She was born Katharine Edwina Gibbs on January 13, 1905 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Her father was an alcoholic and her mother, a former actress, divorced him in 1909. Kay attended Miss Fuller’s School for Young Ladies in Ossining, New York and then enrolled in secretarial college. At age seventeen she married businessman James Dwight Francis. They divorced in 1925 and she married athlete William Gaston. This marriage only lasted two years. She went to New York City where she appeared in several successful Broadway plays. The statuesque brunette was offered a contract at Paramount in 1929. Kay made her film debut in the drama Gentlemen Of The Press. Her career took off quickly with starring roles in Girls About Town and 24 Hours. She costarred with William Powell in numerous films including Jewel Robbery, Ladies Man, and One Way Passage. During this time she dated director Edmund Goulding and was engaged to writer John Meehan. In 1931 she married actor Kenneth MacKenna. The following year she was signed by Warner Brothers with a salary of $4,000 a week. Kay became known for playing long suffering heroines in movies like Secrets of an Actress and Comet Over Broadway. Her marriage to Kenneth ended in 1934.

Kay FrancisKay Francis
Kay Francis

By this time she was one of Hollywood’s most popular and highest paid leading ladies.She appeared on dozens of magazine covers and was named one the world’s best dress women. Kay enjoyed a wild love life that included many one night stands and affairs with women. Many of her closest friends were gay men including actor Anderson Lawler. After a series of flops found herself labeled “box-office poison” in 1938 by the Hollywood Reporter. She married her fourth husband Eric Barnekow in 1939 but this union would also end in divorce. Kay never wanted to have children so she chose to have several abortions. In 1942 she joined actresses Carole Landis, Mitzi Mayfair, and Martha Raye on a USO tour to entertain the troops. She also played herself in the 1944 musical Four Jills In a Jeep. Then she starred in and produced the films Wife Wanted and Divorce. Her final acting role was on the 1951 TV series Lux Video Theater. Soon after moved to New York City and rarely made public appearances. Sadly she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1966 and had a mastectomy. On August 26, 1968 she died from cancer at the age of sixty-three. Kay was cremated and her ashes were scattered at sea. In her will she left one million dollars to The Seeing Eye, an organization that trains guide dogs for the blind