Kay Johnson (Catherine Townsend Johnson)

Kay Johnson

Catherine Townsend Johnson was born in Mount Vernon, New York in 1904. Her father was architect Thomas R. Johnson, who worked in the firm of Cass Gilbert, the architect of several noteworthy buildings in New York City, including the Woolworth Building, the New York Customs House, and many library buildings. Kay, as she was known, resolved to become an actress after leaving boarding school in Ohio. Her mother reluctantly permitted her to take a course at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Her first leading role was in a play called Beggar on Horseback, and her first stage work of note was in the production of Karel Čapek’s play R.U.R. in Chicago. She moved to California after appearing in The Little Accident in Providence, Rhode Island. She was accompanied by her soon to-be-husband John Cromwell who worked as a director in Hollywood. They wed in October 1928. Kay Johnson was signed to a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer by Cecil B. DeMille following a performance of the The Silver Cord at the Repertory Theater in Los Angeles, California. The play was produced by Simeon Gest of the Figueroa Playhouse. Her film debut came in Dynamite (1929), written by Jeanie Macpherson and featuring Charles Bickford and Conrad Nagel. Production was delayed while Johnson recovered from an appendectomy. She went on to appear in The Ship from Shanghai (1930), This Mad World (1930), Billy the Kid (1930), The Spoilers (1930) with Gary Cooper and Betty Compson, DeMille’s Madam Satan (1930), Passion Flower (1930), Capra’s American Madness (1932), Thirteen Women (1932), Of Human Bondage (which starred Leslie Howard and Bette Davis), Jalna (1935) and Mr. Lucky (1943). Johnson was cast opposite Warner Baxter in a screen adaptation of Such Men Are Dangerous by Elinor Glyn. The story was adapted to the screen by Fox Film. Johnson was married to John Cromwell, an American film actor, director and producer, from 1928 until their divorce in 1946. They had two sons, one of whom is actor James Cromwell. Kay Johnson died from undisclosed causes at the age of 70 in Waterford, Connecticut.


  • November, 29, 1904
  • USA
  • Mount Vernon, New York


  • November, 17, 1975
  • USA
  • Waterford, Connecticut

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