“As a little girl sitting in the dark of a theater, I came to believe in magic. Magic could happen in life because I saw it happen on the screen. It was the truth, and I wanted to become part of that truth. And I did.” – Fay Wray
A photo of a 14-15 year old Fay Wray taken by acclaimed photographer William Mortensen. Mortensen’s style was romantic with supernatural elements and erotic themes.
In the 1920s, Mortensen met Fay and her older sister, Willow, in Utah. When the girls moved to Los Angeles, he accompanied them as Fay’s chaperon and Willow’s fiance. However, on the train ride to California, he told Fay of his romantic feelings for her and not Willow. Fay later admitted, “I felt odd, as old as a fourteen-year-old could feel. I felt happy that he admired me; I felt guilty that he did. The train rushed on and my face felt hot. I stared at the pattern in the combing jacket. To hear that he had not cared for my sister, as my mother had said, made me feel awful, even though I liked hearing what he had to say about me. I was feeling an appreciation of myself beyond what I had ever felt; at the same time, it was terribly uncomfortable to feel so old.”
While in Hollywood, Mortensen rented the Wetzel studio on a Sunday, where he spent a couple of hours taking photos of Fay in various dresses. On a separate occasion, he took her to the beach where he shot risque photos of her barely wearing any clothing at all.
As one might expect, Mortensen and Willow’s “relationship” didn’t last. Fay’s mother Elvina became convinced that Mortensen had sexually abused Fay. After settling in Los Angeles, Elvina demanded to see all of the glass plates he had taken of her daughter. After Mortensen complied, Elvina began shattering all of them (except this one which was somehow overlooked). Years later, Faye claimed that there was no sexual abuse at all, though she admitted that on one occasion, he “ran his hand over my dress, feeling the shape of my breasts.”
Mortensen was briefly hired by Paramount but his style was not what the studio wanted and he was let go. By 1931, he had moved to Laguna Beach, where he opened his own school of photography. His artistic style was highly criticized by purists like Ansel Adams, who called him names like “Devil” and “anti-christ.” However, Mortensen’s use of photography as art still remains interesting and influential to this day.
“Only in your imagination can you revise.” — Fay Wray
“Sometimes I worked with just a background of a rock or a tree or black velvet, and just had to imagine the whole thing. “ — Fay Wray discussing King Kong (1933)
“It’s kind of wonderful to be known for a picture that is well-loved. And it is.” — Fay Wray
Countess of Monte Cristo (1934)
Photo by George Hurrell (1935).
Artist: Helen King. Pencil/charcoal sketch. 9″ x 11.” Autographed by Wray.