DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!
Jun 10 2008

On the Trail of a Movie Star

by David T

Kaybkcover_2 Dr. Lynn Kear, a resident of Stone Mountain, is a film historian and co-author, with John Rossman, of two books about Kay Francis, the glamorous, enigmatic movie star of the 1930s and 1940s. Kear and Rossman’s biography, Kay Francis: A Passionate Life and Career, was published in 2006, and followed last year by the release of The Complete Kay Francis Career Record: All Film, Stage, Radio, and Television Appearances.

In an exclusive interview with DCPLive, Dr. Kear talks about researching the life and work of this unforgettable — and quite unconventional — leading lady, while offering some sound advice for aspiring writers who hope someday to see their own names on the cover of a published book.

Writing two books must have required many hours of research and hard work. What is it about Kay Francis that made you want to devote that much time and effort to her?

It started with a mystery. The first time I happened upon Kay Francis I couldn’t believe I’d never heard of her. I was fairly knowledgeable about classic film and was stunned to find a leading actress who had escaped my attention. It was in a film called Give Me Your Heart (1936). She was incredible — convincing and beautiful. So I wanted to find out what happened to her and her career. The more I learned the more the mystery deepened because it turned out that she’d left a remarkable document, a tantalizing diary, partly written in code, that proved to be a private record of a fascinating woman, one of Hollywood’s highest paid actors and most popular stars.

You’ve written one book that’s primarily about Kay’s life, and now one that covers her performances. What connections do you see between her work and her personal life?

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that Kay had time for her professional work considering how “busy” her personal life was. She lived to travel and enjoyed many affairs. But she did work, and, fortunately, much of it survives. She played a lot of independent career women in her films. For example, in the 1930s she appeared as business executives, physicians, and in one film, Mary Stevens, M.D. (1933), a woman who decides to have a baby without the benefit of marriage. In addition, near the end of her film career she became a producer at Monogram. From her diary, we can also see that she sometimes had a hand in writing scripts. In her personal life, too, she was ahead of her time. At a fairly young age she carefully examined her assets and decided a film career was her best option. It would provide the means to live the life she desired — and she did just that.

One of Kay’s best-known movies, Trouble in Paradise, has been released on DVD and is available at the library. How would you describe it to someone who’s never seen the film?

ParadisephotoDelicious, sublime, classic. It’s perfect. Directed by Ernst Lubitsch, it offers a gem-like script with gorgeous art deco sets and brilliant performances by Kay, Herbert Marshall, Edward Everett Horton, and Miriam Hopkins. If you want to understand what is meant by pre-Code film, this is one to see because it’s a naughty, elegant, adult film that still delights. (Pictured at left are Hopkins, Marshall, and Francis).

In your books’ acknowledgments, you name a number of libraries and archives that were helpful in your research. How important were libraries in writing these books?

Thank God for librarians and archives! Ever since I was a kid, I’ve felt totally at home in libraries. I’ve known about interlibrary loan for a long time. It’s a godsend for researchers, making available just about every book or magazine article.

Fortunately we found an absolute treasure trove tucked away in a university archive — Kay’s personal diary. This is a once-in-a-lifetime gift for a biographer. The diary, which she began in 1922, tells the story of a sexually liberated woman who went on to become one of Hollywood’s most famous stars in the 1930s. She was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Flaming Youth” personified — a breathtakingly beautiful young woman, just out of poverty, who started moving in New York’s high society and eventually made her way to Hollywood.

What advice do you give to people who want to become published writers?

Be passionate and disciplined. When you’re passionate you can’t not write. You’re pushed to tell your story, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction.

I’m convinced that one thing that separates successful people from others is discipline. If you want to be a published writer, write. Set goals. Exceed them. Also, develop a network of friends and colleagues. Writing can be lonely, so it’s nice to have support.

Thanks to Dr. Kear for chatting with us on DCPLive!

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Claudia Medori June 11, 2008 at 7:44 AM

What a fun entry! Interesting information about someone I’m unfamiliar with also and well written. Thanks.

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