This March, we are celebrating 82 years from the theatrical release of the original “King Kong” film, and remembering a unique star, the scream queen: Fay Wray.
There are movie stars, film legends and immortals…
If somebody asks me what makes a movie a classic there are numerous variables I must take into consideration: how people respond to the release of DVD’s in recent years, awards and achievements a film may or may not have received, or the box office results, just to name a few. What takes precedence for me, however, is the impact a film can have on us and the emotional connection achieved. This is the allure that classic movies engender and what makes them timeless and pass through generations.
The magnificence of a film from 1933 is still alive. It’s a great fantasy classic of all time. Is not a fairy tale, but instead a fury, furry tale: “King Kong”. With a mix of genres (adventure, mystery, horror, science fiction), the original “King Kong” caused an unseen impact on the movie industry and the general public. Today, in an era doomed and ruled by computers “King Kong” remains as an integral film that changed cinematographic history. There are a plethora of elements which enchant moviegoers of any epoch: an innovative story, exuberant scenarios, stunning special effects, an astounding score, and great, sensual characters. There was a beauty that conquers a beast and the whole world. A woman was immortalized in celluloid for the mystic role on Ann Darrow despite her affluence as an actress. An inspiring human being whose vigor passed through the screen: Fay Wray.
When I had the opportunity to talk to her back in 2003 I felt more than privileged. I had the sense of being part of something. The Fay Wray I met was more than the gorgeous girl in the film. Her sense of humanity combined with her histrionic talent made her the legend she will always be. We shared the love for New York. We shared the love for cinema. Wray demonstrated her verve to all. At 95, she was still impassioned about films and exited to show her fervor in an interview. She didn’t seem tired. She was kind and sweet.
I will probably shock you by revealing that appeared frail and arrived with a cane. Hardly how we remember this immortal sex symbol, but her disposition was more steadfast than any other actor I have ever interviewed. I am writing with vivid memories of an encounter I will never forget.
One of the things that touched me the most was her sense of reciprocity, respect and attention to journalists “…and that’s not pretense because any one who has anything to do with film is really making [the world] a better place. Film is an important part of the world today and so I greet you with love”.
She was born Canadian but made a living in Los Angeles until she made New York her final domicile. She dedicated her career to what she loved the most: films.
Among the 98 films she performed in, she had a special place for “‘The Wedding March’ which was a lovely film and it was silent because films didn’t have sound yet. I loved it and I loved the Director [Eric von Stroheim] that made it and admired him”.
Wray was able to touch hearts without words, but later movies had sound and “King Kong” proved the force of her lungs. The repercussion of her yell echoes generations later. Perhaps her strength is the quality for which she is most remembered. Not in vain called “The Queen of Scream”, Wray had a vigor that stayed with her and allowed her to achieve a prolific career. In “King Kong” she delivered a character named Ann Darrow who was fragile, innocent, adventurous and sensual.
As notable as her filmography was, she had an amazing presence in Broadway as well. Her beauty and grace not only stands out on the stage but also in her numerous TV appearances. She was one of the most prominent stars in the mid 20’s and 30’s. She was pure acting loyalty. She even coined Archibald Leach’s nickname: “Cary Grant.” The name stuck and Grant became on of the biggest stars Hollywood has ever known.
Her choice of taking the role of Ann Darrow was probably the best decision of her career and she acknowledged the impact “King Kong” has had on pop culture: “I know the film has a power, so it’s exiting for me to be in a film that is going to have a meaning –[it has a meaning] just because it’s filmed (Laughs) and I enjoyed it very much”.
With keen intuition, 72 years ago she was offered a role opposite “the tallest, darkest, leading man in Hollywood” whom she expected to be Clarke Gable; but later, when the real opponent was revealed she did not hesitated about playing against a 50-foot tall gorilla conjured by an original idea of director Merian Cooper, “And so he wanted to tell me about it. He mentioned this film, ‘Kong’ he called it, but he said ‘I think I’ll call it ‘King Kong’’, and I’ll never forget that moment when we were walking by the arrangement he had made. It was a small arrangement of plants [for a jungle set] that indicated he was going to make something interesting”.
And from a small situation came the movie that saved RKO from bankruptcy. A cutting edge film from the era standards that not only broke box office standards but ranked position 43 on the Top-100 American Movies by the American Film Institute. “King Kong” is a work of pure handcraft with everything that makes people go to movie theaters.
Although her vast filmography, notable TV appearances, and Broadway work, Fay Wray is most remembered for her work in the original “King Kong”. It was the way she portrayed Ann Darrow that set the tone for one of the immortal muses of the seventh art. She wasn’t afraid to show how possessive she was of Ann Darrow’s character: “That (part) will always be mine. Ann Darrow was a dandy lady”. And so was Fay Wray.
It seems like her compassion and the glamour of Ann Darrow accompanied her forever. Technologies can enhance and even reconstruct a film but genuine performances are unrepeatable. “King Kong” is certainly a film of endurance and Wray’s portrayal a gem of the 7th art. “I love the film and I know that film goes around the world and makes a difference. For many, many people [the film] changed their lives. I am so happy for that. l love it, I love it, I love it”.
From an exclusive interview held at the 2003 International Palm Beach Film Festival before her death on August 8th, 2004 in New York.