Fay Wray and Robert Riskin: A Hollywood Memoir416
Fay Wray and Robert Riskin: A Hollywood Memoir416
Fay Wray (1907–2004) achieved cinematic immortality for her role in King Kong (1933). During a long and sterling career, she starred in more than 120 films opposite Hollywood's most famous leading men (Spencer Tracy, Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, William Powell, and Ronald Colman), and worked with master directors including Erich von Stroheim, William Wyler, William "Wild Bill" Wellman, Josef von Sternberg, Dorothy Arzner, Frank Capra, Michael Curtiz, Raoul Walsh, and Vincente Minnelli.
Robert Riskin (1897–1955) is considered to be one of the greatest screenwriters of all time. He was an Academy Award-winning writer and producer whose ten-year-long collaboration with Frank Capra yielded films such as American Madness (1932), It Happened One Night (1934), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Lost Horizon (1937), You Can't Take It with You (1938) and Meet John Doe (1941). He was hailed by many—including F. Scott Fitzgerald—as being "among the best screenwriters in the business."
In this moving and masterful work, Wray and Riskin's daughter interweaves the story of their lives and connects them to one of the most interesting periods in Hollywood history. At the heart of Fay Wray and Robert Riskin is a great love story, backed by a cast of characters that includes the greatest stars, filmmakers, screenwriters, and moguls of the era. Readers should not miss this touching and highly acclaimed book.
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|Publisher:||University Press of Kentucky|
|Product dimensions:||6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
My first memory is of a snowstorm in Los Angeles. The land of eternal sunshine had never in its known history been blanketed in white the way it was on January 10, 1949—The Old Farmer’s Almanac gives the date—and never has again.
I was three years old. My brother Bobby, five, had already dressed himself and run downstairs to join our thirteen-year-old sister, Susan, outside. I fidgeted impatiently while our English nanny, Miss Haesloop, in her starched white uniform, secured the buttons of my blue corduroy trouser suit and put rubber overshoes over my Buster Browns.
My father organized a snowball fight that morning on the front lawn of our Bel-Air home. Bobby and I pelted each other until a snowball hit me in the face and I burst into tears. My father scooped me up and deftly distracted me into helping him make a snowman. He also recruited Bobby, who was a genius at building things, and let me tuck in stones for the snowman’s eyes and a carrot for his nose. This, he emphasized, was the most important job of all. “There you go, rascal. You stick that carrot right in the middle of his face.”
In the photographs of that day, my mother is absent. For years, I imagined she was in the kitchen having the cook prepare the hot chocolate to warm us when we came in, or rearranging the living room rugs and furniture for an evening of square dancing that was all the rage in the late 1940s, or readying a dinner party for the friends who regularly came to our house: Jack Benny, Rosalind Russell, Ronald Colman, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Irving Berlin, Harpo Marx, Darryl Zanuck, Edward G. Robinson. I now understand that she was outdoors with us all along, taking the photos with her Leica camera, recording our lives, memorializing our family’s landmark moments as was now her passion. Snow and snowman and, indelibly, my father in his tweed newsboy’s cap, woolen scarf and heavy overcoat, tortoiseshell glasses, tanned olive skin, his head tilted to the side with a smile starting to form as if waiting for me to finish telling him a funny story.
Today, looking at pictures of that day, I still smell his Old Spice aftershave and the scent of his cigarettes, and see his smiling eyes.
Life with my father had warmth and adventure. He took us to Gilmore Field to see the Hollywood Stars play baseball, leading us in singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” on the way. He took us to his bungalow at Twentieth Century–Fox, where we could play while he wrote, or to the commissary for lunch, or for the world’s best hot fudge sundaes at C. C. Brown’s on Hollywood Boulevard.
Evenings were an unchanging ritual. At five o’clock Bobby and I ate dinner in the playroom upstairs as Miss Haesloop turned the Grundig radio to Edward R. Murrow or Cecil Brown, and mostly we followed her orders to be quiet. Her rapt attention, turned to the news from London, was a clear indicator of how she worried about war, even though the war had been over for three years.
After our baths, we were sprinkled with talcum, put into pajamas, and ushered into our parents’ bedroom for the children’s hour. My father, in his armchair with the rose floral print, waved us in. He held his beer, or sometimes neat Scotch, in his left hand, his Lucky Strike in the right. Two fingers were yellowed from chain-smoking, one calloused from writing. He wore cashmere sweaters and handmade shoes from London and the best silk ties and shirts money could buy. My mother might be wearing a clingy black crepe dress if they were going to dinner at Romanoff’s or Chasen’s, her dark wavy hair combed back to frame her warm, welcoming face, her red lipstick carefully drawn outside the line of her lips to give them fullness. Her rosewater eau de cologne spiced the air.
“Hey, rascal,” my father said, pulling me onto his lap. “Tell me how your day was.” I told stories from school or pretended I was a ballerina and climbed down and danced for him. He watched as if nothing in the world were more important than my awkward ballet twirls. He let me sip foam from his beer while Bobby was using the bed as a trampoline.
“Hey, Bobby! Think you can crack us open some walnuts?”
Bobby did what my father had taught us, punching a hole in the corner of a pillow—not too deep, not too shallow—and tucking a walnut inside and throwing the pillow up a foot or two in the air, then smashing it hard on both sides as it came down. The walnut flew up, hit the ceiling, and exploded. Walnut pieces rained everywhere. My mother said that years later, when we moved, she found walnut bits behind the painting over the fireplace, under the bed, even in the closet. She said wistfully, “It made a mess but you kids were having such a good time.”
My father’s tricks engaged our sense of wonder. None was more exhilarating or terrifying than when he held the burning butt of his Lucky Strike between his lips and, with a grin, flipped the smoldering butt backwards into his mouth where it disappeared for an interminable time. When our screaming and excitement reached its peak, he flipped the burning butt out, no hands—that would have been cheating—and took a long easy puff while we collapsed in relief.
“You like that one, hey?”
Those were the Eden days, the first six years of my life.
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