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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 August, 2004, 06:17 GMT 07:17 UK
Obituary: Fay Wray

Fay Wray
Wray appeared in more than 70 films

At the peak of her career, Fay Wray was starring in a new film on the Paramount set once a month. She was among the most prodigious Hollywood stars of her era, appearing in more than 70 films.

Nearly all have been forgotten, but the image of the near-naked beauty struggling in King Kong's paw remains one of the most familiar moments in cinematic history.

Her 1933 experience at the hands of the amorous ape was not the first occasion the unsuspecting Wray had been scooped up and carried off.

At the age of three, she was uprooted when her family left home in Alberta, Canada. They settled in Utah, having travelled through America by stagecoach.

Social celebrity

With Eric von Stroheim in The Wedding March
With Eric von Stroheim in The Wedding March

A few years later, Wray travelled west to launch herself on the Hollywood studios. She made her debut at the age of 16 and, alongside her contemporary Joan Crawford, was named one of the Baby Stars of the Year in 1926.

Wray's first significant role was that of the petit-bourgeois heroine Mitzi in The Wedding March in 1928. This gave her the chance to work with the legendary director Erich von Stroheim, and established Wray as a strong leading lady.

Two of her three husbands were Oscar-winning screenwriters, and she briefly enjoyed a position of social celebrity in the Hollywood hills, as well as popularity with her Paramount bosses, for whom she was making five films a year.

During her time on the studio lot, she worked with such influential directors as William Wyler, Josef von Sternberg and Frank Capra.

She was the helpless heroine of a succession of early horror classics, a curriculum vitae that qualified her to play against "the tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood".

Fay Wray
Wray only saw King Kong four times

Appreciation for her giant co-star

Wray's grapples with an infatuated gorilla across the New York skyline caught the imagination of audiences across the world.

Early technical wizardry and the classic components of horror and thwarted love all combined to ensure the film's popularity.

However, the film was Wray's last major success. Although she continued to work in film and later television, no role would ever match that of the fragile waif who broke the beast's heart.

She always recognised that the "extraordinary, sensational value of King Kong would surpass every other movie for me."

Although she saw the film only four times herself, she recognised the enduring power of her own version of Beauty and the Beast, and in her 1990 autobiography, wrote a special note of appreciation to her giant co-star, whom she always called "the little guy".

King Kong heroine is dead at 96
09 Aug 04  |  Americas

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