She went into the theatre and played opposite Walter Huston in Elmer the Great. He engineered her movie debut in Gentlemen of the Press (29, Millard Webb) and Paramount put her under contract. Several small parts, largely as dark seduetresses, led to Street of Chance (30, John Cromwell), opposite William Powell. She was usually best in sympathetic, melting, and sacrificial parts—thus The Virtuous Sin (30, George Cukor and Louis Gasnier); Scandal Sheet (31, Cromwell); The Vice Squad (31, Cromwell); Guilty Hands (31, W. S. Van Dyke); and Girls About Town (31, Cukor).
She moved to Warners and they put her in Man Wanted (32) and Jewel Robbery (32), both directed by William Dieterle, before several great successes: the first again with William Powell, One Way Passage (32, Tay Garnett), in which she played a lover fatally ill; Ernst Lubitsch’s Trouble in Paradise (32), a witty and elegant return to Paramount; and Cynara (32, King Vidor). She continued with The Keyhole (33, Michael Curtiz); Storm at Daybreak (33, Richard Boleslavsky); Mary Stevens M D (33, Lloyd Bacon); I Eovecl a Woman (33, Alfred E. Green); House on 56th Street (33, Robert Florey); Mandalay (34. Curtiz); Wouder Bar (34, Bacon); Dr Monica (34, William Keighley); as Lenin’s perfectly groomed secretary in British Agent (34, Curtiz); Living on Velvet (35, Frank Borzage); Stranded (35, Borzage); and I Found Stella Parrish (35, Mervyn Le Roy).
But her stock was declining and a Florence Nightingale biopic, The White Angel (36, Dieterle), proved disastrous. Warners persevered for a few years: Give Me Your Heart (36, Archie Mavo); Stolen Holiday (37, Curtiz); Confession (37, Joe Mav); and Another Dawn (37, Dieterle). Then in 1938 the studio demoted her to B pictures. She worked on for several years, but never survived the humiliation: My Bill (38, John Farrow); Comet Over Broadway (38, Busby Berkeley): King of the Underworld (39, Lewis Seiler); cruelly put down in In Name Only (39, Cromwell), where a child takes her for Can- Grant’s mother.
She left Warners and free-lanced, taking mother roles, for instance in It's a Date (40, William A. Seiter). There was a brief revival in the war vears with the Jack Benny Charley's Aunt (41, Mayo), The Feminine Touch (41, Van Dyke), and Playgirl (41, Frank Woodruff), while her w'ar work was celebrated in Four Jills in a Jeep (44, Seiter). But she ended in Monogram cheapies, the last of which were Divorce (45, William Nigh) and Wife Wanted (46, Phil Karlson).
Kay Francis was a short-lived bloom, as farfetched as the sophisticated romances of the early thirties where clothes were identity. But in A Woman’s View (1993), Jeanine Basinger makes a good case for remembering the intensity of Kay Francis’s brief impact, and the curiosity of her special reliance on the glamour (or religion) of clothes and jewels. She was a strange couture goddess who lived with the rumor that she had some black blood, as well as coded diaries that alluded to boozing and sleeping around.