Kay Harding was a pretty small town girl who dreamed big, went to California to attain fame and fortune, worked as a truck driver (interesting no?), and even managed some minor success in Hollywood before giving it all up for marriage. Let’s hear more about her.
Jackie Lou Harding was born on January 5, 1924, in Cushing, Oklahoma to James and Thelma Harding. Her younger brother, Buddie Harding, was born two years after her in 1926. Her father, James, born in Colorado, worked in the oil industry as a laborer. Jackie grew up in Cushing in a normal, middle class family, and had an unremarkable, stable childhood.
Yet, there was a hunger for fame in Jackie, and by the time she hit puberty, she was active in local beauty pageants and had designs to become an actress. She attended Northeast high school in Oklahoma City, where she was elected “All-Around Girl” of the school, and once won a contest in a bathing beauty show. After graduation, Jackie left for California, hoping to realize her long time dream of becoming an actress.
In 1944, in Cushing, via a telegram, word had been received that Miss Jackie Lou Harding had signed a contract with Universal Studios in Hollywood, and her career started!
Kay first appeared in Tinsel town films in Weird Woman, a well-paced, tightly knit horror movie with a great trio of lead actors – Lon Chaney Jr., Anne Gwynne and Evelyn Ankers. The plot is pretty basic (Chaney, as a professor at a college returns from a visit to a South Seas island with his native wife, played by Anne. His vindictive ex girlfriend, played by Evelyn, tries to her revenge. Chaney makes his wife burn all her superstitious, good luck charms, the things go horribly wrong), but the script is crisp, the performances fitting and the spooky atmosphere on point. Kay moved to more cheery fare with Hi, Good Lookin’!, a sugar coated, cute, and music-filled movie with nothing really memorable about it, but it’s good enough to watch on a Sunday afternoon. This was followed by Follow the Boys was another all star extravaganza they used to make during WW2 purely for patriotic reasons and not really for the art – Kay was just one of many stars and starlets who appeared in it.
Kay’s last four movies were all horrors/thrillers, and are the reason she is remembered (if at all), today. The first is The Scarlet Claw, one of the Basil Rathbone/Sherlock Holmes movies. What more do we need to say about this serial? All Sherlock fans will love it, and even people beyond the circle – they are after all very well made movies with a outstanding cast. Kay’s last movie was also another from the same Sherlock Holmes series, The Woman in Green.
Kay also made one horror comedy – Ghost Catchers, featuring the team of Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson. The story is a cardboard cutout – a spooky mansion which is, surprise!!, located next door to a night club is the place, and the characters are a Southern colonel and his two daughters. The movie, albeit short (a bit more than 60 mins) features a great deal of music, which can be either a detriment or a joy, depending on your own preferences. it’s not really a scary movie, of course, it has a few funny gags and Johnson/Olsen are their usual selves. Kay plays a minor role, so she’s blink and you’ll miss her.
Kay’s most famous and enduring movie today is The Mummy’s Curse, the fifth and final installment of Universal’s mummy series and the third to star Lon Chaney as the ancient Egyptian priest Kharis pursuing his much desired princess Ananka. The plot is same old, same old, closely following the last installment (An irrigation project in the rural bayous of Louisiana unearths Kharis, who was buried in quicksand twenty-five years earlier.) but fans of old school horror will love this – it’s Lon Chaney, after all, and everybody who cares about horror loves to see a mummy chasing after frightened people. Kay has a lively role as a doctor’s assistant, a good girl opposed to Virginia Christine’s bad girl (Ananka).
That was it from Kay!
Allegedly, before Kay became an actress, she was a helms-woman on a delivery wagon. While I cannot gauge how true this story is, it makes for interesting reading if nothing else:
This business of writing pieces about Hollywood has gone completely haywire. Today, to keep up with things, we had to interview a lady truck driver. Or rather an ex-lady truck driver now in the movies. But gash, we couldn’t quarrel with Universal studio for signing up a lady truck driver. She was beeeutiful. Streamlined chassis. Fancy grill work. Nice paint Job. Sturdy upholstering. No miss in her remote. A real traffic stopper. Her name is Kay Harding. Her parents came to California about two years ago and Kay immediately tried to get into pictures. No luck, so she got a Job driving a truck for the U. S. Rubber Company in Los Angeles. One day she had to deliver some synthetic rubber to Universal studio for Claude Rains mask in “Phantom of the Opera.” Kay, wearing a trim uniform, drove her truck on the lot and there was a good deal of whistling. Dignified studio executive Dan Kelley also saw her. “He called me over,” Kay said, “and asked a lot of questions. I told him I had acted in high school plays, with the Community Players in Whittier, Calif., and that I was dying to get into pictures. He said to telephone him in a few days, maybe he could arrange a screen test.” “I was so excited,” she said, “I drove through a traffic signal and got a ticket.” Kay took the screen test. Studio executives looked at the film and gave her a contract. She made her film debut as a secretary in “Phantom Lady,” then played the ingenue lead with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce in “The Scarlet Claw.” It’s probably a good thing there is one less lady truck driver on Southern California’s highways. Pin-up girls behind the wheel of a truck, Kay Harding said, are bad on morale. Not to mention fenders-and life and limb. “Gosh,” she said, “they let me drive that truck only three days after I got my driver’s license. I didn’t know the streets, or anything about a truck. I backed into a parked car the first day and smashed up a couple of fenders.” Then there was the convoy problem. “I’d be driving down the street,” Kay said, “and pretty soon there would be a lot of cars bunched around me. The guys in them would wave and whistle. If I slowed down, they’d all slow down. If I drove faster, they’d tag right along. It’s a miracle we all didn’t crack up in one colossal accident.” Then there was that California state law which prohibits a woman employee, even a lady truck driver, from lifting anything weighing more than 25 pounds. “I’d drive into a place,” Kay said, “with some heavy packages. I’d ask someone to carry them in. Well, the word would get around that there was a lady truck driver needing help, and 50 gents would leave their work to come outside and help me.” Kay said she earned $25 a week during the two months she drove the truck. “But every time I dented a fender, or got a traffic ticket, they took it out of my salary.” Kay said she didn’t keep score, but there were quite a few dented fenders. But only two traffic tickets one on the day she was promised that screen test. “Gosh,” Kay sighed, “it’s wonderful. When I quit my job the boss said I could come back and drive the truck any time if things in Hollywood didn’t pan out.”
Kay’s private life was pretty stable and low-key. Like many starlets, she did her bit for the war relief, and so met her future husband, who was serving in the Navy then. Kay and L. N. “Loyd Pat” Patterson, A.M.M. 2nd Class, were married in 1944 in a double ring ceremony at the Wee Kirk o’ the Heather, Glendale. The ceremony was performed by Rev. M. Owan Kellison with Patricia Martin, Kay’s only attendant, as maiden of honor, and Tom Stone, A.M.M. 3rd Class, the groom’s fellow sailor, as best man.
Kay and Loyd lived in Soledad for many years before moving to Tracy. When she got sick, she was moved to a facility in Palo Alto, California.
Jackie Lou Patterson died on in Palo Alto, California.