Fay Wray

Vina Fay Wray (September 15, 1907 – August 8, 2004) was an American actress most noted for starring as Ann Darrow in the 1933 film King Kong. Through an acting career that spanned nearly six decades, Wray attained international recognition as an actress in horror films. She has been dubbed one of the early "scream queens".

Fay Wray
Studio publicity photo
Vina Fay Wray

(1907-09-15)September 15, 1907
DiedAugust 8, 2004(2004-08-08) (aged 96)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Resting placeHollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, California
Years active1923–1980
John Monk Saunders
(m. 1928; div. 1939)

Robert Riskin
(m. 1942; died 1955)

Sanford Rothenberg
(m. 1971; died 1991)
ChildrenSusan Riskin
Victoria Riskin
Robert Riskin Jr.[1][2]

After appearing in minor film roles, Wray gained media attention after being selected as one of the "WAMPAS Baby Stars" in 1926. This led to her being contracted to Paramount Pictures as a teenager, where she made more than a dozen feature films. After leaving Paramount, she signed deals with various film companies, being cast in her first horror film roles, in addition to many other types of roles, including in The Bowery (1933) and Viva Villa (1934), both of which starred Wallace Beery. For RKO Radio Pictures, Inc., she starred in the film for which she is most identified, King Kong (1933). After the success of King Kong, Wray made numerous appearances in both film and television; she retired in 1980.

Early life

Wray was born on a ranch near Cardston in the province of Alberta, Canada to Mormon parents, Elvina Marguerite Jones, who was from Salt Lake City, Utah, and Joseph Heber Wray, who was from Kingston upon Hull, England.[3] She was one of six children[4] and was a granddaughter of LDS pioneer Daniel Webster Jones. Wray was never a Mormon herself.

Her family returned to the United States a few years after she was born; they moved to Salt Lake City in 1912[5] and moved to Lark, Utah, in 1914. In 1919, the Wray family returned to Salt Lake City, and then relocated to Hollywood, where Fay attended Hollywood High School.

Early acting career

In 1923, Wray appeared in her first film at the age of 16, when she landed a role in a short historical film sponsored by a local newspaper.[6] In the 1920s, Wray landed a major role in the silent film The Coast Patrol (1925), as well as uncredited bit parts at the Hal Roach Studios.

In 1926, the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers selected Wray as one of the "WAMPAS Baby Stars", a group of women whom they believed to be on the threshold of movie stardom. She was at the time under contract to Universal Studios, mostly co-starring in low-budget Westerns opposite Buck Jones.

The following year, Wray was signed to a contract with Paramount Pictures. In 1926, director Erich von Stroheim cast her as the main female lead in his film The Wedding March, released by Paramount two years later. While the film was noted for its high budget and production values, it was a financial failure. It also gave Wray her first lead role. Wray stayed with Paramount to make more than a dozen films and made the transition from silent films to "talkies".[7]

Horror films and King Kong

After leaving Paramount, Wray signed to various film companies. Under these deals, Wray was cast in various horror films, including Doctor X. However, her greatest known films were produced under her deal with RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. Her first film under RKO was The Most Dangerous Game (1932), co-starring Joel McCrea and shot at night on the same jungle sets that were being used for King Kong during the day, with Wray and Robert Armstrong starring in both movies.

The Most Dangerous Game was followed by Wray's most memorable film, King Kong. According to Wray, Jean Harlow had been RKO's original choice, but because MGM put Harlow under exclusive contract during the pre-production phase of the film, she became unavailable[8] and Wray was approached by director Merian C. Cooper to play the role of Ann Darrow, the blonde captive of King Kong. Wray was paid $10,000 ($200,000 in 2018 dollars) to play the role.[9] The film was a commercial success. Wray was reportedly proud that the film saved RKO from bankruptcy.[10] Wray's role became the one with which she was most associated.

Later career

She continued to star in various films, including The Richest Girl in the World, a second film with Joel McCrea, but by the early 1940s, her appearances became less frequent. She retired from acting in 1942 after her second marriage but due to financial exigencies soon resumed her acting career,[9] and over the next three decades, Wray appeared in several films and frequently on television. Wray was cast in the 1953-54 sitcom The Pride of the Family as Catherine Morrison. Paul Hartman played her husband, Albie Morrison. Natalie Wood and Robert Hyatt played their children, Ann and Junior Morrison, respectively. In 1955, Wray appeared with fellow WAMPAS Baby Star Joan Crawford in Queen Bee.

Wray appeared in three episodes of Perry Mason: "The Case Of The Prodigal Parent" (1958); "The Case of the Watery Witness" (1959), as murder victim Lorna Thomas; and "The Case of the Fatal Fetish" (1965), as voodoo practitioner Mignon Germaine. In 1959, Wray was cast as Tula Marsh in the episode "The Second Happiest Day" of Playhouse 90. Other roles around this time were in the episodes "Dip in the Pool" (1958) and "The Morning After" of CBS's Alfred Hitchcock Presents. In 1960, she appeared as Clara in an episode of 77 Sunset Strip, "Who Killed Cock Robin?" Another 1960 role was that of Mrs. Staunton, with Gigi Perreau as her daughter, in the episode "Flight from Terror" of The Islanders.

Wray appeared in a 1961 episode of The Real McCoys titled "Theatre in the Barn". In 1963, she played Mrs. Brubaker in the episode "You're So Smart, Why Can't You Be Good?" of The Eleventh Hour. She ended her acting career in the 1980 made-for-television film Gideon's Trumpet.

In 1988, she published her autobiography On the Other Hand.[11] In her later years, Wray continued to make public appearances. In 1991, she was crowned Queen of the Beaux Arts Ball presiding with King Herbert Huncke.[12]

She was approached by James Cameron to play the part of Rose Dawson Calvert for his 1997 blockbuster Titanic with Kate Winslet to play her younger self, but she turned down the role, which was played by Gloria Stuart. She was a special guest at the 70th Academy Awards, where the show's host Billy Crystal introduced her as the "Beauty who charmed the Beast". She was the only 1920s Hollywood actress in attendance that evening (with fellow 1930s actress Gloria Stuart nominated for an award. On October 3, 1998, she appeared at the Pine Bluff Film Festival, which showed "The Wedding March" (with live orchestral accompaniment).

In January 2003, the 95-year-old Wray appeared at the 2003 Palm Beach International Film Festival to celebrate the Rick McKay documentary film Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There, where she was honored with a "Legend in Film" award. In her later years, she visited the Empire State Building frequently; in 1991, she was a guest of honor at the building's 60th anniversary, and in May 2004,[13] she made one of her later public appearances. Her final public appearance was at an after-party at the Sardi's restaurant in New York City, following the premiere of the documentary film Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There.

Personal life

Wray married three times – to writers John Monk Saunders and Robert Riskin and the neurosurgeon Sanford Rothenberg (January 28, 1919 January 4, 1991).[14] She had three children: Susan Saunders, Victoria Riskin, and Robert Riskin Jr.

She became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1933.


In 2004, Wray was approached by director Peter Jackson to appear in a small cameo for the 2005 remake of King Kong. She met with Naomi Watts, who was to play the role of Ann Darrow. She politely declined the cameo, and claimed the original "Kong" to be the true "King". Before filming of the remake commenced, Wray died in her sleep of natural causes on August 8, 2004 in her apartment in Manhattan, five weeks before her 97th birthday. Wray is interred at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California.

Two days after her death, the lights of the Empire State Building were lowered for 15 minutes in her memory.[15]


In 1989, Wray was awarded the Women in Film Crystal Award.[16] Wray was honored with a Legend in Film award at the 2003 Palm Beach International Film Festival. For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Wray was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6349 Hollywood Blvd. She received a star posthumously on Canada's Walk of Fame in Toronto on June 5, 2005. A small park near Lee's Creek on Main Street in Cardston, Alberta, her birthplace, was named Fay Wray Park in her honour. The small sign at the edge of the park on Main Street has a silhouette of King Kong on it, remembering her role in the film King Kong. A large oil portrait of Wray by Alberta artist Neil Boyle is on display in the Empress Theatre in Fort Macleod, Alberta. In May 2006, Wray became one of the first four entertainers to be honored by Canada Post by being featured on a postage stamp.

Partial filmography

See also


  1. Roy Kinnard; Tony Crnkovich (2005-10-25). The Films of Fay Wray. p. 14. Retrieved 2016-07-17.
  2. "'King Kong' damsel Fay Wray dies at 96". TODAY.com. Retrieved 2016-07-17.
  3. "Ancestry of Fay Wray". Wargs.com. Retrieved 2011-03-09.
  4. "Fay Wray - Northern Stars". Northernstars.ca. Archived from the original on 2011-06-11. Retrieved 2011-03-09.
  5. "Utah-Hollywood connection runs deep", p. B2, The Salt Lake Tribune, January 26, 2009.
  6. SL Tribune, 26 January 2009
  7. "Fay Wray". TCM.com. Retrieved 2011-03-09.
  8. Parish, James Robert; Mank, Gregory W.; Stanke, Don E. (1978). The Hollywood Beauties. New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House Publishers. p. 203. ISBN 0-87000-412-3.
  9. "Fay Wray". Emol.org. Retrieved 2011-03-09.
  10. "Fay Wray by Kendahl Cruver". Things-and-other-stuff.com. 1907-09-15. Retrieved 2011-03-09.
  11. Wray, Fay (1989). On the Other Hand: A Life Story (1st ed.). St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-0-312-02265-5. OCLC 17917980.
  12. "Beaux Arts Society: Royal Family". Archived from the original on 2 January 2014. Retrieved 24 February 2014.
  13. "UPI.com". UPI.com. Retrieved 2011-03-09.
  14. "Social Security Death Index". Ssdi.rootsweb.ancestry.com. 2010-07-15. Retrieved 2011-03-09.
  15. "Fay Wray - Empire State Building to Dim Lights in Remembrance of Actress Fay Wray". UPI.com. Retrieved 2011-03-09.
  16. "Past Recipients: Crystal Award". Women In Film. Archived from the original on June 30, 2011. Retrieved May 10, 2011.
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