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Catherine Townsend "Kay" Johnson (November 29, 1904 – November 17, 1975) was an American stage and film actress.

Kay Johnson
KayJohnsonImageIDTH-24383NYPL for the performing arts BillyRoseTheaterDivision.jpg
Catherine Townsend Johnson

(1904-11-29)November 29, 1904
DiedNovember 17, 1975(1975-11-17) (aged 70)
Alma materAmerican Academy of Dramatic Arts
Years active1929–1954
John Cromwell
(m. 1928; div. 1946)
Children2, including James Cromwell



Johnson was born in Mount Vernon, New York in 1904. Her father was architect Thomas R. Johnson, who worked in the firm of Cass Gilbert, the architect of several noteworthy buildings in New York City, including the Woolworth Building, the New York Customs House, and many library buildings. Kay, as she was known, resolved to become an actress after leaving boarding school in Ohio. Her mother reluctantly permitted her to take a course at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.


Early yearsEdit

Her first leading role was in a play called Beggar on Horseback, and her first stage work of note was in the production of Karel Čapek's play R.U.R. in Chicago. She moved to California after appearing in The Little Accident in Providence, Rhode Island. She was accompanied by her soon-to-be husband John Cromwell, who worked as a director in Hollywood.


Johnson was signed to a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer by Cecil B. DeMille following a performance of The Silver Cord at the Repertory Theater in Los Angeles, California. The play was produced by Simeon Gest of the Figueroa Playhouse. Her film debut came in Dynamite (1929), written by Jeanie Macpherson and featuring Charles Bickford and Conrad Nagel. Production was delayed while Johnson recovered from an appendectomy.

She went on to appear in The Ship from Shanghai (1930), This Mad World (1930), Billy the Kid (1930), The Spoilers (1930) with Gary Cooper and Betty Compson, DeMille's Madam Satan (1930), Passion Flower (1930), Capra's American Madness (1932), Thirteen Women (1932), Of Human Bondage (which starred Leslie Howard and Bette Davis), Jalna (1935) and Mr. Lucky (1943). Johnson was cast opposite Warner Baxter in a screen adaptation of Such Men Are Dangerous by Elinor Glyn. The story was adapted to the screen by Fox Film.

Johnson's final film appearance came in the 1954 British film Jivaro (also known as Lost Treasure of the Amazon).

Personal lifeEdit

In October 1928, Johnson married actor, director and producer John Cromwell. The couple had two sons, one of whom is actor James Cromwell. Johnson and Cromwell divorced in July 1946.[1]


On November 17, 1975, Johnson died from undisclosed causes at the age of 70 in Waterford, Connecticut.

Partial filmographyEdit


  1. ^ Associated Press news release, 10 July 1946, Couple, Wed 18 Years, in Divorce Suit
  • Los Angeles Times, "Demille Features Child Actor", January 17, 1929, Page A10.
  • Los Angeles Times, "Kay Johnson Under Knife", March 3, 1929, Page C15.
  • Los Angeles Times, "Kay Johnson Continues", May 30, 1929, Page A6.
  • Los Angeles Times, "Kay Johnson, as Genteel Heroine of Cecil B. DeMille, Plays First Screen Role", July 21, 1929, Page B13.

External linksEdit