Monday, July 28, 2014

The Brief, Madcap Life of Kay Kendall

Not long ago, I watched the film, "Once More with Feeling!," a comedy and and what was the last film of the beautiful, glamorous and funny Kay Kendall (1926-1959). The film made me curious about her life. The only things I knew about her were that she married Rex Harrison, and that she died very young. I tracked down the only biography about her, The Brief, Madcap Life of Kay Kendall by Eve Golden with Kim Kendall (Kay's sister), published in 2002.

What the book does well is present interesting and funny anecdotes from many of Kendall's friends and family about her early life in Yorkshire as well as her life in London and America. Kendall had many friends including Noel Coward, Gladys Cooper, Vivien Leigh, Lauren Bacall, Dirk Bogarde, and others. 

While she had a love life exciting as any film, she married Rex Harrison. He doesn't come off particularly well in the book. Harrison and Kendall were in the midst of a passionate love affair when she fell ill in 1957. It seems incomprehensible that her doctor talked to Harrison about her condition rather than Kendall. (The prognosis was not good--leukemia with two years to live.) Harrison swore Kendall's friends and family to secrecy, and he told Kendall that she suffered from a vitamin deficiency and anemia. He divorced his then wife Lilli Palmer to marry Kendall and take care of her. Some people saw this as romantic devotion while others felt he was trying to repair his less than stellar reputation in Hollywood.

Kendall's acting style has been compared to Carole Lombard, and she had that knack for being funny and glamorous at the same time. It was unfortunate that Kendall was under contract to the Rank Organisation, a British film company, that didn't value her talent and only offered her mediocre parts in films. It wasn't until the last few years of her life that she had the opportunity to showcase her comedic talent.

Although I haven't seen all her films, the ones I have seen that I recommend are "Genevieve" (1953), "Simon and Laura" (1955), "Les Girls" (1957) for which she won a Golden Globe, "The Reluctant Debutante" (1958), and "Once More with Feeling!" (1960).

If you like classic films or biographies about classic Hollywood stars, you'll like this book.


  1. I had never heard of Kay Kendall -- another strange, sad Hollywood story. I've rented Les Girls, and now just need to find time to watch it! Thanks for the recommendation.

    1. Hi! Thanks for stopping by. I hope you enjoy the film!