Kate Phillips (1913–2008)
aka: Mary Katherine (Kay) Linaker
Mary Katherine (Kay) Linaker (a.k.a. Kate Phillips) was a veteran stage and screen actress who went on to become a writer of television and movie screenplays. She achieved her greatest notoriety as a writer on the 1958 horror/science fiction classic, The Blob.
Kay Linaker was born on July 19, 1913, in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County). Her father owned C. A. Linaker and Company and was a wholesaler for Armour Food Company. Linaker’s father died when she was eleven. When she was twelve, she entered the Hillside School in Norwalk, Connecticut, a boarding school from which she graduated at sixteen. She had already expressed an interest in theater and planned to attend Wellesley College, but the exercise treatments for the polio she had contracted were in New York, so she took night classes at New York University and studied during the day at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
After graduating, she got a film contract with Warner Brothers, having attracted the attention of screen scouts with her work in several Broadway roles. Her first film was The Murder of Dr. Harrigan (1936). She said she got the role when movie star Mary Astor got into trouble with the studio; thereafter, Linaker often got leading roles, while Astor had to settle for smaller parts. Among her acting credits are five Charlie Chan movies. She worked with actors from Tyrone Power to Henry Fonda to Claudette Colbert.
Linaker’s acting work connected her to other noteworthy Arkansans when she signed to play opposite Lum and Abner (Chester Lauck and Norris Goff) in 1943’s Two Weeks to Live. As she later recalled, “We were sitting around talking, waiting between takes, when we realized that our parents had known one another. My father had also introduced rice to Arkansas—and this is how he got to know the fathers of the men who started that small Jot ’Em Down Store. Their father ran a small mom and pop place, which was the inspiration for the show.”
Linaker’s film career came to a halt during World War II when she joined the Red Cross, serving as a USO hostess at clubs run by the army. She met her future husband, Howard Phillips, when he was “supposedly setting up groups of singers to entertain GIs, but he really was checking on security leaks!” A singer in the U.S. Army Air Forces, Howard Phillips was having some moderate success with writing, and after they were married, they teamed up to write for television. (He later became an NBC television executive.) Kay Phillips herself had previously done some writing for a radio show called Voice of America, a military sponsored show, and had lived among writers and actors in a colony in Malibu.
The couple moved to New Hampshire, and it was back east where Phillips garnered her most famous credit—she wrote The Blob (1958). The movie came about when Irvine H. Milligate, the head of visual aids for the Boy Scouts of America, and Jack H. Harris, a distributor who dreamed of producing films, met. While the two traveled the country promoting a film Milligate had done, they had the idea to make a monster movie. With the help of Irvin S. Yeaworth’s company, Valley Forge Films, Harris and Milligate began work on The Blob, then under the title The Molten Meteor, with Milligate coming up with the story. Later, Kay Phillips (listed as Kate Phillips) and Theodore Simonson finished the screenplay. Despite the success of the film, which starred Steve McQueen in his first major role, she received very little remuneration, later recalling, “Both Steve McQueen and I were to receive $150 plus ten percent of the gross. Neither one of us got the percentage—and the film (and its remake) have earned millions—but I got an important writing credit, and Steve became a star!”
After The Blob, Phillips had very few writing credits and went on to teach acting and screenwriting at the college level. She has taught in Canada (where she started a performing arts center in Ontario) and at Keene State College in Keene, New Hampshire.
Phillips died on April 18, 2008.
For additional information:
Clark, Anita. “Phillips, Keene’s Link to Old Hollywood, Dead at 94.” Keene Sentinel, April 22, 2008.
“Kay Linaker.” Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0510989/ (accessed May 22, 2014).
“Kay Linaker: Lum and Abner Film Star.” Mountain Signal 4 (August 1998): 10–21.
Michael G. Fitzgerald
El Dorado, Arkansas
I met Kate in Gananoque, Ontario in Canada in about 1996 or so. She convinced me to move back to writing after a long, long absence. I’ve had some success over the years, but I’m not sure she ever knew. My novella, Boogaloos, was dedicated to her.
I did a phone interview with Kate Phillips years ago. She said the guy who directed The Blob, Irvin Yeaworth, came to see her with an actual blob of something in a coffee can. He dumped it on the kitchen table (she swore this), and it crawled all around the edges. He wouldnt tell what it was or where he got it. She never saw it again, and it wasnt what they used in the moviebut it was the real blob. Maybe true, maybe not, but hows that for the inside story?
Also, she said Steve McQueen was a sweet young man who pocketed $150 for his first starring role.
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