|"TURN THE PAGE"
my time. This is not nice, and I am not amused.' And
I hung up on him. There was another call from Mr.
Arno, and then the third call was from Mr. Pittman.
He said, 'Kate, that man calling you IS Max Arno.
They HAVE exercised your option, and you are due
in California next Monday."
As is the story with many starlets during that era,
once the Linaker girl arrived in Hollywood the film
companies set about to change nearly everything
about her. Kate Linaker was soon shortened to Kay,
and the legendary Perce Westmore designed a
makeup that altered the newly-named Kay's nose,
mouth, and other facial features. Her hair was also
cut: "I went out there with hair long enough to sit
on," she recalls. Her first role was as a nurse in an
otherwise-obscure Warner Bros. picture, The Murder
of Doctor Harrigan, which was filmed in 1935 but not
released until the next year. (We wonder if Dr.
Harrigan was murdered because the other hospital
employees got tired of hearing him sing "H, A,
double R, I, G-A-N spells Harrigan..." No, I guess
Other roles quickly presented themselves. Kay
made cinema history of sorts with her performance
in the Republic Picture The Girl From Mandalay
(1936). Cast as a showgirl, Kay says that she was
the first showgirl of the screen who was a brunette
rather than a blonde! She speculates that it was her
dark hair that caused her to sometimes be cast as
the evil, conniving female rather than the ingenious
heroine. She also specialized in playing society
leaders, employing the genuine high-class accent
she had used to replace her native Arkansas twang.
Some of her best-remembered work was in the
series of Charlie Chan movies produced by 20th
Century Fox. Kay had the distinction of appearing in
the last film to star Warner Oland as the wise Oriental
detective, and also the first film to star Oland's
replacement, Sidney Toler. (2008 revision: While
Kate often stated this in interviews, her second Chan
appearance was actually in Toler's second film,
Charlie Chan in Reno.) Perhaps her best Chan role
was in Charlie Chan in Rio (1941), in which she
actually got to play the murderer.
Other films of the late 1930s in which Kay could be
seen for varying lengths of time on the screen were
Black Aces (1937), with cowboy hero Buck Jones;
Drums Along the Mohawk (1939), directed by the
great John Ford; Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), again
directed by Ford and starring Henry Fonda as the
future 16th president; and Kitty Foyle (1940), for
which Ginger Rogers won an Academy Award.
In 1940, director Mark Sandrich was casting the
newest film vehicle for the one and only,
incomparable Jack Benny. Benny's previous film,
Man About Town, had features Kay Linaker in an
unbilled part as a British secretary, and now director
Sandrich was considering her for the more
substantial role of Phil Harris' girlfriend in Buck
Benny Rides Again. Kay remembers Sandrich telling
someone, "I wish Kay Linaker were an American so I
could use her as Phil's girlfriend." The was hilarious
to those who knew her, and finally Kay's agent had
to make her personally tell Sandrich that her British
accent was phony baloney, and that she was born
and raised in the Deep South. She got the part.
Of all the movies that were made based on radio
programs, including Lum and Abner's own work for
RKO, Buck Benny Rides Again may rate as the most
faithful adaptation of any radio show to the silver
screen. Every aspect of Benny's Sunday night
fixture was there. The story concerned Jack's stay
at a Western dude ranch during the summer hiatus
of his radio show, taking cast members Phil Harris,
Dennis Day, Andy Devine, and Rochester (Eddie
Anderson) with him. Don Wilson, Mary Livingstone,
and rival Fred Allen were heard as voices coming
over the radio. As Sandrich intended, Kay Linaker
was Phil's somewhat racy lady friend, biding her time
in Nevada until her divorce became final.
A high point of the film came when tenderfoot Jack
was forced to rescue Phil's girlfriend from a runaway
horse. Kay's story about this sequence proves that
fact is often as strange as fiction:
|Kay Linaker (far right) as the catty Mrs. Demooth
in John Ford's Drums Along the Mohawk (1939).
|The blackhearted Mrs. Carmen (Kay Linaker) prepares
Abner to meet his doom in Two Weeks to Live (1943).
|Kay and Warner "Charlie Chan" Oland share a
chuckle or two between takes.