Kay Aldridge, Queen of the Serials and St. Mary’s Graduate

Nyoka screenshotMovie star and model Kay Aldridge, best known for playing the title role in the 1942 movie serial “The Perils of Nyoka,” is a 1934 graduate of St. Mary’s Female Seminary High School. Then existing as both a high school and two-year junior college, Katherine Gratton Aldridge entered St. Mary’s in the Fall of 1931 as a Sophomore after attending one year of high school in Westminster, Maryland. She was born in Tallahassee, Florida and grew up in Lyells, Virginia. Kay was from an artistic family as Cornelia C. Aldridge, Kay’s mother, notes that she is an art teacher and artist.

RG 5.2.2 Kay Aldridge app

RG 5.2.2, Student Records

While attending St. Mary’s Kay Aldridge had an opportunity to act in plays, and the playbill from the January, 1933 performance of “Sound the Horn,” preserved in the St. Mary’s College of Maryland Archive, lists Katherine Aldridge as playing the part of Diane Webster, niece of “self-made millionaire” Mrs. Van Dyke. At this time there were only a small handful of men who attended classes at St. Mary’s Female Seminary (the men did not live on campus), so the male parts were also played by women.

RG 5.3.14 Sound Your Horn

RG 5.3.14, Theatre Programs

While attending St. Mary’s, Katherine Aldridge was also a member of the Delta Phi Epsilon sorority and played for the St. Mary’s basketball team.

RG 3.6.2 D P E

RG 3.6.2, 1932 Viewbook. A young Kay Aldridge, then a Sophomore, is the tallest girl in this picture, standing, second from left.

basketball combined

RG 3.6.2, 1934 Viewbook. Basketball squad. Kay Aldridge is seated on the ledge, far right.

Katherine Gratton Aldridge was a member of the special graduating class of 1934, which was also the Tercentenary, or 300-year anniversary, of the 1634 arrival of the Ark and the Dove and the settlement of the St. Mary’s City colony in the New World.  To mark the occasion, the class of St. Mary’s Female Seminary put on an elaborate graduation ceremony.  In this ceremony, Kay Gratton had the role of describing the school’s function as a “living monument” to the ideals of religious toleration that were espoused by Lord Calvert and the original colonists. This role was perhaps not as glamorous as fighting the evil Queen Vultura in North Africa while searching for the Golden Tablets of Hippocrates, but an important role nonetheless.

1934 Graduation Program

RG 3.4.3, 1934 Commencement Program. Excerpts.

1934 graduation

RG 3.6.2, 1934 Viewbook, 1934 High School graduates. Kay Aldridge, standing (half of face obscured), is fifth from left.

Kay Aldridge’s work as a model included three covers of Life Magazine. After appearing in several movies and movie serials, she retired from acting in 1945 and lived in Maine with her artist husband Richard Derby Tucker. She died January 12, 1995.  A book about her life, Perils of Kay Aldridge: life of the serial queen by Merrill T. McCord, was published by Alhambra Publishers in 1979.

Here is a Youtube clip from 1942’s The Perils of Nyoka, where the heroine is running from a very convincing gorilla named Satan and played by Emil Van Horn. In keeping with the cliffhanger tradition of movie serials, Nyoka appears to fall to her death, but next week it was revealed that she did, in fact, survive.


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