Kay Kendall (1926-1959)

The Brief, Madcap Life of Kay Kendall

Glamorous British comedy actress Kay Kendall, real name Justine Kendall McCarthy, was born in Withernsea in 1926. Her father was the Yorkshire vaudeville star Terry McCarthy.

She started out by training as a dancer before later entering the Rank charm school. Her film career began at the age of 19. She appeared in a series of bit-parts until Rank promoted her to a support role in the musical film London Town (1946), notable for being one of the costliest flops in British film history.

After this disastrous movie debut, Kendall returned to repertory theatre and to minor roles in films such as Jules Dassin's film noir Night and the City (1950) and Ealing's Dance Hall (1950). Redemption arrived in the shape of the car-rally classic Genevieve (1953), the gentle comedy allowing Kendall to display her sexy and humorous persona to full effect.

Still a Rank contract star, she returned to the studio's 1950s productions in cosy support roles, including Doctor In The House (1954), Simon and Laura (1955) and The Constant Husband (1955).

In 1958 Kendall won a Golden Globe Award for her performance as Lady Sybil Wren in Les Girls, probably one of the best-known films of her career.

In 1954 she fell in love with her married Constant Husband co-star Rex Harrison and accompanied him to New York, where he was starring on Broadway in My Fair Lady. It was there that Kendall was diagnosed with leukemia. Her life took a romantic and tragic turn as Harrison divorced his wife and married Kendall. He agreed with their doctor that she was never to know of her diagnosis, and for the next two years the couple lived a hectic, glamorous life together as Kendall's health failed.

She died in 1959 at the age of 33 soon after completing her last movie, Once More, with Feeling!, starring opposite Yul Brynner.

External Links

IMDB listing for Kay Kendall
Wikipedia article on Kay Kendall

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