15/09/1907 to 08/08/2004
Canadian-born Fay Wray was brought up in Los Angeles and entered films at an early age. She was barely in her teens when she started working as an extra. She began her career as a heroine in westerns at Universal during the silent era. In 1926 the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers selected 13 young starlets it deemed most likely to succeed in pictures. Fay was chosen as one of these starlets, along with Janet Gaynor and Mary Astor. Fame would indeed come to Fay when she played another heroine in Erich von Stroheims The Wedding March (1928). She continued playing leads in a number of films, such as the good-bad girl in Thunderbolt (1929). By the early 1930s she was at Paramount working with Gary Cooper and Jack Holt in a number of average films, such as Master of Men (1933). She also appeared in such horror films as Doctor X (1932) and The Vampire Bat (1933).
In 1933 Fay was approached by producer Merian C. Cooper, who told her that he had a part for her in a picture in which she would be working with a tall, dark leading man. What he didn't tell her was that her "tall, dark leading man" was a giant gorilla, and the picture turned out to be the classic King Kong (1933).
According to Fay, Jean Harlow had been RKO's original choice, but MGM contract commitments made Harlow unavailable and Fay was chosen to play the blonde captive of King Kong. Fay was paid $10,000 dollars to play the role. She wore a blonde wig over her naturally dark hair. The film was a commercial success and Fay was reportedly proud that the film saved RKO from bankruptcy. Fay's role would become the one with which she would be most associated.
Perhaps no one in the history of pictures could scream more dramatically than Fay, she became known as the first scream queen. Her character provided a combination of sex appeal, vulnerability and lung capacity.
After "Kong", she began a slow decline that put her into low-budget action films by the mid '30s. In 1939 her 11-year marriage to screenwriter John Monk Saunders ended in divorce, and her career was almost finished. In 1942 she remarried and retired from the screen, forever to be remembered as the "beauty who killed the beast" in "King Kong". However, in 1953 she made a comeback, playing mature character roles, 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 television into the 1960s.
In 1988, her autobiography, On the Other Hand, was published. In her later years, she visited the Empire State Building frequently, once visiting in 1991 as a guest of honour at the building's 60th anniversary, and also in May 2004, which was among her last public appearances.
In 2004, Fay 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, whom Wray originally played. Before filming of the remake commenced, however, Fay died in her sleep of natural causes on August 8, 2004, in her Manhattan apartment. She was 96 years old, only 38 days shy of her 97th birthday. Two days after her death, the lights of the Empire State Building were extinguished for 15 minutes in her memory.
Fay was married three times - to the writers John Monk Saunders and Robert Riskin and to the neurosurgeon Dr. Sanford Rothenberg (January 28, 1919 - January 4, 1991). She had three children. She was of the Mormon faith. Her grandfather Daniel Webster Jones was a Mormon pioneer.