In New York City, King Kong actress Fay Wray had a little joke. “She’d walk past the Empire State Building, look up and say, ‘I like to say a little prayer for a friend of mine who died up there,’” recalls Fay’s daughter Vivian Riskin in her new book, Fay Wray and Robert Riskin: A Hollywood Memoir, adding that her mother didn’t mind being “inextricably tied” to the 1933 classic film. “It opened up a lot of doors for her,” she says.
Beyond King Kong, Canada-born Fay had more than 80 film credits, yet she also fell naturally into the role of mom. “She made sure I had my school lunch and picked me up after class. She was very caring,” says Vivian.
Her book about growing up with Fay, and the actress’ marriage to It Happened One Night screenwriter Robert Riskin, is the subject of her recent book. “I never wanted for anything — even when there was less money coming into the household,” says Vivian. “I wanted to go to camp, so she made sure I was signed up.”
Fay retired from the movies to raise her three children, Vivian, Susan and Robert Jr., but her husband’s death in 1950 forced her back to acting. “It was a process of building a new life and becoming the primary breadwinner again,” says Vivian. From 1953 to 1954, Fay starred in the TV sitcom The Pride of the Family. In her later years she also wrote plays that were produced in regional theater.
Yet Fay’s heart was always at home, where she often greeted her kids with a cup of tea after school. “She would make it with tea leaves. Afterward, she would use the leaves left in the cup to tell my fortune,” Vivian recalls. “She’d say, ‘I see a wonderful future for you.’ She had a way of making people feel good. I think she felt that was her mission in life.”
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