Fay Wray was a mature and highly under-rated performer. Most are familiar with her name from horror flicks in the 1930s, but in the 1950s and 1960s she started appearing on television to earn much-needed money. She appeared on three episodes of Perry, twice as a good person and once as the bad-tempered murder victim.
For her first episode, season 1’s The Prodigal Parent, the story concerning her only available day on the set and how they worked around her schedule is almost legendary. Her character, Ethel Harrison, is caught up in the scandal surrounding her family when her ex-husband is accused of murder. Having divorced him unwillingly because of her son’s hateful feelings towards him, she disappears to avoid having to testify against him. A large part of the episode is devoted to finding her, as what she knows is critical.
Her second episode, season 3’s The Watery Witness, has her cast as Lorna Thomas, an old and bitter movie star who refuses to give a young woman the time of day when she comes in suggesting that she is the daughter the actress long ago put up for adoption. The character is among the most despicable of murder victims. Since Fay plays her, I don’t like to say it was a relief when she was gotten rid of. But she certainly is a wretch. I don’t recall that she had any visible, redeeming qualities.
She didn’t come back until season 8, in The Fatal Fetish, when she once again played a regal and aloof protagonist. Mignon Germaine, one of Hamilton’s close friends, is certainly my favorite of her Perry characters. Mignon is, as she says, willing to do anything to save her son Larry from the dastardly femme fatale Carina Wileen. This includes threatening her with voodoo when she’s finally had enough. But unfortunately it backfires when Carina really is killed and Larry is blamed.
Mignon is an enigma. And with the most screentime of Fay’s characters, there are more opportunities to figure her out. Normally she is completely aloof, her true feelings hidden behind a mask. She only drops this a handful of times, mostly to show visible worry over the predicament Larry is in. The remaining occasion is after Agnes Fanchon, a fellow performer at Mignon’s nightclub, bursts in and mistakes Hamilton for Larry. Hamilton stares at her in bewilderment and Mignon shoots him a fondly amused glance.
Was it a touch thrown in as the scene was being filmed? And whose idea was it—Fay’s, William’s, or even a member of the set? And was the look just as much Fay as Mignon? I would like to know if she ended up forming friendships with any of the cast members. Being back more than once could logically result in that. And from everything I’ve read about her and by her in real-life, it sounds like she was every bit as mature and distinguished as both Mignon and Ethel Harrison.
In any case, I feel that look, coupled with Hamilton’s admission that they have been good friends for a long time, says a lot. Mignon apparently knows Hamilton very well and is willing to let her guard down around him. I would have loved to have seen more scenes between them, either in this episode or another, but I’m very grateful for what we do have.
If anyone has information on any of Fay’s appearances on the show, I would be most interested in seeing it. She became a favorite of mine with her portrayal of Mignon. And even though she never reached the level of recognition she should have had overall, at least while she was alive, I consider her one of the greats of the Golden Age of Hollywood and am thrilled that she appeared on the series.