Monday, September 28, 2015

Franchot Tone's Advice to His Bride

In a 1942 article in Hollywood magazine, Franchot gave advice to his wife, Jean Wallace, whom he called "eager, alert, intelligent, and suggestible." Here are husbandly words of wisdom from "Old Doc Tone":
Mathematically I'm old enough to be Jean's father. But by good fortune it turned out that someone else was, making it legal for me to marry her. Being an old graybeard has its advantages, not the least of which is that youngsters listen respectfully to old folks' advice.
If Jean is wise (who wants wisdom in an eighteen-year-old?), she will heed the warning of Old Doc Tone and adopt the standard Hollywood attitude about her career. If I were wise I'd do the same myself, but you can't teach an old hound new tricks, so I suppose I'm beyond redemption.
Jean is going into pictures with her eyes open. Despite her actuarial youth, she has been around long enough to understand some of the values of show business, as what Earl Carroll girl doesn't? She's no baby, regardless of the clever remarks the columnists made when we were married. 
Being an American, I recognize that a mere husband has only a still, small voice in household affairs. But with what authority I can muster I am going to advise Mrs. Tone about getting a fixed habitat and making it the center of her existence. In Hollywood it's fashionable to have a new address every year. This is the bunk. My family, which is as solid as Plymouth Rock, has lived in the same house for fifty years and altered it only when such new-fangled devices as air-conditioning popped up to make family life more comfortable.
I am going to suggest that as soon as we move out of the house we rented from Hedy Lamarr, my bride find some staid and substantial manor house that we can live in comfortably forever. My idea now is to settle down in a genuinely permanent abode that will be known to the grandsons of today's college boys as "The Tone place," a landmark around the countryside and a symbol of solidity and stability. 
Franchot ends with a final bit of advice to Jean:
Stay sweet as you are. 
Source: Underhill, Duncan. "Franchot Tone's Advice to His Bride." Hollywood. Jan-Dec 1942. 30, 37.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Franchot at Cornell

Source: 1927 Cornell University Yearbook
Franchot's senior yearbook from Cornell University sheds some light on his collegiate activities. Above is Franchot's senior photo, taken when he was approximately 22 years old. Franchot's nickname to his classmates was "Pamp". He was a member of Alpha Delta Phi, Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi, and Kappa Beta Phi. Franchot was also active in the Sphinx Head society, Book and Bowl, Savage Club, and Dramatic Club. He served as the President of the Dramatic Club in his fourth year.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Moulin Rouge (1934)

First of all, I must share that I was so pleasantly surprised by the size of Franchot’s role in Moulin Rouge! Because of my mental connection to the modern Nicole Kidman film, I assumed this movie might be a full-out musical and that assumption indicated to me that Franchot would play a wealthy, handsome suitor waiting to woo the leading lady from the sidelines in very brief scenes. I should really stop making suppositions about what a movie will be like and just watch it! After seeing it, I can tell you that Moulin Rouge is a delightful romantic comedy (with some musical numbers) and Franchot has a large starring role opposite Constance Bennett (in dual roles).

Douglas Hall (Franchot Tone) is a musical theater composer who refuses to put his wife Helen (Constance Bennett) in a show. Helen, a former singer in a musical sister act, has a background in theater. Doug has certain notions about how a housewife should behave. Doug is so convinced that a wife should be at home and not on the stage that he makes sure no other producers in town hire Helen either. It must be said that although it may sound like Franchot’s character is controlling and unsympathetic, his character actually comes across as quite caring and loving in the film. Douglas Hall’s relationship to his wife early in the film reminds me of the dynamic between Ricky and Lucy Ricardo on I Love Lucy. Unlike Lucy, Helen decides to leave Doug after one too many interferences.

When she realizes that Raquel, the other half of her former sister act, has won the starring role in Doug's production, Helen concocts a plan. Helen and Raquel are not biologically sisters, but were able to play sisters because of their extreme likeness. Helen will secretly take Raquel's place during rehearsals and prove her talent once and for all.

Here's where you have to suspend reality a bit. In a Parent Trap-type switch, Helen dyes her hair blonde and changes her clothes and voila! Everyone mistakes her for the exotic Raquel. Including her husband. (Personal note: I really hope my husband would still recognize me if I dyed my hair blonde and adopted an affected accent. I'm pretty sure he would.) The newly separated Doug is instantly attracted to Raquel as is his pal and colleague Victor (Tullio Carminati).

The rest of the film revolves around Helen's performance as Raquel. As Raquel, she falls in love again with her estranged husband, but is also hurt that Doug can so quickly be attracted to someone new. Like Franchot, Constance Bennett is an actress who is often overlooked and underrated, in my opinion. Even though the premise is a little far-fetched, Constance is truly great as both Helen and Raquel. The love scenes between Franchot and Constance are quite romantic and the film ends happily and sweetly.
I've documented on this blog that Franchot, in his later years, was largely disparaging of his roles in romantic comedies. Franchot was a fine dramatic actor and certainly deserved more substantial film roles, but I feel that he discredited his romantic comedies a bit too much. Franchot certainly had a flair for comedy and his romantic scenes are some of the most passionate of the 30s and early 40s. I could watch Between Two Women, His Butler's Sister, Three Loves Has Nancy, and this particular film over and over. Sure, they are light and breezy romances, but the stories are endearing and the players are so adept that they make it all look effortless.

In my opinion, Franchot masterfully tackled all genres of film. He was, unfortunately, typecast early on, marked as "Mr. Joan Crawford", and struggled to gain award-worthy parts of which he was more than capable. But his talent still shines through in all of his films. Sure, there were some less-than-stellar films thrown his way (especially in the 1940s), but I can name a handful of stinkers that each of his contemporaries starred in during that time as well. It was pretty typical of the studio system of that era. For every picture you truly wanted to make, the studio bosses and their iron-clad contracts strong-armed you into making two or more pictures of which you wanted no part.
If you enjoy romantic comedies that involve humorous mix-ups, passionate moments, and musical numbers (think Busby Berkeley), then you will enjoy watching Franchot Tone and Constance Bennett in Moulin Rouge.

Friday, September 18, 2015

September 18, 1968

From my Instagram account: @franchot_tone_fan
Franchot Tone died 47 years ago today after a battle with cancer. He was only 63 years old and had been working steadily in theater, television, and film up until his death.

My personal favorite performances of the last ten years of Franchot's life include Advise & Consent, "The Silence" episode of The Twilight Zone, the "Impossible Dream" episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and the "Final Performance" episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Unfortunately, a lot of his television work from those final years is hard to find for viewing these days.

Some years ago, Youtube user windesong posted a clip of one of Franchot's final performances in the "Tell It Like It Is" episode of Run for Your Life. (If you can't watch the embedded view below, here's the link.)

What an actor! I would've loved to see the character work Franchot could've done as he aged into his 70s and 80s. Below are two obituaries that ran in newspapers following his death.
Source: St. Petersburg Times, 19 September 1968.

Source: Miami News, 18 September 1968.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. on Franchot Tone

In his autobiography, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. who was, of course, married to Joan Crawford when she met Franchot Tone on the set of the 1933 film Today We Live, called Franchot “a fine actor from New York.” Fairbanks, Jr. also said:

Today we would call Tone a concerned citizen—he shocked some of the insular movie people with his outspoken and informed left-liberal politics, expressed in the cultured accents of the eastern upper-class establishment. He was really a nice, amicable guy who frankly enjoyed biting the conservative hand that fed him.
It seems that Douglas held no malice toward his ex-wife's next husband. Actually, it appears that he admired Franchot's outspokenness. Later in his book, Douglas does, however, reveal that he and Joan had a minor flirtation near the end of Franchot and Joan's marriage.

Source: Fairbanks, Douglas. The Salad Days. New York: Doubleday, 1988. 194, 304-305. Print.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Melvyn Douglas on Joan Crawford

Image Source:

One of my favorite hobbies is collecting and reading the autobiographies of classic movie stars. Last week, I finished Melvyn Douglas' fantastic autobiography, See You at the Movies. Douglas focuses on his theater work and political activism over the details of his film career, and shares his personal reflections on his life with candor and humor. Douglas does, however, illuminate the reader with his experiences on some of his films and his relationships with a handful of his costars.  I have a habit of immediately checking the index of an autobiography for Franchot's name. Although Franchot is mentioned, it is only briefly and not enlightening information. However, Melvyn Douglas does go into detail about Joan Crawford across the four films they made together. The quotes below are Melvyn's view of Joan and should not be attributed to Franchot, but I thought I would include them here for you to read anyway.

“None of the so-called Hollywood glamour queens, besides Garbo and Swanson, have aroused as much interest and given rise to as much out-and-out mythology as Joan Crawford, which is perhaps what the lady intended. Miss Crawford and I did four films together between 1935 and 1942, and she too struck me as a most unusual person.”

On the set of The Gorgeous Hussy: "I went onto the set where Miss Crawford, whom I scarcely knew, made a grand entrance in costume through one of the doors. She greeted me in a gracious and distinctly southern manner, less as if I was a fellow player than a guest in her house. This atmosphere continued throughout the making of the picture…In addition to Miss Crawford, the film included a number of other well-known players, such as the man she had just married, former Group Theatre actor Franchot Tone… Joan’s delicate comportment during the making of the picture was a surprise because, before coming on the set I had heard stories about her being a hail-fellow-well-met sort of person whose language was not exactly sanitary."

On the set of The Shining Hour and A Woman's Face: "By the time I made my next picture with her in 1938, she had again become rough, bluff and hearty. However, during the 1941 filming of A Woman’s Face, yet another Crawford persona emerged. She had at that time just adopted a little girl who would be led on to the set at about three-thirty or four every afternoon by a real English nanny. The arrival of this child, dressed in a pinafore, patent leather shoes, peek-a-boo gloves, ribbons in her hair and bonnet, would stop production for about a half hour while everyone gathered in a circle and Joan made a great show of being a mother."

During and after World War II: “Sometime during the first year of the war I helped to arrange a luncheon…and Joan showed up in yet another role. She had by this time divorced Tone and remarried. She arrived in an enormous picture hat and a long flowing skirt looking like an eighteen-year-old blushing bride. With eyes downcast and virginal hand timidly outstretched, she was introduced to the guest of honor… Over a period of time, and after witnessing a number of these transformations, one came to the conclusion that Joan played as many parts off the stage as on. She became an effective spokeswoman for Pepsi-Cola after the death of her fourth husband, and it is an interesting question whether she developed into a top-level executive out of an innate talent for administration or her ability to absorb and live a role. During the period when I knew her, I am not sure that, for better or worse, she would have recognized the difference—or even that there was a difference.”

Source: Douglas, Melvyn, and Tom Arthur. See You at the Movies: The Autobiography of Melvyn Douglas. Lanham, Md.: U of America ; 1986. 89-91. Print.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Photo: Franchot Signing Autographs, 1951

Franchot signing autographs for waitresses at the Sky Chef Restaurant in Denver in September 1951. This photo was apparently taken less than two weeks after the infamous fight between Tom Neal and Franchot over Barbara Payton. Franchot would have just been released from the hospital after receiving treatment for the injuries he sustained.

I've not yet written about the fight, because I think that, unfortunately, Franchot's name has become more tied with that incident than with his film contributions. I will definitely write about it in the future, but for now, I'd rather focus on his amazing work and other interesting details about his life. I feel like Franchot might prefer it that way.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

They Gave Him a Gun (1937)

They Gave Him a Gun is a 1937 crime drama that was based on William J. Cowen’s 1936 novel of the same name. Admittedly, I have many favorite Franchot films, but this is one of his early dramas that I particularly enjoy. Warning: this post contains spoilers.

As Jimmy, Franchot Tone gives a convincing, sensitive portrayal of a timid World War I soldier dreading active duty who transforms into a merciless militant who confidently shoots and kills the opposing army. Fred Willis (Spencer Tracy) is Jimmy’s friend and supporter, and although he’s an obedient solider, Fred is much more interested in the kind, lovely nurse Rose Duffy (Gladys George) than in the deadly battles.
When Jimmy is critically wounded, he falls for nurse Rose himself. Jimmy has no idea that Rose is in love with Fred and Rose never divulges this secret. After Fred goes missing in action and is presumed dead, Rose marries Jimmy. Following the end of the war, we see Jimmy, in full uniform covered in medals, proudly posing for photographs and sharing stories from the battlefield. In this scene, it is clear that Jimmy may have a difficult time adjusting to quiet, civilian life. Jimmy is thrilled to discover that Fred was only captured, not killed. He is excited to have his best friend and wife both back in his life, but doesn’t notice that the reunion is painful for Rose and Fred, who are still in love with one another but loyal to Jimmy.  

A good-natured carnival barker, Fred senses a change in his buddy and soon realizes that Jimmy is making his living as a murderous gangster. Rose then makes the difficult decision to turn Jimmy into the police so that he can pay his debts and return to an honest, humble life.
While he’s incarcerated, Jimmy must decide if he’s willing to swallow his pride and pay the price for his crimes in order to return to a humble, happy life with the woman he loves. The scenes of Jimmy’s incarceration and waiting to see what choice he will ultimately make kept me enthralled. Although some of the melodramas filmed in the 30s tend to have predictable endings, I had no idea how this one was going to end. Franchot perfectly plays the part of the conflicted gangster. His face masterfully shows the conflict between his inherent vulnerability and acquired need for power. Spencer Tracy and Gladys George turn in stirring performances as a couple that places their devotion to Jimmy ahead of their own undeniable love. Tone and Tracy only acted in this single feature film together, but Gladys George costarred with Franchot in 1934’s Straight is the Way and 1938’s Love is a Headache.
You can find They Gave Him a Gun on DVD through Amazon. If you enjoy They Gave Him a Gun, I also suggest you check out Pilot No. 5 and Three Comrades.