Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Pink Navy Girl in Every Port: Kay Kendall

As far as we know, possums, this week's Pink Navy Girl in Every Port was not a bitch, and didn't have a drug habit, but by God, she was fabulous. And funny. And tall.

As David Thomson puts it, "Kay Kendall grew up tall. Indifferent to the unhelpful state of being an outcast, not just a great beauty, but one of the most sophisticated looking women you had ever seen. She seemed made in Belgravia."

She came from a theatrical family, and by the age of 13, she was tall enough to appear in the chorus line at the Palladium in London. Unfortunately, her stage and film career didn't go anywhere until, in 1953, she landed a role in the British comedy Genevieve, a film about two classic-car enthusiasts in the annual London-Brighton race.

As Thomson points out, one of the two competing drivers "was Kenneth More, who turned up with this tall, languid and gloriously daffy girlfriend, as if he had found her in screwball comedy. Kay Kendall was the joker in the film, not least in the dance-hall scene where she joins the band and plays a very hot trumpet...." Pauline Kael agrees: "Kay Kendall had perhaps her happiest (and most irresistible) role as the trumpet-playing model....Everything about this movie seems to go right, and it looks relaxed and effortless." And Kay Kendall was quite something, as you can see for yourselves, possums.

Genevieve made her a star at the age of 27, and after appearing with Rex Harrison (yes, as in My Fair Lady) in the ironically titled The Constant Husband, she began an affair with Harrison, who was inconstantly married to the fabulous-in-her-own-right Lilli Palmer.

According to Wikipedia, "when Rex Harrison learned from Kendall's doctor that she had been diagnosed with myeloid leukemia, he and Lilli Palmer agreed to divorce so he could marry Kendall and provide for her care. Kendall was never told of her illness and ended up believing she merely had an iron deficiency. As for the divorce, Palmer said she was not upset because she had a lover, too. She and Harrison planned to remarry after Kendall's death, but Palmer ended up falling in love with her companion, Carlos Thompson, and married him instead."

Before her death at the age of 32, Kay Kendall was also the best thing about Les Girls, a George Cukor-directed version of a Cole Porter musical designed by George Hoyningen-Huené, and if your fingertips went all tingly from reading that, you're definitely gay. As Pauline Kael put it, "the tall, blithe, and beautiful comedienne Kay Kendall...does a funny, drunk 'La Habanera' and has a number with [Gene] Kelly in which she seems to be outdancing him and having an easy, amused time of it." In the trailer below, she's the tall, funny, fabulous knockout.

David Thomson offers the best tribute of all: "Her last film was Once More With Feeling, where she steals the picture from Yul Brynner, who plays her conductor husband. That was the saddest thing about Kay Kendall - she was left to steal pictures in a world where talented and fond men might have made entire movies for her and her comic timing. She was very sexy but she made fun of sex. She was upper-class, yet itching to be a tramp. If only she had known Preston Sturges - they might have saved each other and kept the flame of screwball burning for another 10 years." Amen to that possums.