Saturday marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Fay Wray. Miss Wray holds a place of warm regard among fans of classic films, unusual for someone whose career was brief and made up almost entirely of B-movies. “King Kong” (1933) was her claim to fame, and throughout her long life she bemusedly gave credit to the big gorilla for making her famous.
Miss Wray began in silent films in the 1920s, in bit parts as maids and shop girls, and eventually appeared in many westerns as the damsel in the distress. She played the damsel with spirit, however. She also came to known as the “Queen of Scream” for her ability to belt out a blood curdling screech at the first sign of danger.
Her characters in “The Most Dangerous Game” (1932) (see entry March 29, 2007) and in “King Kong” were spunky girls, ready for adventure, but invariably terrorized by forces beyond her control. One was a madman and one was a big ape. The big ape was actually nice to her, but that didn’t keep her from screaming every time he tried to pick her up. Maybe he needed a better pick up line.
They were striking movies, and Miss Wray played a most human character in the middle of the impossible, standing in for us. We were anxious for her. Now, we cannot help but remember her fondly.
After her death in 2004, the Empire State Building, where her boyfriend King Kong toppled to his death, dimmed its lights in her honor. How many Oscar-winning top film stars were afforded such respect as this B-movie actress?
The 2005 remake of “King Kong” was dedicated in memory of Fay Wray, and she is referred to early in the film as one of the actresses Carl Denham, now played by Jack Black, wishes he could have gotten for his new project. Her career was evidently longer and carried more weight than even Miss Wray realized.