Marjorie Kay: nurse, Yeoman(F), actress, singer, theatrical agent.

Born in Detroit, Marjorie Griffin Kay (1897–1949) was the daughter of Canadian-born jeweler Richard Day Kay and his wife Margaret. She appeared in Sherlock Holmes (1916, filmed at Essanay Studios in Chicago; see below) as the love interest of William Gillette’s Holmes and studied voice with Gioacchino Baralt in New York, participating in a recital of Baralt’s students at Carnegie Chamber Music Hall in May 1916. In early June 1916, Kay sailed for France intending to study languages, which she needed to pursue opera professionally. Instead, spurred by her Canadian aunt Amy Eaton, who was involved in relief work, she served as a nurse at the American Ambulance Hospital (aka American Red Cross Hospital No. 1) in Neuilly. She returned to the United States in September 1916 for a rest break, and it is unclear when she returned to France.

Marjorie Kay, right, assists in a facial reconstruction procedure for a wounded French soldier, ca. 1917. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

According to Kay’s Hartford Courant obituary, she served as a model for a World War I poster, but the title of the poster and the name of the artist were not identified. The only clues provided: she was in a nurse’s uniform, and the word give was on the poster. A candidate may be a 1917–18 poster by Albert Herter; compare it with a 1916 photo of Kay in the Library of Congress (see below).

The 9 January 1918 Jeweler’s Circular-Weekly reported Kay singing at the New Year’s 1918 open house of the Detroit YMCA. She spoke at the June 1918 meeting of the Dental Assn of Massachusetts, as the attendees were interested in learning about newly developed facial reconstruction techniques for wounded soldiers that Kay had observed as a nurse. Reported the 2 June 1918 Boston Sunday Globe:

Men were frequently brought to the hospital with their faces entirely gone below the eyes. Then it was that the American dentists went to work to reconstruct their faces.

Jaws were made from the small bones of the knees; these bones formed the sides of the jawa and were caught togther across the chin by aluminum wires, which held together composition in which the teeth, made separately, were imbedded.

She told about the making of brand new noses, in which operation the third finger of the hand was slit open and fastened upon the place where the nose belonged. There it stayed until the flesh had knit, and the finger was severed from the hand, and a presentable nose was formed. Skin, grafted from the leg, was used to form the surface of the new faces.

She saw a baby, only a few days old, who had been cut in two by a German officer and thrown at the feet of a Belgian mother. She saw babies whose eyes had been gouged out, and others with hands cut off by German soldiers. . . . .

“If I could only talk,” she said, “and could tell of the things I have seen, I should be the happiest girl in the world.” (“Ambulance Driver and Nurse” 56)

Kay enlisted in the Navy on October 22, 1918, serving as a Yeoman (F). The abstracts of World War I service for New York list her as working 20 days (Oct–Nov 1918) at the Cable Censor Office, Third Naval District Headquarters, New York. According to the Veterans Administration Master Index, she was discharged from the Navy on April 30, 1919.

Kay married Holbrook V. Bonney in November 1919. The marriage appears to have soured quickly, as the 1920 census (dated early January 1920) reports Kay residing with her parents in New York without her husband. The 26 September 1920 New York Tribune listed her as a member of the cast of the musical comedy Honeymoon Night (written by Mabel Keightley under the pseudonym M. de la Chambeaux); it played in Sag Harbor in September 1920 and in Hartford in October 1920. Kay obtained a divorce in December 1922 and relocated to Hartford, where her parents were living. She established the Marjorie Kay Studios (for theatrical preparation), the Marjorie Kay Dance Studio, and the Marjorie Kay Entertainment Bureau (a booking agency for performing artists). There is a touching letter to the editor in the 30 April 1927 Vaudeville News that mentions her kindness to a down-on-his-luck vaudeville performer.

Kay’s second husband was a man with the surname of Ford. Her third husband was William Anderson, whom she married in October 1936. She died in June 1949 and is buried at Northwood Cemetery in Windsor, CT.

Further resource:
Marjorie Kay paper dolls

“In the Name of Mercy, Give!” by Albert Herter (1917–18). Library of Congress
Marjorie Kay, Sept. 1916. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division
William Gillette and Marjorie Kay in Sherlock Holmes (1916)