Actress Fay McKenzie, Gene Autry Leading Lady,
Dies at 101
Posted April 26, 2019
Fay McKenzie was Gene Autry's leading lady in five Republic Pictures films between 1941 and 1942. Click on the movie posters for details on the films Down Mexico Way (1941), Sierra Sue (1941), Cowboy Serenade (1942), Heart of the Rio Grande (1942), and Home in Wyomin' (1942).
Los Angeles, CA, Apr. 23, 2019 – Actress Fay McKenzie Waldman passed away peacefully in her sleep on the morning of April 16th at the age of 101. She was born February 19, 1918 into a show business family where she was the youngest of two sisters and an actress cousin, and made her screen debut at only ten weeks old in Station Content (1918) in which she was carried in the arms of Gloria Swanson. Her parents, Eva and Bob "Pops" McKenzie were already veteran performers and apparently wanted their daughter to get an early start in films. She nearly stole the show from Oliver Hardy as "the baby" in the Alice Howell short Distilled Love (filmed in 1918 but released two years later). By the time she was six, Fay was considered an old hand, having played diverse parts in her father's stock company. Among her early films was the 1924 Photoplay Medal Winner, The Dramatic Life of Abraham Lincoln.
Fay McKenzie from
Down Mexico Way (1941)
Fay McKenzie, Champion, and Gene Autry from Heart of the Rio Grande (1942)
A native of Hollywood, she got most of her schooling on movie sets including the famous Little Red Schoolhouse at MGM. Her classmates included Betty Grable, Ann Rutherford and June Storey. As a teenager in the early 1930's Fay appeared in a number of low budget westerns with Wally Wales and Buddy Roosevelt as well as the all-star MGM musical Student Tour (1934). In 1937 she starred in the cult propaganda film about the dangers of marijuana entitled Assassin of Youth. She also had a small part in the 1939 classic Gunga Din. Her first Broadway venture was at age 17 and in 1940 she appeared as Miss Hollywood in Meet the People, a popular review of that season starring Jack Gilford and Jack Albertson.
But she is probably best remembered for her work with Gene Autry at Republic Studios, where she was the feminine interest in Down Mexico Way (1941), Sierra Sue (1941), Home in Wyomin' (1942), Heart of the Rio Grande (1942) and Cowboy Serenade (1942). Finally getting the leading lady roles she deserved, the raven-haired beauty was an immediate hit with audiences. In 1942 Republic co-starred her with Don 'Red' Barry in the war-time flag waver, Remember Pearl Harbor! During WWII she toured with the Hollywood Victory Caravan and appeared in dozens of USO shows with various show biz legends including Frank Sinatra, Phil Silvers and Desi Arnaz. At the same time she could be heard on radio in "Pabst's Blue Ribbon Town" starring Groucho Marx. Featured film roles continued to come her way with Universal's The Singing Sheriff (1944), Warner Bros' Night and Day (1946) and Murder in the Music Hall (1946), the latter filmed at her home studio of Republic.
Gene Autry and Fay McKenzie from Sierra Sue (1941)
Gene Autry and Fay McKenzie from Home in Wyomin' (1942)
In 1946 she married the dark, husky actor Steve Cochran, but their union was short lived and they divorced two years later. She went back to Broadway to appear opposite comedian Bert Lahr (best known as The Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz) in the 1946 revival of Burlesque. During the 1950's she studied with Sanford Meisner and at The Actor's Studio with Lee Strasberg in NYC. She was seen to favorable advantage on a number of TV shows including The Millionaire (1959), Mr. Lucky (1960), Bonanza (1961), and Experiment in Terror (1962).
She also appeared in a number of films for close friend and director Blake Edwards, including Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) as the party guest laughing in the mirror, The Party (1968) and S.O.B. (1981). She was especially proud of The Party with Peter Sellers and agreed to play the cameo role of Alice Clutterbuck (the hostess of the party) because the script was co-written by her husband, Tom Waldman. She and Waldman married in 1949 and had two children Tom Jr. and Madora. Waldman Sr. passed away in 1985. Her older sister Ella "Lolly" McKenzie was also an actress and was married to well-known comedian Billy Gilbert. Her other sister Ida Mae McKenzie started in silent films as well and went on to work behind the scenes of popular game shows including the original Hollywood Squares.
Fay McKenzie from Cowboy Serenade (1942)
McKenzie traveled extensively as a Christian Science Practitioner, lecturing all over the country and in Europe. In 2012 she received the Career Achievement Award at the Cinecon Classic Film Festival and in 2017 she was on-hand to present some of her family's home movies at the TCM Film Festival (those films are now housed the Academy Film Archive in Hollywood). Last Summer she made a cameo appearance alongside her son Tom as Mrs. Van Proosdy in the forthcoming film Kill A Better Mousetrap. Her performance marks the first century-spanning career in motion picture history. She is survived by her son, actor Tom Waldman, Jr., daughter Madora McKenzie Kibbe and her two grandchildren.
Fay McKenzie with her Career Achievement Award
at the Cinecon Classic Film Festival
The family has asked that in lieu of flowers donations be sent to https://broadview.org/donate/ or https://www.ywcamadison.org.
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