wray in other 1930's films in which her life or her virtue, or both, were imperiled: "Dr. X," "The Mystery of the Wax Museum," "The Vampire Bat" and "The Most Dangerous Game."
But she was always aware that she would be remembered for the culmination of "King Kong," in which the giant ape from Skull Island carries her to the top of the Empire State Building, gently places her on a ledge, lunges furiously at fighter planes peppering him with bullets and falls to his death from the 102-story skyscraper, his strength and power neutralized by love. "When I'm in New York," the actress wrote in The New York Times in 1969, "I look at the building and feel as though it belongs to me, or is it vice versa?"
The most hazardous part of filming "King Kong," Miss Wray recalled, was the tendency of the giant gorilla hand to loosen its grasp while she was suspended high above the set. When she felt she was about to fall, she implored the director, Merian C. Cooper, to have her lowered to the stage floor to rest a few minutes before being secured once again in the hand and sent aloft.
She spent an entire day recording additional screams, variously shrill and plaintive, that an editor later inserted in the soundtrack — too often, she later emphasized. Asked how she was able to muster such animated cries, she replied, "I made myself believe that the nearest possible hope of rescue was at least a mile away."
Over the years, Miss Wray said, she came to feel that Kong had "become a spiritual thing to many people, including me."
"Although he had tremendous strength and power to destroy, some kind of instinct made him appreciate what he saw as beautiful," she said in a 1993 interview. "Just before he dies, he reaches toward me, but can't quite reach. The movie affects males of all ages. Recently, a 6-year-old boy said to me, `I've been waiting to meet you for half my life.' "
In a 1987 interview, Miss Wray said she had been sent a script for the 1976 remake of "King Kong," in which Jessica Lange played Kong's co-star, because its producers wanted her to play a small role. She said she disliked the script and declined the offer, because "the film I made was so extraordinary, so full of imagination and special effects, that it will never be equaled."
"They shouldn't have tried," she added.
Fay Wray was born on Sept. 15, 1907, on a farm in Alberta, Canada, the daughter of Jerry Wray, an inventor, and his wife, Vina. The couple separated when Fay was 12, and her mother moved to Los Angeles with her five children. As a teen-ager, Miss Wray began acting in bit parts in movies, then won supporting roles.
After graduating from Hollywood High School, she was the ingénue in a half-dozen silent westerns and played the bride in Erich von Stroheim's 1928 silent classic "The Wedding March." Among her prominent sound films were "The Four Feathers" (1929), "Dirigible" (1931), "One Sunday Afternoon" (1933), "Viva Villa!" (1934) and "The Affairs of Cellini" (1934).
Miss Wray was always drawn to writers, as she recounted in her 1989 autobiography, "On the Other Hand." She was just 19 when she married John Monk Saunders, a Rhodes scholar and screenwriter known for films like "Wings" and "The Dawn Patrol." Miss Wray recalled that her husband "had this theme in his life of living dangerously and dying young." He was a womanizer, an alcoholic and a drug addict, and she divorced him, she said, after he injected her with drugs while she slept, sold their house and their furniture and kept the money, and disappeared for a time with their baby daughter, Susan. During the 11 years they were married, Miss Wray and her husband each earned half a million dollars, but nothing was left. Mr. Saunders hanged himself in 1940, at 43.
She was pursued by Sinclair Lewis and had a long romance with Clifford Odets. In 1942, she was married to Robert Riskin, the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of "It Happened One Night," "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town," and "Lost Horizon." They had two children, Vicki and Robert Jr., who survive her, as does her daughter Susan. Mr. Riskin had a stroke in 1950 and died five years later. In 1971, she married Dr. Sanford Rothenberg, a neurosurgeon who had been one of Mr. Riskin's doctors. Dr. Rothenberg died in 1991.
Miss Wray retired in 1942, but made occasional movies in the 1950's and starred in "Gideon's Trumpet," a 1979 film with Henry Fonda. On television, she starred in a situation comedy, "The Pride of the Family," from 1953 to 1955. In later years, she also wrote plays that were produced in regional theaters.
When Aljean Harmetz of The New York Times visited her in 1989, she found Miss Wray, then 81, a "cheery woman, a mother hen with black leather pumps, pearls at the throat, a splash of bright red lipstick and auburn hair."
Miss Wray said: "I find it not acceptable when people blame Hollywood for the things that happened to them. Films are wonderful. I've had a beautiful life because of films."
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