American screenwriter and Broadway playwright Fay Kanin, best-known as the first female to complete a term as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, died Wednesday, March 27, at the age of 95.
Kanin was born Fay Mitchell to Bessie Kaiser Mitchell and David Mitchell in New York City on May 9, 1917. Raised in Elmira, New York, she attended the private, all-female Elmira College where she studied both writing and acting. She is said to have fallen in love with the theater after seeing a matinee performance of the 1936 Broadway play Idiot's Delight, starring Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt. She and her family then moved to California where she finished her senior year at the University of Southern California and began learning about the film industry.
Kanin went on to have a rich career, writing for television, film, and the stage. She wrote her first screenplay, Sunday Punch, in 1942 with her husband Michael Kanin. After the couple was blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee in the early 1950s, Kanin's career flourished with films including Rhapsody (1954), The Opposite Sex (1956), and the 1958 romantic comedy Teacher's Pet, which earned her an Academy Award nomination.
Her television work earned her three Emmy Awards: two for the 1974 television movie Tell Me Where It Hurts, starring Maureen Stapleton as a disenchanted homemaker who organizes a discussion group among six of her closest friends, and one for producing the 1979 television movie Friendly Fire, about a family investigating the death of their son in Vietnam.
Kanin also had five of her works produced on Broadway, including three plays: Goodbye, My Fancy; His and Hers; and Rashomon, and two librettos for The Gay Life and Grind, which earned her a Tony Award nomination in 1985.
In 1979, Kanin was elected president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — the second female ever to earn that distinguished honor, after Bette Davis, who left after only one month in office. Kanin served four terms as president, until 1983.
"The Academy is deeply saddened by the passing of our beloved former president and Oscar-nominated screenwriter Fay Kanin," said the organization in a statement Wednesday. "She was committed to the Academy's preservation work and instrumental in expanding our public programming. A tireless mentor and inspiration to countless filmmakers, Fay's passion for film continues to inspire us daily. Our prayers and condolences go out to her loved ones."
Kanin also served as president of the Screen Branch of the Writers Guild of America, Chair of the National Film Preservation Board of the Library of Congress, an officer of the Writers Guild Foundation, a member of the Board of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and a member of the Board of Directors of the American Film Institute. She was the vice president of the Academy's 1999-2000 Board of Trustees and a member of the steering committee of the Caucus for Producers, Writers & Directors. She also served on the National Film Preservation Board in Washington, D.C.
Kanin remained married to her husband Michael for 53 years until he died of lung cancer in 1993. She is survived by her son Josh and two grandchildren. Her first son, Joel, sadly passed away in 1958 at the age of 13 to lung cancer.