1930 Fay Wray Publicity Photo
Fay Wray's star
Young Hollywood Starlet
Before the age of 20, Fay Wray was deemed a Hollywood starlet in the company with the likes of Mary Astor and Janet Gaynor.
Fay Wray was born, Vina Fay Wray on the 15th of September, 1907 - to Mormon parents (Joseph Heber Wray from England and Elvina Marguerite Jones from Salt Lake City) and the location of her birth was the tiny little town of Cardston, in the Western Canadian province of Alberta. Fay was one of six children and the family didn't stay living in Canada very long. By 1912, the Wray family relocated to the U.S.A., and spent time in a couple of locations in the state of Utah before finally moving to settle more permanently in Hollywood, California.
Fay managed to get a small role in a short historical film (in 1923) when she was only 16 and then landed a major role in the 1925 silent film called, The Coast Patrol.
Wray was one of the WAMPAS (1922-1934) Baby Stars of 1926. People were put on this list who were considered young up and coming female stars just on the verge of breaking out as full fledged movie star/entertainment material. WAMPAS Baby Stars helped promote these fledglings as selected by the W.estern A.ssociation of M.otion P.icture A.dvertisers.
By the time Wray was on the promotion/starlet list with WAMPAS, she'd already begun a contract with Universal Studios and acting, usually in tandem with Buck Jones in low budget Westerns.
In no time at all, Wray was involved in a contract with Paramount Pictures. She played the female lead in the 1928 movie, The Wedding March, directed by Erich Von Strohelm, and she stayed working in Paramount films until "talkies" firmly established themselves in the early 1930's... Soon after, moviegoers would hear what is considered probably one of Hollywood's most notable and oft-mentioned SCREAMS!!!
Yes, once talkies became more commonplace, movie audiences got to hear Fay Wray scream like crazy in RKO's King Kong movie of 1933. (And yes, Wray went under contract at yet another, different motion picture company).
King Kong wasn't Wray's first role once talkies were "in," where the audience heard her scream. She performed in horror genre movie, Doctor X (1932 - First National Pictures/Warner Bros. Pictures Inc.) before the King Kong role came along.
Fay Wray in Doctor X - Trailer
Best Scream In Early Hollywood
Fay Wray has been considered the ultimate "Scream Queen" since the early 30's. Even though she passed away at the age of 96 in 2004, most people still consider her the first and best Scream Queen of Hollywood.
Some say that Wray was lucky to have landed the role of Ann Darrow in King Kong and for the movie to have been such a success because her roles declined in quality from there. Though she stayed active in the movies, she never got a role as good as the Ann Darrow one again and acted in lower budget movies and on television after the King Kong movie.
Following King Kong and "the scream from King Kong," subsequent female horror movie actresses and their screams in the movies were all compared to the Fay Wray/Ann Darrow scream - leading to a "Scream Queen List" that is still in flexible use today. The Scream Queen List is primarily full of horror and slasher movie actresses and a modern day list includes actresses such as Linda Blair (Exorcist, Exorcist II, Hell Night, The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II, among others), Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween, Halloween II, The Fog, Halloween H2O, Prom Night, among others - PLUS - JLCurtis is the daughter of a very famous Scream Queen - Janet Leigh - who definitely did scream good and loud in the movie Psycho), Drew Barrymore (Firestarter, Altered States, Cat's Eye, Scream, and more).
Of course, Fay Wray's scream just started the list off. Today, being considered a Scream Queen actually has a few more qualifications attached to it, whereas in the 1930's when talkies first established themselves as mainstay entertainment with BIG SOUND... being a Scream Queen may have just meant you got a thriller or horror genre role with a lot of screams written into the script that you had to perform.
Today - most Scream Queens (And Wray still fits into the qualifications here!) are actresses (or actors - the guy from Hostel II...yeah man - he totally screamed! Poor darn dude!) who end up in a LOT of thriller, horror, scary sci-fi, slasher, monster/creature flick and combined genre movies and who also often have a list of sequel appearances where they again get to scream a lot.
In any case, when you look back on the history of Hollywood movies and actresses, I think it's still safe to say that Fay Wray began with the Best Scream in Hollywood while belting out screams in the movie King Kong.
Colorized Clip From King Kong (1933). Kong vs T-Rex and Listen to Fay Wray Scream (six seconds into this clip Fay starts belting it out)
Fay Wray married three times. Once in 1928 to a screenwriter, John Saunders (Wings - 1927, The Last Flight - 1936, The Conquest of the Air - 1936). Following the difficult Wray/Saunders divorce in 1939, John Monk Saunders committed suicide by hanging in 1940.
Wray's second marriage was to another screenwriter, John Riskin (not the British scholar/philosopher of a similar name - that would be John Ruskin - a little before Wray's time) in 1942 and with her second marriage, she retired from the big screen. Riskin and Wray had been married for thirteen years when he died in 1955 after suffering for 5 years of disability after a stroke which caused him to have to stop writing scripts. Ruskin and Wray had two children, Robert and Victoria and Ruskin adopted Susan from Wray's first marriage with Saunders.
Wray married a neurosurgeon, Dr. Sanford Rothenberg in 1970 and stayed married to him until his death in 1991.
Wray still took roles on television to help bring in some income after her second marriage but she never again turned to the big screen. She played the role of Catherine Morrison during 1953 and 1954 on ABC's The Pride of the Family which was a situation comedy. A few years later, she also took some bit roles in the CBC Perry Mason courtroom drama series, also in CBS's Playhouse 90, and so on and so forth. Guest appearances, small roles, minor characters for the Scream Queen of the 30's. All her film and television roles have pretty much been eclipsed by the big SCREAM and Kong from 1933.
Wray published her autobiography in 1988, called, "On the Other Hand." She turned down the role of Rose in James Cameron's Titanic and this allowed Gloria Stuart (another Scream Queen from the Golden Age of films...she shouted out beside Claude Rains' Invisible Man!) to play the role of Rose with Kate Winslet portraying the young Rose in this hugely successful and memorable film of 1997. She was also asked to appear in a small cameo role by Peter Jackson in 2004. Jackson was working on a re-make of King Kong set to be released in 2005. Wray turned down this role, too, preferring to remember the old Kong the way it was.
At home in Manhattan, on August 8, 2004, Fay Wray died at the age of 96 - she peacefully slipped into a deep sleep and expired, her death listed as one of natural causes. She was buried in Hollywood, California and the lights of the Empire State Building were extinguished 2 days after her passing - for 15 minutes - in memory of Fay Wray.