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UCLA Film & Television Archive and the Hugh M. Hefner Classic American Film Program present

Fay Wray + Robert Riskin

The Richest Girl in the World
March 8, 2019 -
March 30, 2019
In-person: 
Victoria Riskin, author of "Fay Wray and Robert Riskin: A Hollywood Memoir" (3/8, 3/9).

Classic film series at UCLA Film & Television Archive are often occasioned by the publication of a book on Hollywood history, and so it is with this series, dedicated to Fay Wray and Robert Riskin, inspired by their daughter Victoria Riskin’s Fay Wray and Robert Riskin: A Hollywood Memoir. Victoria Riskin, who has had an extraordinary career as a film producer, here offers a dual biography of her famous parents. The irony of this Hollywood marriage is that it started at a moment when both the Academy Award-winning screenwriter Robert Riskin and the glamorous movie star Fay Wray were in transition. Fay Wray would temporarily retire from the screen when she married Riskin, and Riskin would at the same time lose his most successful partner, Frank Capra.

Fay Wray started her acting career as a teenager at the very end of the silent era in one of its greatest artistic achievements, Erich von Stroheim’s The Wedding March (1928). In the 1930s, Wray would become the “Queen of Scream,” appearing in a string of mostly low-budget B-film horror titles, with King Kong (1933) achieving instantaneous success. Many of her other films would achieve cult status decades later, as they became objects for academic inquiry in film histories and cinephile fascination. Robert Riskin also worked for a B-film studio, Columbia, in the “lowly” film genre of comedy. However, the Robert Riskin-Frank Capra collaboration literally lifted the studio out of Poverty Row and into the class of mini-major. Their films revealed an American optimism, even in the face of this country’s worst economic depression. The Riskin-Capra collaboration would end after 1942, and neither would achieve similar mega-success, although Riskin would work steadily until his death in 1958, and Wray would restart her film career in the 1950s.

The films by each partner, who never worked together professionally, epitomize two distinct film phenomena in 1930s Hollywood in a story that tells us much about America’s obsessions, fears, and dreams.

Series curated and program notes written by Jan-Christopher Horak.