“So who are we looking for?” Mom asked as we parked in one of the few shaded spots in the cemetery.
I got out of the car and scanned the area. It was promising to be a warm day for February, but then again, I was in Southern California, the place where snow, cold and rain does not seem to exist. As I took in my surroundings, I was glad I had found a contact who was able to provide me with the location of the graves I sought, otherwise finding one small stone in this city of the dead would be almost impossible.
As a part of my vacation in California, I had put together a list of famous graves I wanted to visit. Already we had visited a number of graves within Hollywood Forever, but this one was near the top of the list. The cemetery itself is one of the oldest cemeteries in Los Angeles, having been founded in 1899, it is graced with many large, ornate memorials.
“We’re hunting for the beauty that tamed a beast,” I replied.
“Really?” she sighed as she closed the door and came around to join me.
“Yes, really,” I replied. A couple seconds later we were standing at the simple grave of actress Fay Wray, who despite making numerous television and movie roles, will always be Ann Darrow, the heroine in King Kong.
Vina Fay Wray was born September 15, 1907 near Cardston, Alberta, Canada, one of five children to Joseph and Elvina “Vina” Wray. In 1912 the family moved to the United States and by 1919, Fay Wray was living in Hollywood. That year, at the age of twelve, she made her acting debut in Blind Husbands. She would appear as an extra in numerous movies, but it be her appearance in 1925’s The Coast Patrol that would lead her to sign a contract the following year with Paramount Pictures. She immediately began filming The Wedding March, which was released in 1928. While the movie was deemed a failure, Wray had her first lead role.
In her personal life, Wray – who was twenty-one at the time – married John Saunders, a former army pilot, who was a noted author and script writer. Saunders had alcohol and drug addictions and over their ten-year marriage, blew through their money. Wray divorced him in 1939 and Saunders killed himself shortly after.
After leaving Paramount, Wray would eventually sign with RKO Radio Pictures and appeared in The Most Dangerous Game in 1932. The movie was being filmed on the same set as another movie she was appearing in – King Kong. While she is forever linked with the giant ape, Wray appeared in ten other films in 1933.
In the aftermath of King Kong, Wray acted in a number of horror movies including The Vampire Bat, Doctor X, and Mystery of the Wax Museum. In 1942, Wray stepped away from acting after marrying her second husband, Robert Riskin, who was a noted script writer. When Riskin took a position with the Office of War Information and the two of them left California for New York City. In 1950, Riskin underwent brain surgery due to a stroke, which ended his writing career and he would pass in 1955.
In the early 1950s, she resumed acting in and appeared in the sitcom The Pride of the Family. Note: Natalie Wood, another of my favorite actresses would appear in Pride of the Family. Her story can be found here: Natalie Wood.
Throughout the 1950s and 60s, Wray would appear in numerous television shows and made-for-television movies. In 1971, Wray married Dr. Sanford Rothenberg – a marriage lasted until 1991 when he passed.
In 1980, Wray made her final appearance in the made-for-television film Gideon’s Trumpet, which also featured Henry Fonda. In all, Wray had appeared in eighty films over her career. Upon retiring from movies and television, Wray would write and act in plays which were produced in New York theaters.
On August 8, 2004, Wray passed in her sleep, just five weeks before her 97th birthday. Wray was survived by one daughter to Sanders and two children to Rankin. Wray’s body was returned to California and interred at the Hollywood Forever in Hollywood.
Wray had been approached to appear in two remakes of King Kong, but turned down both of them. She was sent the script for the 1976 remake featuring Jessica Lange, which she turned down along with an appearance in Peter Jackson’s version.
We finished paying our respects to the actress and made our way back toward the vehicle. As we walked among the stones, the final words of King Kong, the line of the movie entered my mind: “It was beauty killed the beast.” With that thought echoing in my mind, I left the beauty of the silver screen to rest in the city of stone known as Hollywood Forever.
Note: The final line of King Kong is “It was beauty killed the beast.” Many misquote it as “It was beauty that killed the beast.”