Childhood & Early Life
Fay was born Vina Fay Wray, on September 15, 1907, near the Alberta province in Canada, to Elvina Marguerite Jones and Joseph Heber Wray. Fay had five siblings. Even though her parents were Mormons, she was not a staunch follower of the religion.
Fay moved to the Salt Lake City, US, in 1912. She then moved to Lark, Utah, in 1914. Her family moved back to Salt Lake City in 1919, eventually relocating to Hollywood, where Fay graduated from the ‘Hollywood High School.’
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Fay was just 16 when she appeared in a local short named 'Gasoline Love.' She made her official debut as ‘Beth Slocum’ in the 1925 silent action–drama 'The Coast Patrol.' That year, Fay had several short appearances and uncredited roles with the 'Hal Roach Studios.'
Fay finally returned to prominence in 1926, with the silent Western film 'The Wild Horse Stampede.' Additionally, she appeared in a few shorts and silent Westerns. Fay was selected by the 'Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers' for their promotional campaign, 'WAMPAS Baby Stars.' She then signed a contract with 'Universal Studios.'
Director Erich von Stroheim cast Fay in the lead role of ‘Mitzerl Schrammell’ in the 1928 silent romantic drama 'The Wedding March,' produced by 'Paramount Pictures.' She had signed a contract with 'Paramount' a year earlier. Even though her first project with 'Paramount' was a huge failure, she remained with the studio until she made a transition from silent films to talkies.
Fay worked under several other studios after she left 'Paramount.' During that era, she mostly earned roles in horrors such as 'Doctor X,' 'The Vampire Bat,' and 'Mystery of the Wax Museum.' Her most notable appearance was with 'RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.,' in the 1932 pre-Code movie 'The Most Dangerous Game' (as ‘Eve Trowbridge’). She then appeared in the 1933 monster adventure 'King Kong,' as ‘Ann Darrow,’ the captive of King Kong.
'King Kong's super success made Fay an 'RKO' regular, and she then starred in several hit movies. However, she became less active by the early 1940s. She retired in 1942. Fay soon resumed acting due to her financial crisis and remained in the industry for the next 3 decades.
Upon her return, Fay worked in both big-screen and small-screen projects simultaneously. In 1953, she portrayed ‘Catherine Morrison,’ opposite Paul Hartman as her husband, in the 'ABC' sitcom 'The Pride of the Family.'
She portrayed three different characters in the 'CBS' courtroom drama 'Perry Mason' (1958, 1959, and 1965). She appeared as ‘Tula Marsh’ in the 'CBS' anthology 'Playhouse 90' and as ‘Clara’ in the 'ABC' private detective drama '77 Sunset Strip' (1960). She also appeared in the 'ABC' adventure series 'The Islanders' (1960) and in 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents.'
Fay appeared in the series 'The Real McCoys' and 'The Eleventh Hour' before ending her career with the 1980 TV film 'Gideon's Trumpet.'
In 1988, Fay published her autobiography, 'On the Other Hand.' She was crowned 'Queen of the Beaux Arts Ball' in 1991. On October 3, 1998, she attended the 'Pine Bluff Film Festival,' where her film 'The Wedding March' was screened with a live orchestral performance.
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In January 2003, at the age of 95, Fay was honored with a 'Legend in Film' award at the 'Palm Beach International Film Festival.' She made one of her last public appearances in May 2004, at the 'Empire State Building.' She also attended an after-party at the ‘Sardi's’ restaurant in New York City, after the premiere of the documentary film 'Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There.'
Fay was awarded the 'Women in Film Crystal Award' in 1989. The 'Hollywood Walk of Fame' has a “star” in her honor. Canada's 'Walk of Fame' honored her with a “star” posthumously on June 5, 2005. There is a small sign with a silhouette of 'King Kong' on it at the edge of 'Fay Wray Park' in Cardston, Alberta, in remembrance of her notable role in 'King Kong.'
In May 2006, Fay became one of the first four entertainers to be featured on a postage stamp, as a gesture of respect by ‘Canada Post.’
Family, Personal Life, & Death
Fay was first married to writer John Monk Saunders, with whom she had a daughter, Susan Cary Saunders. She then married 'Academy Award’-winning screenwriter and playwright Robert Riskin and had two children, Victoria Riskin, and Robert Riskin, Jr.
Fay finally settled down with neurosurgeon Sanford Rothenberg. She was married to him from August 6, 1971, to January 18, 1991.
She acquired US citizenship in 1933. She was a staunch ‘Republican,’ as mentioned in her autobiography.
Fay died in her sleep on August 8, 2004, in her Manhattan apartment, and was interred at the 'Hollywood Forever Cemetery' in Hollywood, California. Two days later, the lights at the top of the 'Empire State Building' were put off for 15 minutes in her memory.
Fay was offered to play old ‘Rose Dawson Calvert’ in the 1997 blockbuster 'Titanic,' but she turned down the offer.
She was approached to appear in cameos in the 1976 and 2005 versions of 'King Kong.' She rejected the 1976 version, as she was not happy with the modernization of the story. She did agree to appear in the 2005 version but sadly passed away before the filming commenced.
In July 1928, Fay was the target of an extortion attempt that failed. The plan was hatched by one of her childhood schoolmates, later identified as Lyon I Bernard.