Fay Wray, Blonde Beauty to King Kong, Dead at 96

Obituaries   Fay Wray, Blonde Beauty to King Kong, Dead at 96
Fay Wray, the blonde beauty who was the undoing of a beast called King Kong in the famous motion picture, died of natural causes in New York City Aug. 8, according to newspaper reports.
Fay Wray
Fay Wray

Ms. Wray, 96, had other roles in a varied career, but none so indelible as the voluptuous blonde she played in 1933's "King Kong," in which she was snatched by a giant ape and hauled up the length of the Empire State Building.

The Internet Broadway Database lists three Broadway credits for the actress, though the information has not been verified: the musical Nikki (1931) by John Monk Saunders (who was her first husband), composer Philip Charig and lyricist by James Dyrenforth; Arthur Sheekman and Margaret Shane's Mr. Big (1941), directed and produced by George S. Kaufman; William James and Guy Bolton's Golden Wings (1941).

Her last public appearance was at the New York premiere of the documentary, "Broadway: The Golden Age," in which she appeared.

Ms. Wray would appear in about 80 movies. Her co-stars included Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, William Powell and Spencer Tracy.

According to the Los Angeles Times, she was paid $10,000 for 10 weeks' work on "King Kong." Faced with a 60-foot monster ape, she reacted hysterically on screen, screaming her lungs out. "I yelled every time they said, 'Yell,' " she once said.

In the hit picture, Ms. Wray was dwarfed (or seen in longshot as a doll) by what was then state-of-the-art special effects. (A Kong miniature stood 18 inches, and the mechanical hand that clasped her was about six-feet long).

The actress wrote an autobiography, "On the Other Hand: A Life Story."

Ms. Wray was known as "Queens of the B's," she once said, referring to her B-movie work. "If only I'd been a little more selective," she observed.

Her first major role was in the silent picture, "The Wedding March," by director Erich von Stroheim.

Vina Fay Wray was born in Alberta, Canada. Her father was a rancher who moved the family to Arizona and Utah. Her parents later divorced. Her mother sent teen-aged Fay to L.A. with a photographer friend and later followed.

Ms. Wray attended Hollywood High School, where she first got the acting bug.

Her 1928 marriage to John Monk Saunders, who wrote the Academy Award-winning silent picture, "Wings," dissolved. Her later committed suicide. She later married the screenwriter Robert Riskin ("It Happened One Night" and "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town"). He died after a long illness.

Her third husband, physician Sanford Rothenberg, died in 1991.

Survivors include son Robert Riskin Jr., two daughters, Susan Riskin of New York and Victoria Riskin Rintels, plus two grandchildren.

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