Happy Anniversary, Kay Kendall (1927 - 1959)
Actress Kay Kendall photographed by Virgil Apger, 1950s
Kay Kendall died young. She was at the height of her fame, but she had leukaemia. Her screen persona was a curious mixture of fifties poise and glamour and a throw-back to thirties screwball heroines. Born in a showbiz family, she was dancing in the chorus at the Palladium by the time she was 12. She got a few bit parts and then got a big role in a major event movie, "London Town". Unfortunately this expensive debut film for comedian Sid Field was one of the biggest flops in British cinema history.
Kay Kendall as Rosalind Peters in "Genevieve" (1953) directed by Henry Cornelius
Her performance in "It Started In Paradise" got her a contract at Rank, and her first film there was the mega-hit "Genevieve". After a teeny part in another mega-hit "Doctor in the House" she became one of Rex Harrison's wives in the bigamy comedy The Constant Husband. There then followed a dispute about the quality of scripts offered to her by Rank and her contract was suspended.
Kay Kendall, Gene Kelly, Taina Elg and Mitzi Gaynor in "Les Girls" (1957) directed by George Cukor
In 1958, Kay Kendall won a Golden Globe Award for her performance as Lady Sybil Wren in Les Girls – probably one of the best-known films of her career – the story of three showgirls in postwar Paris (the other actresses were Mitzi Gaynor and Taina Elg).
"Kay Kendall was petrified at the thought of having to sing and dance and was, initially, promised she would not have to do either. As it turned out, she had two numbers in the film, one with Gene Kelly and one with the two other girls. 'She came to me in a state of shock', said Jack Cole, 'and she was ready to quit when she heard she'd have to do a number with Gene. The result was that whenever she was on the screen, you couldn't take your eyes off her. And she was right. She couldn't dance. But in the 'Ladies in Waiting' routine, her presence was so stunning she took the number clean away from Mitzi Gaynor and Taina Elg -neither of whom had her star quality which, in this business, is all that counts". -"Gene Kelly: A biography" (1974) by Clive Hirschhorn
Kay Kendall married Rex Harrison in 1957 and tried to keep working but it was difficult and Rank had started to sue for breach of contract when she passed on. She left behind a memory of a truly beautiful person.