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I Found Stella Parish

I Found Stella Parish(1935)

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I Found Stella Parish (1935)

"Once to every star comes a story so perfectly suited to her talents, it remains forever - her best! Kay Francis has found her greatest role in the secret story of a glamorous woman...her child...and the men in her life," claimed the trailer for I Found Stella Parish (1935). Directed by Mervyn LeRoy and starring Kay Francis, Ian Hunter and Paul Lukas, it was based on the story The Judas Tree by John Monk Saunders, which was also the working title of the film when it was adapted for the screen by Casey Robinson, who replaced original screenwriter Mary McCall, Jr.

Actress Stella (Francis) is enjoying her triumphant premiere performance in a London play produced by Stephen Norman (Lukas), when a blackmailer (Barton MacLane, shown in silhouette), appears in her dressing room and tries to shake her down over her connection to a murder. Rather than pay the blackmail and have her daughter (Sybil Jason) learn about her sordid past, she leaves London and sails for America, disguised as an old woman. On the boat, she meets reporter Keith Lockridge (Ian Hunter) and later falls in love with him, not knowing that Lockridge is investigating her and plans to make the truth about her known.

The film went into production at Warner Bros. on August 19, 1935, where Francis had been riding high after leaving Paramount three years before. Orry-Kelly designed the clothes and Perc Westmore designed the wigs for Francis, who was known as the best-dressed woman in Hollywood. I Found Stella Parish was the first of seven films that Francis would make with Ian Hunter and the last of four she would make with Paul Lukas. Warren William, whose star was slipping at Warner Bros., had originally been cast as Lockridge and had even shown up for work on August 15th, only to find that the studio had given the role to Hunter and William was to play the much smaller role of Stephan Norman. William refused to accept the part, which eventually went to Paul Lukas. To save face, the studio put out the story that they had agreed to a one-time loan out of William's services in exchange for letting him off of I Found Stella Parish , but the loan out never happened. One person who enjoyed making the film was Sybil Jason, who remembered Kay Francis looking just like her own mother, which helped them to bond. "She treated the crew and the extras with no less attention that she would have given to any executive, and they adored her for it."

I Found Stella Parish was released on November 4, 1935 at the Strand Theater in New York City, with the majority of the critics applauding. Variety called the film "the ideal [Kay Francis] vehicle. She is one of the screen's most charming women." The enigmatic "F.S.N" writing for The New York Times disagreed. "Miss Francis's unfortunate lisp continues to plague this corner; it makes even more unbelievable the notion that London could regard her Stella Parish as the Duse of the day. [...] Not merely is the story too, too tragic, but Mervyn LeRoy has directed it in the cadence of a graveyard processional. [...] A happy ending--although, naturally, Miss Francis faces it with tear-filled eyes--is contrived at last, but with what contortions no one will know unless he happens to visit the Strand this week or can gather it from the sobs of departing audiences. "

The film did big business at the box office, earning Francis a raise from her $115,000 yearly salary before her current contract had expired. Francis was asked by the studio to extend her contract, which she did, although she was growing tired of the similarity of her roles, I Found Stella Parish notwithstanding.

By Lorraine LoBianco

SOURCES:

Bubbeo, Daniel The Women of Warner Bros.: The Lives and Careers of 15 Leading Ladies
F.S.N. "I Found Stella Parish" The New York Times 4 Nov 35
The Internet Movie Database
http://www.kayfrancisfilms.com/2008/12/i-found-stella-parish-1935.html

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