Friday, March 29, 2013

In Memoriam: Fay Kanin, former Academy president

By Matthew D. Bowland
TGK Writer

Fay Kanin, the first full-term female president of the Academy (1979-83) died of natural causes on March 27, 2013. She was 95.

On Wednesday, the Academy said in a statement, "[we are] deeply saddened by the passing of our beloved former president and Oscar-nominated screenwriter."

Kanin was nominated for an Oscar, along with her husband Michael (who died in 1993), in 1959 for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen for "Teacher’s Pet."

Born Fay Mitchell in New York City in 1917, she grew up with an appreciation for theatre and writing. She attended the private, all-female Elmira College, where she studied writing and acting.

She convinced her family to move to California the summer before her senior year in college. After transferring to USC for a year, she obtained a job with RKO reviewing scripts for $25 a week. Meeting directors, editors, or cinematographers during her lunch hour she learned about the business and eventually met her future husband, Michael. They spent their honeymoon in 1940 writing the adapted screenplay, "Sunday Punch," in a rented Malibu house.

Together, the Kanins built a strong structure: outlining stories together and then dividing up the writing, each taking the scenes they felt strongly about. One of them would then pull it all together in a single draft.

During World War II, Kanin promoted women’s participation in the war effort and contributed to the story "Blondie for Victory," based on the comic strip, co-written by her brother-in-law Garson Kanin and his wife Ruth Gordon.

The Kanins next film together was "A Double Life," about a Shakespearean actor driven mad by his obsession with his starring role in "Othello." Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon wrote the script, but Michael Kanin produced it. Fay was in the cast, playing an actress in the stage production of "Othello."

Together the Kanins scripted the 1952 comedy "My Pal Gus," starring Richard Widmark, and the 1954 melodrama "Rhapsody," starring Elizabeth Taylor. In 1956, they reworked Claire Booth Luce classic "The Women" as "The Opposite of Sex."

In 1958 came their only Oscar-nominated work, the 1958 romantic comedy "Teacher’s Pet," starring Clark Gable as a hard-nosed journalist pretending to be merely a student in journalism teacher Doris Day’s class.

In 1952, however, the Kanins discovered they were on the infamous blacklist because of their liberal politics and associations with possibly suspect individuals at the Group Theater and didn’t work for almost two years.

On Broadway, the Kanins’ comedy "His or Hers" about divorced playwrights who are each are writing a new play and sue each other for plagiarism played 76 performances in 1954. They were far more successful, however, with "Rashomon," their adaptation of the classic Kurosawa film. The play ran for six months in 1959 and it spawned TV adaptations, including a 1960 version directed by Sidney Lumet, plus 1964 feature adaptation "The Outrage," scripted by Michael Kanin and starring Paul Newman. The Kanins’ last legit work together was musical "The Gay Life" (later renamed "The High Life"), based on the Schnitzler play "Anatol."

The Kanins adapted Garson Kanin play "The Live Wire" as "The Right Approach" in 1961, and Fay shifted into TV work in the 1970s.

In addition to her Emmy wins, she drew a writing nomination for the ABC telepic "Hustling" in 1975 and a nom for drama/comedy special for ABC’s "Heartsounds," of which she was a producer.

The night of the 1980 Academy Awards, a huge worldwide audience saw that the president of Academy was a woman. On a technicality, Kanin was the only female president in the history of the Academy, as Bette Davis was elected in 1941 but resigned after only two months.

She was vice president of the Academy’s Board of Trustees from 1999-2000 and of the Academy’s Board of Governors from 2007-08. She was also a member of the steering committee of the Caucus for Producers, Writers and Directors.

In 1993, she won the Board of the Governors Award from the American Society of Cinematographers, and in 2009, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington honored Kanin for her 20 years of service as chair of the Library of Congress National Film Preservation Board with the institution’s 100th Living Legend Award.

In 2003, Kanin received the Humanitas Prize organization’s Kieser Award. Earlier, Kanin had been nominated for a Humanitas Prize for "Friendly Fire," which in 1999 was inducted into the Producers Guild of America’s Hall of Fame for television programs.

Kanin also received praise from the Writers Guild, winning the Valentine Davies Award in 1975 for contributions to the entertainment industry and community at large; the Morgan Cox Award in 1980, presented to a member whose vital ideas, continuing efforts and personal sacrifice best exemplify the ideal of service to the guild; and in 2005, the Edmund J. North Award, presented to those members whose "courageous leadership, strength of purpose and continuing selfless activity in behalf of the guild through the years, as well as professional achievement of the highest order, have served to establish the Writers Guild of America as a pillar of strength and security for writers throughout the world.

Survivors include her son Josh, his wife Laurie, two grandchildren and two step-grandchildren. Another son, Joel, died of leukemia in 1958 at age 13.

A funeral will take place at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 31, at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. The family requests that donations in Kanin’s name be made in the fight against cancer.

The Gold Knight team would like to express our thoughts in sympathy to family and friends of Fay Kanin. May she rest in peace.

Sources: IMDB, The Hollywood Reporter, Variety
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