She may have tamed the beast onscreen. But, as evidenced by her excellent 1989 memoir On the Other Hand, revered scream queen Fay Wray had much more trouble reigning in the flesh and blood men in her real life.
What may also be a (slight) surprise to some is how Wray (1907-2004), a produced playwright in her lifetime, writes so beautiful and economically here. As expected, it is delight to learn about her adventures shooting not only King Kong, but The Vampire Bat, Mysteries of the Wax Museum, The Most Dangerous Game and Doctor X, all of which the author claims were filmed in the same year! Just as fun are her recollections of working with such famed performers (and occasional Oscar winners) as Janet Gaynor, Gary Cooper, Joan Crawford, Cary Grant, with whom she shared a sweet yet unfulfilled crush, and Natalie Wood. But more than anything, it is Wray’s divine resilience and quiet strength that shines the most here.
Domineered by a commanding mother, Wray found her early expressions of artistry (and fledging romance with a talented photographer) curtailed in Hollywood. Eventually finding her way into pictures, she ultimately married John Monk Saunders, a brilliant yet truly troubled screenwriter. Enduring Saunders’ infidelities and violent mood swings with an often silent grace, Wray perfectly presents the emotional circumstances of a modern woman constrained by her times and society’s expectations. Emerging as an important portrait of women in that era, Wray eventually breaks free from Saunders, after their divorce and his eventual suicide, and enters into an affair with famed playwright Clifford Odets, which broadens her artistic horizons. Later, she settles into a loving marriage with Robert Riskin, another writer best known for his collaborations with Frank Capra.
Having retired, Wray returns to work (in such films as 1957’s Crime of Passion and television programs as Perry Mason and Alfred Hitchcock Presents) after Riskin’s sudden illness and eventual death. But it is the storytelling lessons she learned from being a muse and collaborator with such erudite men that may stand as her final statement of artistry.
From her beginning descriptions of her return visit to her native Canada, Wray fills On the Other Hand with such simple yet poetic language that it is hard not to fall in love with her and, ultimately, realize that this book may be one of her greatest cultural achievements – that ever present, very hairy beast notwithstanding.
(Used, reasonably priced copies of On The Other Hand are available from such outlets as Amazon and EBay.)
Until the next time – SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!