Vina Fay Wray (September 15, 1907 – August 8, 2004) was a Canadian/American actress best remembered for starring as Ann Darrow in the 1933 film King Kong. Through an acting career that spanned nearly six decades, Wray attained international recognition as an actress in horror films. She has been dubbed one of the early "scream queens".

Fay Wray
Wray, Fay 01.jpg
1942 studio publicity portrait
Vina Fay Wray

(1907-09-15)September 15, 1907
DiedAugust 8, 2004(2004-08-08) (aged 96)
New York City, U.S.
Resting placeHollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, California
Years active1923–1942, 1952–1965, 1980
(m. 1928; div. 1939)

(m. 1942; died 1955)

Sanford Rothenberg
(m. 1971; died 1991)
Children3, including Victoria Riskin

After appearing in minor film roles, Wray gained media attention after being selected as one of the "WAMPAS Baby Stars" in 1926. This led to her being contracted to Paramount Pictures as a teenager, where she made more than a dozen feature films. After leaving Paramount, she signed deals with various film companies, being cast in her first horror film roles, in addition to many other types of roles, including in The Bowery (1933) and Viva Villa (1934), both of which starred Wallace Beery. For RKO Radio Pictures, Inc., Wray starred in the film she is most identified with, King Kong (1933). After the success of King Kong, she made numerous appearances in both film and television, retiring in 1980.

Early lifeEdit

Wray was born on a ranch near Cardston, Alberta, to parents who were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elvina Marguerite Jones, who was from Salt Lake City, Utah, and Joseph Heber Wray, who was from Kingston upon Hull, England.[3] She was one of six children[4] and was a granddaughter of LDS pioneer Daniel Webster Jones. Her ancestors came from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Wray was never baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Her family returned to the United States a few years after she was born; they moved to Salt Lake City in 1912[5] and moved to Lark, Utah, in 1914. In 1919, the Wray family returned to Salt Lake City, and then relocated to Hollywood, where Fay attended Hollywood High School.

Early acting careerEdit

In 1923, Wray appeared in her first film at the age of 16, when she landed a role in a short historical film sponsored by a local newspaper.[6] In the 1920s, Wray landed a major role in the silent film The Coast Patrol (1925), as well as uncredited bit parts at the Hal Roach Studios.

In 1926, the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers selected Wray as one of the "WAMPAS Baby Stars", a group of women whom they believed to be on the threshold of movie stardom. She was at the time under contract to Universal Studios, mostly co-starring in low-budget Westerns opposite Buck Jones.

The following year, Wray was signed to a contract with Paramount Pictures. In 1926, director Erich von Stroheim cast her as the main female lead in his film The Wedding March, released by Paramount two years later. While the film was noted for its high budget and production values, it was a financial failure. It also gave Wray her first lead role. Wray stayed with Paramount to make more than a dozen films and made the transition from silent films to "talkies".[7]

Horror films and King KongEdit

Fay Wray in the 1933 feature film King Kong

After leaving Paramount, Wray signed with other film studios. Under these deals, Wray was cast in several horror films, including Doctor X (1932) and Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933). However, her best known films were produced under her deal with RKO Radio Pictures. Her first film with RKO was The Most Dangerous Game (1932), co-starring Joel McCrea. The production was filmed at night on the same jungle sets that were being used for King Kong during the day, and with Wray and Robert Armstrong starring in both movies.

The Most Dangerous Game was followed by the release of Wray's best remembered film, King Kong. According to Wray, Jean Harlow had been RKO's original choice, but because MGM put Harlow under exclusive contract during the pre-production phase of the film, she became unavailable.[8] Wray was approached by director Merian C. Cooper to play the blonde captive of King Kong; the role of Ann Darrow for which she was paid $10,000 ($200,000 in 2020 dollars) to play her.[9] The film was a commercial success and Wray was reportedly proud that the film saved RKO from bankruptcy.[10]

Later careerEdit

1930 publicity photograph

Wray continued to star in films, including The Richest Girl in the World, but by the early 1940s, her appearances became less frequent. She retired from acting in 1942 after her second marriage but due to financial exigencies she soon resumed her acting career,[9] and over the next three decades, Wray appeared in several films and frequently appeared on television. Wray portrayed Catherine Morrison in the 1953–54 sitcom The Pride of the Family.[11] Wray appeared in Queen Bee, released in 1955.

Wray appeared in three episodes of Perry Mason: "The Case of the Prodigal Parent" (1958); "The Case of the Watery Witness" (1959), as murder victim Lorna Thomas; and "The Case of the Fatal Fetish" (1965), as voodoo practitioner Mignon Germaine. In 1959, Wray was cast as Tula Marsh in the episode "The Second Happiest Day" of Playhouse 90. Other roles around this time were in the episodes "Dip in the Pool" (1958) and "The Morning After" of CBS's Alfred Hitchcock Presents. In 1960, she appeared as Clara in an episode of 77 Sunset Strip, "Who Killed Cock Robin?" Another 1960 role was that of Mrs. Staunton, with Gigi Perreau as her daughter, in the episode "Flight from Terror" of The Islanders.

Wray appeared in a 1961 episode of The Real McCoys titled "Theatre in the Barn". In 1963, she played Mrs. Brubaker in the episode "You're So Smart, Why Can't You Be Good?" of The Eleventh Hour. She ended her acting career in the 1980 made-for-television film Gideon's Trumpet.

Wray holding her autobiography

In 1988, she published her autobiography On the Other Hand.[12] In her later years, Wray continued to make public appearances. In 1991, she was crowned Queen of the Beaux Arts Ball, presiding with King Herbert Huncke.[13]

She was approached by James Cameron to play the part of Rose Dawson Calvert for his blockbuster Titanic (1997) with Kate Winslet to play her younger self, but she turned down the role, which ended up being played by Gloria Stuart. She was a special guest at the 70th Academy Awards, where the show's host Billy Crystal introduced her as the "Beauty who charmed the Beast." She was the only 1920s Hollywood actress in attendance that evening with fellow 1930s actress Gloria Stuart nominated for an award. On October 3, 1998, she appeared at the Pine Bluff Film Festival, which showed The Wedding March with live orchestral accompaniment.

In January 2003, the 95-year-old Wray appeared at the 2003 Palm Beach International Film Festival to celebrate the Rick McKay documentary film Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There, where she was honored with a "Legend in Film" award. In her later years, she visited the Empire State Building frequently; in 1991, she was a guest of honor at the building's 60th anniversary, and in May 2004,[14] she made one of her last public appearances at the ESB. Her final public appearance was at an after-party at Sardi's restaurant in New York City, following the premiere of the documentary film Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There.[citation needed]

Personal lifeEdit

Wray married three times – to writers John Monk Saunders and Robert Riskin and the neurosurgeon Sanford Rothenberg (January 28, 1919 – January 4, 1991).[15] She had three children: Susan Saunders, Victoria Riskin, and Robert Riskin Jr.

She became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1933.[citation needed]


Star on Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6349 Hollywood Blvd.

Wray died in her sleep of natural causes in the night of August 8, 2004, in her apartment on Fifth Avenue Manhattan. Wray is interred at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California.[citation needed]

Two days after her death, the lights of the Empire State Building were lowered for 15 minutes in her memory.[16]


Fay Wray Fountain, Cardston, Alberta
Cesar Romero, Wray, director Richard Thorpe and cinematographer George Robinson (in background) on the set of Cheating Cheaters (1934)

In 1989, Wray was awarded the Women in Film Crystal Award.[17] Wray was honored with a Legend in Film award at the 2003 Palm Beach International Film Festival. For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Wray was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6349 Hollywood Blvd. She received a star posthumously on Canada's Walk of Fame in Toronto on June 5, 2005. A small park near Lee's Creek on Main Street in Cardston, Alberta, her birthplace, was named Fay Wray Park in her honour. The small sign at the edge of the park on Main Street has a silhouette of King Kong on it, remembering her role in the film King Kong. A large oil portrait of Wray by Alberta artist Neil Boyle is on display in the Empress Theatre in Fort Macleod, Alberta. In May 2006, Wray became one of the first four entertainers to be honored by Canada Post by being featured on a postage stamp.

Partial filmographyEdit

Cultural referencesEdit

  • In The Rocky Horror Picture Show, extraterrestrial transvestite mad scientist Frank N. Furter sings in the song, "Don't Dream It": "Whatever happened to Fay Wray? / That delicate satin-draped frame / As it clung to her thigh / How I started to cry / 'Cause I wanted to be dressed just the same".
  • Mentioned in the chorus of the Jimmy Ray song, "Are You Jimmy Ray?"
  • Type O Negative, on their album Bloody Kisses, has a track titled "Fay Wray Come Out to Play."
  • Mentioned repeatedly in Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow.
  • Fay Wray is briefly mentioned in the Bruce Cockburn song "Mama Just Wants to Barrelhouse All Night Long" on the 1973 Night Vision album in its second verse: "I hear the city singing like a siren choir / Some fool tried to set this town on fire / TV preacher screams 'come on along' / I feel like Fay Wray face to face with King Kong / But Mama just wants to barrelhouse all night long."
  • Fay Wray has been mentioned in the Peanuts comic strip a couple of times, mostly involving characters Snoopy and Woodstock in reenacting the iconic scenes from King Kong. The first one was in a September 11, 1976 strip with Snoopy playing as King Kong while holding Woodstock as Ann Darrow (with a brief mention of her co-star Bruce Cabot);[18] and in a August 29, 1976 Sunday strip format where Snoopy is dreaming that his nose is the Empire State Building and Woodstock, as King Kong, is climbing atop of it in real time. Waking up from it, Snoopy complains afterwards that "Fay Wray didn't even show up" in it.[19]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Roy Kinnard; Tony Crnkovich (October 25, 2005). The Films of Fay Wray. p. 14. ISBN 9781476604152. Retrieved July 17, 2016.
  2. ^ "'King Kong' damsel Fay Wray dies at 96". Retrieved July 17, 2016.
  3. ^ "Ancestry of Fay Wray". Retrieved March 9, 2011.
  4. ^ "Fay Wray". Northern Stars. Archived from the original on June 11, 2011. Retrieved March 9, 2011.
  5. ^ "Utah-Hollywood connection runs deep", p. B2, The Salt Lake Tribune, January 26, 2009.
  6. ^ SL Tribune, January 26, 2009
  7. ^ "Fay Wray". Retrieved March 9, 2011.
  8. ^ Parish, James Robert; Mank, Gregory W.; Stanke, Don E. (1978). The Hollywood Beauties. New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House Publishers. p. 203. ISBN 0-87000-412-3.
  9. ^ a b "Fay Wray". Retrieved March 9, 2011.
  10. ^ "Fay Wray by Kendahl Cruver". September 15, 1907. Retrieved March 9, 2011.
  11. ^ Terrace, Vincent (2011). Encyclopedia of Television Shows, 1925 through 2010 (2nd ed.). Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. p. 853. ISBN 978-0-7864-6477-7.
  12. ^ Wray, Fay (1989). On the Other Hand: A Life Story (1st ed.). St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-0-312-02265-5. OCLC 17917980.
  13. ^ "Beaux Arts Society: Royal Family". Archived from the original on January 2, 2014. Retrieved February 24, 2014.
  14. ^ "". Retrieved March 9, 2011.
  15. ^ "Social Security Death Index". July 15, 2010. Retrieved March 9, 2011.
  16. ^ "Fay Wray – Empire State Building to Dim Lights in Remembrance of Actress Fay Wray". Retrieved March 9, 2011.
  17. ^ "Past Recipients: Crystal Award". Women In Film. Archived from the original on June 30, 2011. Retrieved May 10, 2011.
  18. ^ "Peanuts, August 29, 1976".
  19. ^ "Peanuts, September 11, 1976".

External linksEdit