Long before Naomi Watts ever got to play the role of Ann Darrow in King Kong (2005), a certain beauty named Fay Wray made the role her most significant work as she played the same character in the original 1933 version of the film. The Canadian-American actress was also known to be one of the first actresses to be named a scream queen, due to her recurrent appearances in horror films during her career. Read on to find out more about her career, love life, and the circumstances surrounding her death.
Fay Wray’s Biography
On the 15th of September, 1907, in a ranch near Cardston, Alberta, Canada, Vina Fay Wray was born as one of six children to Elvina Marguerite Jones and Joseph Heber Wray. Her father was from Kingston upon Hull, England, while her mother was from Salt Lake City, Utah. She is the granddaughter of Mormon pioneer, Daniel Webster Jones, however, she was said to have never identified as a Mormon.
In 1912, the Wray family moved to Utah, first living in Salt Lake City and then Lark, before choosing to move and settle in Los Angeles, California in 1919. Here, Fay Wray attended Hollywood High School as she went on to start an acting career. She made her first film appearance at the age of 16 in a short historical film in 1923. She then signed to Universal Studios and two years later and landed a major role in the silent film The Coast Patrol (1925). Her performances in that film among others earned her a spot on the WAMPAS Baby Stars list of 1926, which listed a group of women that the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers believed were destined for stardom.
In 1926, Fay Wray signed a contract with Paramount Pictures. That same year, she was cast as the main female lead in The Wedding March. She went on to appear in more than a dozen films, making the transition from silent to sound films along the way. After her contract with Paramount ended, she worked with several other film companies, most notably RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. which produced films like The Most Dangerous Game (1932) and King Kong (1933).
In 1942, Fay Wray decided to quit acting, however, following a few problems with finances, she resumed her career. She went on to focus on mostly television series, appearing in the ABC sitcom The Pride of the Family (1953-1954) and then in the CBS courtroom drama Perry Mason (1958, 1959, and 1965). Her other works include Adam Had Four Sons (1941), Treasure of the Golden Condor (1953), Small Town Girl (1953), and Crime of Passion (1957) before she again retired in 1980.
Fay Wray Net Worth
Details about Fay Wray’s earnings and net worth are not known. The only figure regarding what she earned in her job is what she was paid to appear in her most popular role. It is reported that Wray was paid $10,000, which is an equivalent of $200,000 in 2018, to play the role of Ann Darrow in King Kong (1933).
Family – Spouse, Children
Fay Wray was married three times; her first marriage was to Academy Award-winning writer and director, John Monk Saunders. The pair exchanged vows in 1928 and were married for 11 years, before divorcing in 1939, a year before Saunders committed suicide by hanging himself. Together, the couple had a daughter named Susan Cary Saunders, who was born in 1936.
In 1942, Wray married Robert Riskin, who was also an Academy Award-winning writer. Riskin adopted Wray’s child from her first marriage, as the two went on to have two more children of their own; Robert Jr., who was born in 1943 and Victoria who was born in 1945. The pair remained happily married until Riskin’s death in September 1955. Wray remained single for more than 15 years before giving marriage a third go, this time with neurosurgeon Sanford Rothenberg. The two were married until his death in 1991.
Fay Wray passed away on the 8th of August, 2004, in her Manhattan, New York apartment. The cause of death was said to be natural causes as it was noted that the actress died in her sleep. Her death came just before the beginning of the filming of the 2005 remake of King Kong by director Peter Jackson. It was reported that Jackson had approached Wray to make a cameo appearance in the movie but the actress politely declined.
The Empire State Building, which was synonymous with the King Kong movie, lowered its lights for 15 minutes in memory or Wray, two days after her death, as her remains were subsequently interred at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California.