These women were so close that in 1934, they travelled together to Reno to secure their divorces (from two different men). They call each other ‘Lamb’ and ‘Darling’ and miss each other ‘like double-barrelled hell’. When Kay was married to a millionaire, she routinely gave Mary last year’s fur coat. By the 1940s, things had turned around. After endless fights with a married man they secretly called “The Fiend”, Mary married a millionaire philanthropist. There’s extended correspondence between Kay and Mary’s secretary over the insurance premium on Mary’s mink coat, which Kay was now wearing on the ranch they’d called “The Faye and Kay”. The ins and outs of their love affairs are suitably dramatic enough to make them The Sex and the City ladies of the 1940s. But Kay says of one man, with a maturing tone:

These women were so close that in 1934, they travelled together to Reno to secure their divorces (from two different men). They call each other ‘Lamb’ and ‘Darling’ and miss each other ‘like double-barrelled hell’. When Kay was married to a millionaire, she routinely gave Mary last year’s fur coat. By the 1940s, things had turned around. After endless fights with a married man they secretly called “The Fiend”, Mary married a millionaire philanthropist. There’s extended correspondence between Kay and Mary’s secretary over the insurance premium on Mary’s mink coat, which Kay was now wearing on the ranch they’d called “The Faye and Kay”. The ins and outs of their love affairs are suitably dramatic enough to make them The Sex and the City ladies of the 1940s. But Kay says of one man, with a maturing tone:
I made the mistake of being anxious to make ours the ultimate affair of all time, which it wasn’t. You and I always wanted the works, every minute.
Mary and Kay were women who always wanted the works – and I love how they always insisted on it.
Someone commented on my early pieces about Kay Swift that it was hard to believe her positivity and good humour were unassailable, given the numerous traumas of her life. In fact, she wrote to Mary in the early 1940s:
you know me, the old carthorse. Always feeling so well it’s hardly decent.
But those years in New York did leave their mark, and it took some time and distance before she recovered her spirit. Life on a ranch in Bend, Oregon (often without running water) gave her a space to reflect and heal her spirit. From there, she confided to Mary that despite her new-found serenity (Faye was ‘El Superbo’) there were times when the memories and regrets caught her off guard. As so many of us instinctively do, Kay built a home modeled on her old one. In the dilapidated ranch, while Faye was out shooting cougars, she set out her own zebra-skin rugs and screens and then decided:
I shall move my fireplace, my bedroom, (with a sweeping view of the snow-covered mountains) will take it well, and I’m going to use the same shrimp pink on wall and ceiling in my room, and a cute little dressing room next it, that I had in N.Y.
As only old friends can, they flit easily between current events and infamous parties from the past. And a few sheafs into the first folder I opened was a typed letter from Hollywood (where Kay was then) with a note on the bottom that began:
Aideen’s stepson has arrived from Ireland …
Over the page, she goes on to express her relief that things have turned around for Arthur Shields, that his ship had finally come in.
I felt it like a slap in the face – a sudden realisation that I had come here on no more than a hunch. A well-supported hunch, but a theory more than anything. But there it is, proof of their friendship. And it wasn’t the only mention … But I shall come back to that.
For although Aideen is always there, for the last few days, I’ve been entirely caught up in the friendship between Kay and Mary. And I can’t escape the idea that what I’m working with here is a trove of love letters … Not a bad way to spend Valentine’s day, in a city I’m rapidly falling in love with .
Happy Valentine’s Day!
31 – There’s Something About Rosie.
‘If I could have a superpower, it would be to time-travel,’ Kathy Rose O’Brien tells me. She squints her eyes in thought. ‘I’ve no interest in being invisible, or making fire shoot out of my eyes, but I have always wanted to go back in time. It’s that idea of being able to be authentic …’ I can imagine her time travelling: watching, noting and listening. It’d be a superpower used only for good.
I’m not a journalist. I’m very content to be in the company of dead actresses (or their ghosts) but much in awe of the live professional kind. I was terrified at the prospect of a one-on-one meeting, but Kathy Rose O’Brien played the part of Rosie Redmond in the 2010 revival of The Plough and the Stars at the Abbey Theatre and I’m currently obsessed with the part. The only advice I was given: ‘Irish actor?! Sure, you don’t need to ask anything. They love to talk about themselves.’
Particularly bad advice if you’re meeting the beautiful Kathy Rose, who has the most gentle manner and such a capacity to listen and draw you out that you don’t even realise when the ‘interview’ has somehow become a conversation. She told me that she knew where Ria Mooney’s portrait hung in the Abbey and would give it a nod before her own appearance in The Plough and the Stars , wondering if she could channel her. With or without that spirit channel, these women have much in common. She shares with Ria Mooney an elegant grace, a wisdom belied by a sweet charm, and a desire to listen and understand people while she steadily works away at her own craft. I am now convinced it takes a certain quality of actress to play Rosie Redmond.
Rosie Redmond was the first prostitute on the Abbey stage, inciting riots when she appeared in the bar during the premiere of The Plough and The Stars in 1926 . For the first read-through of the script, Lady Gregory (being the only woman Director) read the part and mortified Sean O’Casey. But while he consented to cut one of her songs, O’Casey held out against external pressure to keep her in the play.

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