KANIN, FAY MITCHELL (1917– ), screenwriter and leader in the U.S. film and television industries. Born in New York City to Bessie (Kaiser) and David Mitchell, Kanin grew up in Elmira, N.Y., where as a teenager she won the New York State Spelling Championship. Kanin attended Elmira College on a scholarship and received a B.A. from the University of Southern California after the family moved to Los Angeles.
Kanin got her start in film as a script reader at RKO Studios, where she met her future husband, Michael Kanin (1910–1993), who was writing his first screenplay. Fay and Michael, who married in 1940, raised two sons while collaborating for 20 years on dozens of scripts for film, theater, radio, and television. Their dramatic version of the Japanese film Rashoman (1957) continues to be performed. Michael Kanin's brother, Garson *Kanin, and his wife, Ruth Gordon, were a similar husband-and-wife team. Fay Kanin also wrote independently. Her play, Goodbye, My Fancy, about a congresswoman, was a Broadway success in 1949. Many of Fay Kanin's scripts present characters who reflect her own values as an educated, independent, career woman. They focus on the importance of personal integrity, academic freedom, and individual accomplishment. One of her most important scripts, Friendly Fire (1979), which starred Carol Burnett, won an Emmy for its moving depiction of an Iowa couple who lost their son in Vietnam. She also won an Emmy for Tell Me Where it Hurts (1974). Kanin, who was nominated with her husband for an Academy Award for writing Teacher's Pet (1958), was also nominated for a Tony Award for Best Book (Musical) for Grind in 1985.
Kanin served for over 25 years in various leadership roles in the film industry, including governor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, representing the writers branch; president of the Academy Foundation, the educational and cultural arm of the Academy; and chair of the National Film Preservation Board of the Library of Congress. She was an officer of the Writers Guild Foundation and a member of the board of directors of the American Film Institute. From 1979 to 1983, Kanin was president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for four consecutive terms, the only woman elected to that office since Bette Davis's brief stint as president in 1941.
H. Reisen. "Kanin, Fay," in: P.E. Hyman and D.D. Moore (eds.) Jewish Women in America, vol. 1 (1997), 718–19.