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Fay Wray (1907 -- 2004)

When, in August 2004, Fay Wray died of old age in Manhattan, her passing made headline news around the world. In an acting career spanning six decades and close to 100 film appearances, she will be remembered forever for one role.

Her 1989 autobiography, On the Other Hand, gives a clue to its identity. Fay Wray played the leading lady, Ann Darrow, in the original King Kong (1933). Born in Canada, her family moved to Los Angeles when she was a young child. She made her screen debut aged 16, but it was her performance in Erich von Stroheim's silent film, The Wedding March, five years later, that catapulted her to fame.

She played a wretched Viennese girl abandoned by her playboy lover, showing herself to be a great screamer and defining the damsel in distress for a generation. In the 1920s and 30s, she acted incessantly, opposite Spencer Tracy, Gary Cooper, Wallace Beery, William Powell, Ronald Colman and many others.

She shot a dozen movies in 1933, the year of King Kong, alone. But, frustratingly for her as an actress, that film came to overshadow all her other work. In an age when the term classic is, perhaps, overused, this film truly merits the description.

Co-directors, Merian Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack, were best known as documentary filmmakers before turning their hand to this 'beauty and the beast' fantasy adventure, which also starred Robert Armstrong and Bruce Cabot. The stunning special effects by Willis O'Brien brought the giant monkey to life and allowed audiences to share his heartbreak.