I've always said that if I have to die that I would like Heaven to be just 1ike San Francisco. Of course, there's a few people I'd like to invite over for dinner, Vincent Price, for one, plus my three favorite comediennes, although one is still, like me, in the land of the living, and that's the wonderful Monica Vitti. The others are the late, great Carole Lombard & Kay Kendall. If laughter is as crucial in Heaven as it is on planet Earth, no celestial gathering would be complete without them.
I've just finished the only book I've ever read about Kay Kendall by one of the world's best film historians, Eve Golden. Golden has also written about Jean Harlow, Theda Bara and Anna Held, women who were acclaimed during their own lifetimes but are remembered through a haze today. Of the four, Kendall received the fewest chances to show what she could really do. In 1953's "Genevieve," her 15th film, she turned in the comedy performance of a lifetime, but she made less than a dozen films after that, none of which showcased her unique & irrepressible style quite as well. Posthumously, she is remembered as Rex Harrison's 3rd wife whom he couldn't bear to tell the grim truth: Kendall was dying of leukemia throughout their two-year marriage. Anyone who knows anything about marriage knows that it is impossible to sustain a lie like that, so she probably knew the truth and didn't confront him with it. She kept working to the very end and left a legacy of glorious work in films which were not quite worthy of her.
It's sad to learn that even "Genevieve" was made straight after she was recovering from an earlier relationship & abortion & that she hemorrhaged during the filming. The title of Golden's book (co-written with Kim Kendall, Kay's sister) is "The Brief Madcap Life Of Kay Kendall." In spite of her delicate health & the fact Rex Harrison seems to be rather an ungallant beast, Kay Kendall 's life is filled with a sense of fun & mischief. Her friends included Dirk Bogarde, Carol Matthau, Dinah Sheridan, Audrey Hepburn & Princess Lilian of Sweden & her fans to this day will spare no effort to see every clip of film in which she appears. Kay Kendall emerged as a vivid flash of light on celluloid & perhaps this reappraisal of her life & work will lead to more of her films being made available on video.
© 2002 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 8/28/02
The Brief Madcap Life of Kay Kendall
Eve Gordon - University Press Of Kentucky