Thursday, October 22, 2020

Franchot in Picture Show Annual

Picture Show was a weekly film fan magazine from the United Kingdom that ran from 1919 to 1960. Picture Show also released an annual magazine with film highlights from the year. Many of the Picture Show Annual magazines are available digitally through the Media Lantern Digital History Project. I search through the MLDH project regularly and digitized indexing doesn't always catch every instance of a person's name. I decided to browse all of the Picture Show Annuals this week and discovered that Franchot was included in many of the years, and even more exciting, some of the photos were new poses for me. 

In other fan magazines I've come across, Franchot had a highly active period of features and interviews in 1933-1935 when he first came to Hollywood and was a sought after leading man. Once Franchot married Joan, most of the fan magazines focused on photos of the couple dining and dancing and attention to Franchot as an individual performer dwindled—at least to those reading at home. Moving forward several years, Franchot became an eligible bachelor and immersed in Hollywood's nightlife. This season of Franchot's life as well as the early days of his marriage to Jean Wallace resulted in frequently published photos in the fan magazines once again.

Here is a timeline of Franchot as featured in Picture Show Annual. Because the periodical was released annually and because it was based in the United Kingdom, you'll notice that some of the film news may seem to be reported on a delay.

1934: Franchot is pictured with the cast of Today We Live at one of Joan's parties.

1935: "Franchot Tone began his screen career as Joan Crawford's brother in Today We Live. Since then he has climbed rapidly to success. The 'T' is silent in his unusual first name, which is actually his third, and his mother's maiden name."

1936: "Franchot Tone, during the three years that he has been making films, has become one of the most sought-after leading men in Hollywood. His previous experience was on the stage. He took part in University dramatics, then appeared in stock companies and in the 'little theatre' movements. This he did in preference to an easy job in his father's big and flourishing business. He had made a film in New York—The Wiser Sex—but he was none too keen on it. However, he went to Hollywood and made his debut with Joan Crawford and Gary Cooper in Today We Live. Since then he has been at work almost continuously, his latest films including Lives of a Bengal Lancer and One New York Night. He lives in a beach house with a friend from New York, a Scottie named Woo-Woo, and a dachshund. Franchot Tone has never lacked money. Even when he ran short, his family was behind him to supply what was lacking. He does not think that this has been in any way detrimental to his character or talents. Relief from the worry of wondering how you are going to get your next meal leaves the mind free to develop far more quickly."

1937: "Franchot Tone brings intelligence and sincerity to every role he plays. His work in Mutiny on the Bounty as Midshipman Byam and in Exclusive Story alone proves his brilliance and versatility."

1938: Franchot Tone and Katharine Hepburn are featured in Quality Street.

1939: Franchot's portrait was featured.

1940: "Franchot Tone, who has recently been on the New York stage, smokes a contemplative pipe."

1942: "Unstarlike Star. Franchot Tone returned to films, after a year on the stage, in Trail of the Vigilantes, followed by Nice Girl with Deanna Durbin. Thirty-five films in the previous seven years, he'd decided, had earned him the change which is proverbially as good as a rest. He is quite untypical of a Hollywood star. He is slow to make friends, his few close ones including Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck, James Stewart, Francis Lederer and Henry Fonda. He says he's not 'high hat' and he adds that he's not 'low brow.' He doesn't like small talk or people who talk about subjects they know nothing about. Among his likes are chess and horse racing. Music is one of his chief interests, sleep another. When is working in a film, he is always in bed by nine-thirty.'

1943:"Individual. Franchot Tone is one of the most individual stars Hollywood has seen--and it's not for effect. He seeks the best in music and literature and he seeks to give the best in his work. He is not what is known as a 'good mixer' and between scenes of a film, when the majority of players gossip or play cards, he can usually be found concentrating on a complicated chess problem in lonely state. He says he is not unsocial, but he is content with a few friends instead of many. He enjoys talk, but not small talk or gossip. He has a subtle, satirical humour, and enjoys discussions on politics, economics and philosophy. He dislikes emotional displays and the broadcasting of private affairs. Born on the American side of Niagara Falls, he chose acting as his profession when he was at college and was given his first job in a stock company owned by his mother's cousin. He has recently been in Nice Girl, This Woman is Mine."

1948: Franchot's portrait with signature was featured. Picture Show Annual included signed photos (many signed specifically for and dedicated to the magazine) of their favorite stars.

Picture Show Annual. Media Lantern Digital History:

Saturday, September 26, 2020

A Tribute from Shepard Traube

Eleven days after Franchot's death—of lung cancer at the age of 63 on September 18, 1968—Shepard Traube wrote to the editor of The New York Times. I've transcribed that letter here.

To the editor:

I am filled with sorrow that Franchot Tone is no longer with us. He was an artist and a man of grace.

When we were both young men, Franchot was the featured juvenile in a now-forgotten play, "A Thousand Summers," the first Broadway production that I directed. In our company were such deathless stars as Jane Cowl, Osgood Perkins and Josephine Hull. In that group of superb actors, Franchot was a kind of flame. We all knew he was our most promising star of the future, the Hamlet of tomorrow.

It didn't work out quite that way. Franchot went to Hollywood and there was a good deal of turbulence in his life. Yet he never lost his poise, his sense of humor, or his dedication to exquisite standards of taste in the theater.

A couple of summers ago, I took a train to Waterford, Conn., where I was scheduled to participate in a panel discussion for the Eugene O'Neill Foundation people. As I sank into my chair and looked around, there was Franchot, grinning at me quizzically. He was preparing for an experimental production of a play about Gordon Craig, and he was boiling over with excitement about it. There was fire and purpose in him. We babbled to each other during the entire train ride, and continued to talk throughout the day in Waterford. I remember that I had to go back to New York at the end of the afternoon, while he remained on for rehearsals. We hugged each other and said, "Break a bone..."

That's the way I shall remember Franchot.

Shepard Traube

I find this to be a very fitting and, from all I've read about him, an accurate tribute to Franchot. Septembers are always difficult. This year on the anniversary of Franchot's death I needed to see him having fun onscreen so I had a delightful movie marathon featuring the comedies Honeymoon, Man-Proof and The Girl from Missouri.

I ponder what might've been had Franchot lived to the ripe old age of 95. Would he have transitioned into a full-time director and settled down in the theater he purchased shortly before his death? Or maybe change things up and become a theater professor? Would we have seen him finally get his due at awards ceremonies in the 1970's or 1980's? Would he have made a hilarious cameo as a suitor on the first season of The Golden Girls? Franchot was always so versatile that the possibilities are truly endless. 

Source: "Franchot Tone 1905-1968." The New York Times. September 29, 1968.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Tales of Tomorrow: Diamond Lens (1952)

On his way to the guillotine, a scientist recounts his discovery of a diamond lens and his overwhelming need to perfect the microscope for all generations—an obsession so great that it would lead to murder.

This story entitled "Diamond Lens" aired in the Tales of Tomorrow anthology series on March 14, 1952. Franchot would also star in another episode called "The Horn" later that year. Both episodes are intriguing with fantastical elements and strong acting, and fortunately both are available on Youtube. However, my favorite of the two is "Diamond Lens." You can watch it here:
With only a half hour to live, Andre (Franchot Tone) shares his story with a priest who has been sent to perform last rites. Andre passionately tells of his life as a starving student of the microscope, a scientist out to make a name for himself while showing everyone a new way to see the world around them.

Andre has only one mission in life: to find the perfect diamond to create a microscope with a diamond lens. He goes without food and new clothes and lives in a tenement, but when a new tenant Gaston Dubois arrives so does an opportunity. The new tenant confides that there's a rare 150-carat diamond worth 50 million francs in his employer's shop.

Knowing this is the diamond he seeks, Andre begs Gaston to steal the diamond and strangles him to get him to reveal its hiding place. When the landlady barges in, the man escapes Andre's grip. Later, Gaston tries to prevent Andre from taking the diamond and is finally killed by Andre.
With only one mission in life, Andre feels no guilt about the murder as he sees it as a necessity. He is frankly giddy and full of wonder as he creates a special acid and shapes the diamond into a perfect lens.

When a police inspector shows up in the middle of his experiments, Andre gives himself away by knowing that the diamond is missing and a man dead, information not publicly available. The investigator opts to keep a close eye on Andre in the coming days.

As Andre peers into the diamond lens for the first time, he is dazzled by what his eye beholds. In a single drop of water, Andre sees a new, magical world full of movement and details undetectable to the naked eye. Eager to see the professor about his groundbreaking discovery, Andre hides the diamond in a houseplant as his landlady arrives to clean. 

Andre returns with the professor, who calls him a crackpot, but the diamond is missing. The landlady has used the water pitcher to water the plants—only the water she has used was really Andre's secret acid, which has completely destroyed the precious diamond.

When the professor asserts that Andre is a lunatic who lied about the diamond, Andre replies that he committed murder to get it. As he utters this confession, he sees the police inspector at his door.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

The Wiser Sex (1932)

Franchot Tone in The Wiser Sex, 1932.
Franchot Tone in his first film role in
The Wiser Sex, 1932. Source: scan from my collection.

In 1932 Franchot made his movie debut in the film The Wiser Sex, directed by Berthold Viertel and based on a play by Clyde Fitch. The movie stars Claudette Colbert, Melvyn Douglas, Lilyan Tashman, William Boyd and Ross Alexander.

The Wiser Sex, 1932 film publicity for Franchot Tone
The Film Daily, 1931.

As I was researching this film, I had an "a-ha!" moment. A lot of people refer to the 1933 film Today We Live as Franchot's first Hollywood film and I've always been perplexed by that and thought they were just overlooking his role in this 1932 film. Recently, it clicked. Better late than never, right? I realized everyone who says Today We Live is Franchot's first Hollywood film is absolutely correct. The Wiser Sex was filmed a year earlier, but not in Hollywood! The Wiser Sex was filmed at Paramount Studios in New York City, which I should have realized since Franchot was still acting in plays in '32.

Paramount Pictures presents The Wiser Sex. 1932 ad.
Film Daily Year Book, 1932.

The Wiser Sex is the only Franchot film I've been unable to see, but it does exist! The 35 mm is archived in the Library of Congress film division. It is available to view in-person for educational and research purposes but only with prior permission by the LOC and one person who did indeed view the film at the LOC said it was difficult for them to gain clearance. 

It has been shown to public audiences. I know of two times for certain it was screened. It was on the schedule for the 2013 Fall Cinesation Film Preservation Festival at the Lincoln Theater in Massillon, Ohio and has also been screened at the Mary Pickford Theater at the Library of Congress in 2003. 

The Wiser Sex is a 1932 film starring Claudette Colbert and Melvyn Douglas.
Movie Classic, 1932.

Claudette Colbert and Melvyn Douglas star in The Wiser Sex.
Screenland, 1932.

Film Summary

*Spoiler Alert*The movie stars Claudette Colbert as Margaret Hughes, a society woman who will do anything to prove her boyfriend David Rolfe (Melvyn Douglas) is innocent of murder. Franchot has a very brief role as Phil, David's naive cousin who is being taken advantage of by a golddigger (Lilyan Tashman). In fact, Phil is the character who is killed by a gangster and whose murder causes David's frame-up.


Franchot did not receive a great deal of publicity for this role; that would come a year later with his substantial part in Today We Live. Claudette Colbert and Melvyn Douglas did get some attention for their performances. Here are some of the pieces that appeared in fan magazines:

Melvyn Douglas in The Wiser Sex 1932.
Silver Screen, 1932.

Spanish promotion for The Wiser Sex, 1932.
Mensajero Paramount, 1932.

Lilyan Tashman costars in The Wiser Sex.
Photoplay, 1932.

Claudette Colbert models clothes from The Wiser Sex.
Photoplay, 1932.

Here's hoping you and I are able to view Franchot's first film work someday—maybe at the LOC or a film festival and perhaps, if we are really lucky, one day on television or on a DVD release.

¨The Wiser Sex.¨ Library of Congress.
All clippings found at Media History Digital Library:

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Today We Live (1933)

Today We Live is Franchot's second film (the first being The Wiser Sex) and his first film with Joan Crawford. With an all-star cast of Joan, Franchot, Robert Young and Gary Cooper, the World War I melodrama is directed by Howard Hawks and is based on a story by William Faulkner. As is the case with many movies of this era, the fashion is more 1933 and not so much 1916. Also, the majority of the characters are English and the film is set in England, but the accents are decidedly American despite the use of common English phrases. Again, a pretty common practice in films of the day but I know some viewers who really dislike this.

Franchot and Joan play brother and sister yet their chemistry onscreen already speaks volumes. Joan's character looks at Franchot's character just as lovingly and longingly as she does her actual two love interests. Franchot's character is the confidante and protector, the one steadfast thing in the unsteady life of Joan's character.

Film Summary

American Richard Bogard (Gary Cooper) arrives in England in 1916 and visits the Smith house just as Diana (Joan Crawford) receives news that her father has died in action. Distraught, Diana says she is without hope or faith and fears for her brother's safety as her brother Ronnie (Franchot Tone) and her neighbor Claude (Robert Young) reminisce about Mr. Smith and announce that they have just five more hours until they must report for duty. 

Ronnie confides in his sister that their childhood friend and neighbor Claude plans to propose to Diana. The three of them have a rationed dinner where Diana agrees to marry Claude with Ronnie's blessing.

While her loved ones are fighting in the war, the family's American guest Bogard spends more time with Diana and they realize that they have fallen in love with each other. Bogard decides to enlist in the war to fight for England and honor the woman he loves. A distraught Diana has now lost her father and has to contend with the fact that the lives of the three men she cares for are all now in danger.

Ronnie comes back injured but on the mend and Claude returns as in love with Diana as ever. Not wanting to hurt a soldier, Diana asks her brother for advice and understanding in a tender, lovely scene between Joan and Franchot. In an equally tender scene, Ronnie must share that Diana's true love Bogard has died in action.

Joan is wonderfully effective as a woman left lonely and bereaved by war. Despite this, she puts on a brave face and soldiers through it all, putting her own emotions aside and aiding the war effort. She is the beacon of strength for her brother and her fiancee. Before Claude is sent off on a dangerous assignment, Diana marries him. After he survives the mission, Claude and Diana break the news to Ronnie, who has long suspected and supported it.

And the next scene is a shock. Bogard, reported to have been deceased, is on the family's doorstep. I will not spoil the remainder of the film for you. The rest of the film is full of love, heartbreak, death and hope as well as some quite lengthy battle scenes.

Franchot's character Ronnie is the binding force and voice of reason for all characters and with the skills he applies to the role, it is easy to see why both Gary Cooper and Joan Crawford would praise him as the most talented, underrated actor for the rest of their lives.


Franchot received a good amount of publicity build-up in fan magazines for his early role in Today We Live. Although Franchot's first film The Wiser Sex is the only film I've not seen, it is still available at the Library of Congress and reportedly his role is very small. Today We Live was his real break into the business it seems and, of course, the film that introduced him to Joan, a woman whom he would love for the rest of his life. Here are just a few of the various photos and publicity pieces that accompanied the film's release.

Modern Screen, 1933.

Photoplay, 1933
Photoplay, 1933.

Modern Screen, 1933.

The New Movie Magazine reviewed the film stating:
Joan belongs in pictures of this type; that's what you're going to say when you see her. She can do all that a star is asked to do, and she does; but when she has a real story, with clever character actors around her, shading her role with the sympathy and humor that it needs—then Miss Crawford can supply some of the finest entertainment that is available in motion picture theaters today.

Today We Live is on DVD from Warner Archive and can be purchased through most online DVD retailers.