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Tragedy and Triumph: 'King Kong' Star Fay Wray's Daughter Tells All

Tragedy and Triumph: 'King Kong' Star Fay Wray's Daughter Tells All
Fay Wray in an undated publicity photo

By    |   Tuesday, 05 November 2019 10:48 AM

Fay Wray will forever be known to the public as the blonde bombshell who appeared in 1933's "King Kong." But to her daughter she is the strong and resilient woman who endured numerous tragedies never once thinking about giving up.

In an interview with Fox News published Tuesday, Victoria Riskin opened up about her mother's tragic life.

"She always had an attitude of 'What needs to be done? How can I do it?'" she told the outlet.

Fay's life unfolded like a movie. She grew up poor and things got worse when her father, Jerry Wray, left town on a business trip and never returned. Fay hoped to one day become a star and she got her lucky break at 15, after leaving home to go to Los Angeles to pursue that dream.  

She landed a contract with Universal Studios and went on to appear in dozens of films between 1928 to 1934. She could finally provide for her family and even found love with screenwriter John Monk Saunders, who she married towards the start of her career.

It seemed as if things were finally looking up for Fay but she was "naive" and only later realized her husband was an alcoholic, Victoria said. He drained her financially then took his own life a year after they split in 1939.

"She didn’t understand the alcohol problem. And that alcohol problem became bigger because they tried to treat it with other drugs that he became addicted to," Victoria said. "It was a nightmare for both of them. He was also a womanizer and my mother had to deal with that."

Much later Fay began to question whether or not she could have saved Saunders by doing things differently, but it was too late. Riskin said it was "tragic." In the end, Saunders knew he had destroyed Fay's life.

Saunders was her first love, but Robert Riskin won her heart in 1942. Shortly after their wedding, Fay decided to give up acting to focus on raising a family. Victoria was one of three children she shared with Robert.

"My father was not ready to settle down before he met my mother," said Victoria. "But he really saw my mother differently. There was something special about her."

Their fairytale came to an abrupt halt in 1950, when Robert was paralyzed after a stroke. He was 53 at the time and the responsibility to provide for their family fell on Fay's shoulders. She went back to acting to ensure there was food on the table.

Through it all, Fay remained strong. She never showed her despondency or let on that she was battling to cope with all that was going on in her life.

"I always thought of her as having a little bit of pioneer blood that she may have inherited from her family, who were a resilient bunch," said Victoria. "She just went forging ahead. I don’t think it was easy though. I now realize she was pretty good at covering up for her children."

Within five years of suffering a stroke, Robert passed away. Fay would later marry Dr. Sanford Rothenberg and they remained together for 20 years until he passed away. She did not remarry and in 2004 passed away at age 96.

Speaking about her father’s death, Victoria said she has always been apprehensive to revisit those memories. Their family suffered a "big loss" and it was all "a bit too sad to think about it."

However, decades later she decided to honor her parent's relationship by publishing a book recounting their love story. She said that, although there were moments of sadness having to go back into the past, she felt mostly elated. Writing "Fay Wray and Robert Riskin: A Hollywood Memoir," which was released earlier this year, allowed her to learn more about her father- the man her mother had fallen in love with. 

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Fay Wray will forever be known to the public as the blonde bombshell who appeared in 1933's "King Kong." But to her daughter she is the strong and resilient woman who endured numerous tragedies never once thinking about giving up.
fay wray, daughter, victoria riskin, tell all
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Tuesday, 05 November 2019 10:48 AM
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