Fay Wray screamed her way into movie history as the apple of King Kong's eye.
Wray was already a star of silent films and talkies when, at age 25, she was cast by director Merian C. Cooper as Ann Darrow — a.k.a. "the girl" — in the 1933 film "King Kong."
Although she made about 80 movies, her fame as a costar to an ape — she referred to him simply as Kong — far outlasted the celebrity she enjoyed from movies she made with the pantheon of Hollywood's leading men, including Ronald Colman, Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, William Powell and Spencer Tracy.
"I yelled every time they said, 'Yell,' " she said of the role for which she was paid $10,000 for 10 weeks' work — good pay for Hollywood during the Depression.
RKO got more than its money's worth — the film grossed nearly $90,000 in its first four days, a fortune at a time when movie tickets were 15 cents. What's more, Wray recorded some of her sensuous moans and shrieks for the studio, which were later used in other horror films.
Wray began in films as an extra in the silents as a young teenager, playing in "two-reeler" westerns that ran 20 or 25 minutes and were shown with a feature film. Soon she was doing five-reelers.
She was first distinguished from the pack of young starlets then in Hollywood when she was named a "baby star" by the Western Assn. of Motion Picture Advertisers, a list that included her friend Janet Gaynor, as well as Joan Crawford and Dolores Del Rio.
In 1933 alone, when "King Kong" was released, Wray had to her credit 10 other movies, including "Shanghai Madness" with Spencer Tracy and "The Bowery" with George Raft and Wallace Beery.
Her first big role, in Erich von Stroheim's monumental silent film "The Wedding March," launched Wray into stardom.
Wray was born in Alberta, Canada. When her father, a rancher, hit hard times, the family moved to Arizona and then to Utah. Her parents later divorced, and her mother, worried about her daughter's health after another daughter had died of influenza, allowed a family friend, a photographer, to escort the 14-year-old Fay to Los Angeles. Her mother soon followed.
Wray attended Hollywood High School, where she became interested in drama. Her first motion picture role was in "Gasoline Love" (1923) at the old Century Pictures studio at Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street.
Wray's 1928 marriage to John Monk Saunders, who wrote the first film to win the Academy Award for best picture, the silent "Wings," ended shortly before he committed suicide.
In 1942, she left acting to embark on an idyllic marriage to another writer, Robert Riskin, the Academy Award-winning writer of Frank Capra comedies, including "It Happened One Night" and "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town."
Riskin died in 1955 after a long illness, years that pressed Wray, by then the mother of three children, out of retirement for several years.