Kay Laurell ~ The Tragic Aphrodite

 Kay Laurell

Kay Laurell was a Ziegfeld Follies star and actress who tragically died during childbirth

She was born Ruth M. Leslie on June 28, 1890 in Erie, Pennsylvania. Sadly her father George died when she was eight. Kay moved to New York City where she briefly worked as a telephone operator. Then she became an artist's model and posed for Howard Chandler Christy and William Glackens. She became engaged to George Messinger, a merchant from San Francisco. When he broke up with her in 1913 she sued him for $25,000 for breach of promise. Florenz Ziegfeld discovered her in 1914 and offered her a role in the Ziegfeld Follies. The shapely brunette caused a sensation when she appeared as a semi-nude Aphrodite in the opening of the show. Kay quickly became famous for her perfect figure and her willingness to be nude on stage. Flo Ziegfeld said she was "the embodiment of feminine beauty." At the height of her popularity she was earning $500 a week. She married producer Winfield Sheehan in May of 1916 and announced she was retiring from the stage. The couple had a very rocky relationship and broke up numerous times. They legally separated in 1918.

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Kay Laurell Nude

That Spring she returned to the Ziegfeld Follies. Kay made her film debut in the 1919 drama The Brand. Then she appeared in the movies The Valley Of The Giants and Lonely Heart. Unfortunately she wasn't offered any other film roles. She starred on Broadway in the shows Quarantine and Nocturne (which closed after just three performances). Kay also performed on the vaudeville circuit. In 1925 she moved to Europe and acted with a French stock company. She fell in love with Joseph Whiteside Boyle, a businessman, and moved with him to London, England. The couple wanted to get married but she was still legally married to Winifred Sheehan. Kay became pregnant in the Spring of 1926. Tragically on January 31, 1927 she died shortly after giving birth to a son. When she was told it was a boy she spoke her last words "That is just what I wanted." She was only thirty-six years old. Her body was cremated and buried in London. The press falsely reported that she had died from pneumonia. Kay left her entire $100,000 estate to her fiance who raised their son Joseph Kay Boyle.

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Kay Laurell Article