Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

People We Like: Kay Kendall

Kay Kendall remains as entrancing now as she did back in the '50 when she zoomed like a comet through British and then American films. She died in 1959 but left a lasting legacy of high comedy and elegant charm. The small parts throughout the early 50s are interesting: in DANCE HALL, IT STARTED IN PARADISE, THE SHADOW MAN, CURTAIN UP, FAST AND LOOSE etc, then that breakthrough role in GENEVIEVE as the elegant model and that trumpet-playing scene, a cameo followed in DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE with her chum Dirk Bogarde, then she co-starred with Rex Harrison in THE CONSTANT HUSBAND and their relationship began here, despite his long marriage to Lilli Palmer. SIMON AND LAURA is another delightful Rank Organisation comedy, teaming her with Peter Finch as a tempermental theatre couple appearing in a television soap opera. She then did that lovely period film QUENTIN DURWARD for MGM with Robert Taylor. When Rex went to New York with the stage show of "My Fair Lady" Kay went with him. Her only Hollywood film was Cukor's LES GIRLS in 1957 which she effortlessly stole from the other girls Mitzi Gaynor and Taina Elg, good as they are here.

The high comedy style of the Harrisons (she had married Rex in '57, after his divorce from Lilli) is captured in Minnelli's '58 version of the stage play THE RELUCTANT DEBUTANTE which is still a delight now. She wears those Balmain clothes and looks perfectly glamorous here. Perhaps only Carole Lombard was as gifted and glamorous a comedienne. 
Kay though had leukaemia, which it seems she did not know about. She looks frail in her last film, ONCE MORE WITH FEELING, in '59 for Stanley Donen, as wife to Yul Brynner's music maestro. She died in September 1959 before its 1960 release.
Another interesting early title of hers I tracked down recently was ABDULLA THE GREAT, made in '54 or '55 by Gregory Ratoff who plays the Farouk-like despot undone by his passion for a visiting model, Kay, co-starring with Sydney Chaplin, whom she was invovled with at the time. A fascinting oddity to see now, as per my first post on here! At least Cukor, Minnelli and Donen got to showcase her individual talents.

Though unwell, she also did a short-lived play "The Bright One" in 1958. Rex and Lilli Palmer both give their versions of the ending of their marriage in their respective autobiographies, both engrossing. Dirk Bogarde also writes movingly about her in his "Snakes and Ladders"
. Kay's sister Kim, with Eve Golden, has co-authored a fascinating book on Kay's life and career, her music hall background, and showgirl years in the London revues of the early '50s.

Kay remains a fascinating enigma who left us all too soon, aged 32. She has a lovely headstone and resting place in an 18th century churchyard in Hampstead, North London, in a theatrical quarter with Du Mauriers and Beerbohm Trees nearby and actor Anton Walbrook just across the path. Perfect.
My reviews of ABDULLA, QUENTIN DURWARD, LES GIRLS and RELUCTANT DEBUTANTE are on previous posts here.
My full appreciation on Kay is on IMDb at:

1 comment:

  1. Bravo! Well-said and long over-due. Kendall was absolutely singular.