''You will have the tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood,'' producer Merian C. Cooper promised actress Fay Wray more than 70 years ago. She thought he was talking about Clark Gable. Instead, she was paired with a giant gorilla, a coupling that prompted the screams that made her immortal. Wray starred in nearly 100 movies, in a career that lasted from the silent 1920s to TV movies nearly 60 years later, but she'll be remembered for only one movie: 1933's ''King Kong.'' Wray died Sunday at her Manhattan apartment, her friend, documentary filmmaker Rick McKay, told the Associated Press. She was 96.
Wray, whose film career began in 1923, became a star in Erich von Stroheim's ''The Wedding March'' (1928). During her career, she worked with such non-simian leading men as Ronald Colman, Spencer Tracy, Gary Cooper, William Powell, and Henry Fonda (in her last project, the 1979 TV movie ''Gideon's Trumpet.'') In recent years, she was often seen lobbying in Washington on various issues of interest to actors and screenwriters (her first two husbands were movie scribes). This year, she publicly gave her blessing to Peter Jackson, as he shoots a remake of ''King Kong'' with Naomi Watts in Wray's role. ''I think it is excellent and honorable that Peter Jackson wants to be true to the original. And I am proud that he wants to keep King Kong alive,'' she said. However, she declined a cameo role in the movie, suggesting that her towering old pal didn't need her help. ''Kong was always an independent kind of guy,'' she said, ''and I think he should stay that way.''