In Remembrance: Kate Phillips
Kate Phillips, the actress who appeared billed as Kay Linaker throughout her Hollywood career in the 1930s and 40s and who wrote the screenplay for the classic 1958 monster film The Blob, has passed away on April 18, 2008 in Keene, New Hampshire. She was 94.
Her film career was already behind her when she landed the assignment to script a monster movie for producer Jack Harris called The Molten Monster. While describing the story in a meeting with the producer and others, she referred to the titular gelatinous creature as ‘the blob,’ upon which Harris interrupted her by pronouncing that that would be the new title of the picture. The Blob would be filmed in the Philadelphia suburb of Pheonixville and would be the launching pad for its lead Steve McQueen’s rise to stardom.
Born Mary Katherine Linaker on July 19, 1913 in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, Phillips was educated at a private school in Connecticut before going on the attend New York University. While at NYU, she became interested in the theater and soon was studying at American Academy of Dramatic Arts during the day while finishing her NYU coursework at night. Several small stage roles later, she was being scouted by several Hollywood studios.
She landed at Warner Brothers Pictures, debuting in a prominent role in the 1936 B-movie mystery The Murder Of Dr. Harrigan. However, after one more picture, Road Gang (1936), Phillips left Warners and, after appearing in a couple of independent studio productions, found at home at Twentieth Century Fox. There, she spent a majority of her career doing lead and supporting work in numerous b-movies. She appeared in five Charlie Chan films- Charlie Chan At Monte Carlo (1937), Charlie Chan In Reno, Charlie Chan At Treasure Island (both 1939), Charlie Chan’s Murder Cruise (1940) and Charlie Chan In Rio (1941). She appeared opposite comic Jack Benny in two films. The first Man About Town (1939) featured her in a small role, but a year later when she appeared in Benn’s Buck Benny Rides Again, she had a substantially bigger part.
Phillips did manage to get some smaller roles in more prestigious, A-pictures such as Young Mr. Lincoln, Drums Along The Mohawk (both 1939), Blood And Sand (1941), Orchestra Wives (1942) and the noir classic Laura (1944). Her two biggest A-picture roles were in 1936’s The Girl From Mandalay and 1940’s Kitty Foyle.
During World War Two, Phillips joined the Red Cross and volunteered at several USO clubs, while still maintaining her acting career. She also got her first taste of writing at this time, writing for the Voice of America. It was at this time she met and married Howard Phillips, a writer who would become an executive NBC television.
As Kate Phillips, she penned a pair of television scripts in addition to the screenplay for The Blob. Leaving show business, she started a second career as a teacher, eventually teaching acting and screenwriting at Keen State College until 2006.