Saturday, March 30, 2013

I Remember Fay Kanin

I'd been trying for years to interview screen writer Fay Kanin but it seemed every time I was in L.A. she was out of town.
And then one Saturday afternoon when I was at my desk in the Toronto Star newsroom I saw a familiar figure walking over to greet me.
"Hello, I'm Fay Kanin. Looking for me?"
And we both had a laugh.
Fay Kanin died on March 27 aged 95.
But I only met her once so here is my story,
She was in the Star newsroom in the summer of 1984 as executive producer of a new TV movie Heartsounds starring Mary Tyler Moore and James Garner. Beautifully coiffed and dressed, she carried her script with her.
And ever the hands on executive Kanin wanted to watch the filming --after all she'd written the script!.
I found her, aged 66, to be a bright and witty woman, one who co-wrote with husband Michael many of the great screen hits of the past 30 years.
"Our first script was Blondie For Victory (1942)," she said with a grimace.
"Then we wrote Goodbye, My Fancy for Broadway about a congess woman going back to the college where she was once expelled.
"And you know the other day at our lunch break I was walking along King Street with (co-star) Sam Wanamaker and we stopped at the Royal Alex theater. My play was there in 1949 and Sam was the original star!"
I mentioned I'd just seen the movie version on TV and she made another face. "They turned it into a Joan Crawford vehicle with Bob Young as her love interest."
Better movie scripts followed: Rhapsody (1953) with Liz Taylor, The Opposite Sex (1956) with June Allyson and then Teacher's Pet (1958) with Clark Gable and Doris Day which won the Oscar for best original scenario.
"It made us. But originally it had been turned down by every studio. We rewrote it with more romance and when Gable signed we had our biggest hit."
I wondered out loud why Kanin turned to TV in 1972 for the TV movie Heat Of Anger with Susan Hayward.
"Originally titled Fitzgerald and Pride it was going to be a series. Then Susie started having seizures. Brain cancer. But I learned I could tackle subjects movies wouldn't touch. So I switched to TV."
Next came Tell Me Where It Hurts (1974) with Maureen Stapleton and Paul Sorvino. "It was about a middle aged housewife who questions where she is going. Stapleton gave it a huge punch, it was a big ratings hit. No movie studio wanted it."
"Then I did Hustling (1975) with Lee Remich as a reporter investigating the pornography trade in New York city. Friendly Fire (1979) had Carol Burnett as a mother devastated by the knowledge her soldier son in Vietnam died by fire from his side,
"Heartsounds has a neurologist played by Jim Garener suffering a heart attack and confronting a medical establishment that has forgotten how to treat the patient. Based on the dailies Jim and Mary are amazing in it."
When I interviewed Kanin she had just finished a five year stint as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. "I was the only woman on the board," she said with a wry smile.
In later years Fay tended to the needs of her husband --Michael died in 1993.
I should have taken her up on an offer to visit the next time I was in L.A.
But on that Saturday she made one invaluable contribution to the Toronto Star.
She personally persuaded a reluctant Mary Tyler Moore to pose in the news room with Sunday editor Lou Clancy.
And the front page picture the next day had the picture plus inevitable headline :"Mary? Lou?"

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