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Fay Wray, Star Who Stole Kong's Heart, Dies at 96 By THE NEW YORK TIMES
 
Fay Wray, an actress who appeared in about 100 movies but whose fame is inextricably linked with the hours she spent struggling, helplessly screaming, in the eight-foot hand of King Kong, died on Sunday at her apartment in Manhattan. She was 96.         Rick McKay, a director and her friend, said she died peacefully in her sleep. 
 
He recalled that Miss Wray's family moved to the United States from Canada in a stagecoach and said that she was possibly the longest-living true star of silent films.                     

As sound and color came to the movies, Miss Wray remained at the top, but it was the celebrated role that took her to the top of a very tall building that elevated her to cinematic immortality.

The huge success of "King Kong," a beauty-and-the-beast film that opened in New York at both Radio City Music Hall and the Roxy in 1933, led to roles for Miss Wray in other 1930's films in which her life or her virtue, or both, were imperiled. But she was always aware that she would be remembered for the pivotal scene of "King Kong," in which the giant ape carries her to the top of the Empire State Building, gently places her on a ledge, lunges furiously at fighter planes peppering him with bullets and falls to his death.

"When I'm in New York," Miss Wray wrote in The New York Times in 1969, "I look at the Empire State Building and feel as though it belongs to me, or is it vice versa?"

The most hazardous part of filming "King Kong," Miss Wray recalled, was the tendency of the giant gorilla hand to loosen its grasp while she was suspended high above the set. When she felt she was about to fall, she implored the director, Merian C. Cooper, to have her lowered to the stage floor to rest a few minutes before being secured once again in the hand and sent aloft.

She spent an entire day recording additional screams, variously shrill and plaintive, that an editor later inserted in the soundtrack - too often, she later emphasized. Asked how she was able to muster such animated cries, she replied, "I made myself believe that the nearest possible hope of rescue was at least a mile away."

Over the years, Miss Wray said, she came to feel that Kong had "become a spiritual thing to many people, including me."

In a 1987 interview, Miss Wray said she had been sent a script for the 1976 remake of "King Kong," in which Jessica Lange played Kong's co-star, because its producers wanted her to play a small role. She said she disliked the script and declined the offer because "the film I made was so extraordinary, so full of imagination and special effects, that it will never be equaled."

Fay Wray was born on Sept. 15, 1907, on a farm in Alberta, a daughter of Jerry Wray, an inventor, and his wife, Vina. Vina Wray and her three daughters moved to Arizona by stagecoach when Fay was 3, and to Lark, Utah, when she was 5. Her father and two brothers had gone ahead.

By the time Fay was 12 or 13, her parents had separated, a sister had died of the flu, and the family was struggling financially. Fay's mother sent her to Los Angeles to live with a friend and pursue a movie career. She appeared in her first film, ''Gasoline Love," in 1923. She was an ingénue in a half-dozen silent westerns.

Her breakthrough came when Erich von Stroheim chose her to play the bride in his 1928 silent classic "The Wedding March." Miss Wray was always drawn to writers, as she recounted in her 1989 autobiography, "On the Other Hand." She was just 19 when she married John Monk Saunders, a Rhodes scholar and screenwriter known for films like "Wings." She divorced him, she said, after he injected her with drugs while she slept, sold their house and their furniture and kept the money, and disappeared for a time with their baby daughter, Susan. Saunders hanged himself in 1940.

She was pursued by Sinclair Lewis and had a long romance with Clifford Odets. In 1942 she married Robert Riskin, the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of "It Happened One Night." They had two children, Vicki and Robert Jr. Riskin had a stroke in 1950 and died five years later. In 1971, she married Dr. Sanford Rothenberg, a neurosurgeon who had been one of Riskin's doctors. Dr. Rothenberg died in 1991.

Miss Wray retired in 1942 but made occasional movies in the 1950's and had a leading role in "Gideon's Trumpet," a 1979 film with Henry Fonda. On television, she starred in a situation comedy, "The Pride of the Family," from 1953 to 1955. In later years she also wrote plays that were produced in regional theaters.

Miss Wray is survived by her daughters Susan Riskin of Manhattan and Victoria Riskin of Los Angeles; her son, Robert Riskin Jr., of Los Angeles; and two grandchildren.

In 1997, Miss Wray joined Julius Epstein, a writer of the film "Casablanca," to testify to Congress in favor of greater copyright protection for pre-1960's film writers.

Last March Peter Jackson, the director, asked her over dinner if she would appear in his remake of ''King Kong." He wanted her to read the summary line, '' 'Twas beauty killed the beast."

She thought that might be too confusing, said Mr. McKay, who was host at the dinner.

''How can someone play me when I'm here?" she asked. End

 
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The Calmer Half of Killing: East Meets West by DAVE KEHR

 
'Kill Bill Vol. 2'
 
Uma Thurman and Gordon Liu in "Kill Bill Vol. 2." Andrew Cooper/Miramax Films
 
 
 
 
 
"Part 1 was the questions, Part 2 is the answers," says Quentin Tarantino in the "making of" documentary attached to Miramax Home Entertainment's release of "Kill Bill Vol. 2," the completion of Mr. Tarantino's epic revenge saga. Though the film was originally conceived as a single, three-hour feature (and will doubtlessly turn up that way soon on a "special edition" DVD), "Kill Bill" does divide neatly into contrasting halves.

The exaggerated violence of Part 1, in which Uma Thurman's nameless character, called the Bride, works her way down her to-do list of revenge killings, gives way in Part 2 to a calmer, more character-centered drama. "Vol. 2" is still steeped in references to Asian martial arts movies, but here Mr. Tarantino draws equally on the tradition of the American western, citing masters like John Ford and Budd Boetticher. The landscape opens up much as the characters do, with a vast, empty California desert as the background to the film's richest performance, Michael Madsen's portrayal of a professional assassin reduced to bouncing drunken patrons from a topless bar.

The video transfer is excellent, but the "Kill Bill Vol. 2" disc doesn't contain much in the way of extras; the commentary tracks are presumably being saved for that ultimate edition. It does offer one interesting deleted sequence: a flashback in which the master killer Bill (David Carradine) takes on half a dozen kung-fu fighters. It's a beautifully executed scene, framed and cut in a precise pastiche of the Shaw Brothers martial arts films of the 70's, but Mr. Tarantino was right to clip it from the final version; it's too broad and parodic to fit with the film's increasing naturalism as it moves toward its wonderfully soft-spoken climax. 2004. $29.99. R.

'Predator'

As a walk-up to the release of "Alien vs. Predator" on Friday, Fox Home Entertainment has dusted off John McTiernan's original "Predator" of 1987 for a double-disc "collector's edition."

Probably the only science-fiction horror film to feature two future governors - Arnold Schwarzenegger as the head of a team of mercenaries on a mysterious mission in a Central American jungle and Jesse Ventura as the tobacco-spitting redneck member of the merry band - "Predator" represents the Hollywood action film in the last years before the genre was revolutionized by digital effects. The sight and sound of real bodies hurtling through real spaces still has a visceral impact that no amount of computer-generated imagery has yet managed to duplicate.

Released at the height of the Iran-contra affair, the film draws on fears about the United States facing another Vietnam in these nameless jungles, where an alien presence - a seven-foot intergalactic hunter played with snaky dreadlocks by Kevin Peter Hall - has a Vietcong-like ability to blend with his surroundings. "The jungle came alive and took him," reports one witness to a Predator ambush, sounding like a refugee from "Apocalypse Now." $26.98. R.

'Freaks'

Seventy years have not diluted the impact of Tod Browning's "Freaks," which was first released in 1932 and remains one of the most disturbing films ever made. No digital effect here: Browning scoured the circuses of the United States and Europe to assemble his cast of "people of difference" - the legless Johnny Eck, the conjoined twins Violet and Daisy Hilton and many others - for this story of the sideshow's revenge on a beautiful trapeze artist (Olga Baclanova) who has married a midget (Harry Earles) for his money.

Suffused with an atmosphere of perverse sexuality, "Freaks" draws its audience into sympathizing with the unfortunate outcasts who can only find work by exhibiting themselves. But suddenly Browning pulls the comforting, humanist rug from beneath our feet with a violent climax that stunned audiences of the time and is still absolutely chilling. "Freaks" has never looked better than it does in this impeccable restoration, based on original nitrate elements and produced by Turner Entertainment for Warner Home Video release. The detail level in the climactic, nighttime sequence is astonishing as the twisted, vengeful figures, illuminated only by brief flashes of lightning, slither through primordial mud toward their screaming victim.

The original ending of "Freaks" was far more graphic, says David J. Skal, Browning's biographer, in the detailed documentary that accompanies "Freaks" on disc. After a San Diego preview that supposedly had people fainting in the aisles, that ending was cut back and the offending scenes were destroyed. But the studio, MGM, had Browning shoot an odd and ineffective "happy ending" - the midget is reunited with his true, height-appropriate love - which was tested a few times and then tossed out. The happy ending still exists, but instead of including it as a supplement, the new disc tacks it onto the film itself, where it seems much out of place and much against the intent of the director. That questionable choice aside, this is the definitive version of a dark American classic. $19.97. Not rated.

'Dead Ringer' and 'The Bad Seed'

The playwright and performer Charles Busch is host on the commentary tracks on two psychological horror films from Warner Home Video. He joins the Bette Davis expert Boze Hadleigh to explicate the zany Davis psychological thriller "Dead Ringer" from 1964 and the former child star Patty McCormack to comment on her most famous role, as the pigtailed, 10-year-old psychotic killer of Mervyn LeRoy's "Bad Seed" of 1956

One of the great connoisseurs (and stage interpreters) of female performance styles, Mr. Busch has a lot to say about Davis's distinctive mannerisms and even contributes a mean Davis impression of his own. On the "Bad Seed" commentary, he and Ms. McCormack have a lively, wide-ranging conversation between colleagues, clearly enjoying each other's company.

The films themselves aren't that satisfying. Directed by Davis's erstwhile co-star Paul Henreid ("Now, Voyager"), "Dead Ringer" becomes a campy study in California gothic, with Davis as the mousy operator of a back street bar who kills her rich, evil sister and takes her place, and "The Bad Seed" never transcends its stage origins (though for Mr. Busch, that's a plus). But here's a case where a creative commentary track joined to a mediocre movie makes for a fine DVD experience. And the price - the discs list for $19.97 each - is certainly right.     End
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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