Sunday, April 24, 2016

Christopher Plummer on Franchot Tone

Franchot & Christopher in the Alcoa production of Even the Weariest River, 1956.
Not too many years ago, Christopher Plummer published his autobiography, In Spite of Myself. I greatly admire Mr. Plummer, so much so that I wrote him a letter gushing to him just how much I loved him several years ago. In Spite of Myself is one of the most intelligent, entertaining, and encompassing autobiographies I've ever read. I've always considered Christopher and Franchot to be similar in their approach to their work, sensitivity, and intelligence. In fact, I keep my autographed photos of the two proudly displayed together.

For me, it's only fitting that the older and ailing Franchot's final scene in a film is with the young Christopher Plummer in the 1968 film Nobody Runs Forever. It's over in a heartbeat, but to see these two actors I admire share a bit of brief dialogue and knowing looks with one another is a cherished film moment for me.

Many years before Nobody Runs Forever, Plummer and Tone worked together in the Bermuda Repertory Theatre (I believe this was in/around 1952). Plummer dedicated several pages of his book to his experience with and analysis of Tone. I think his words on Franchot as an actor and as a man are the most insightful I've ever read. I was pleased that Christopher was able to see the similarities that I've noticed in Franchot and himself, and I was vastly moved by his eloquent summary of my favorite actor of all time.

On Franchot's early theater days:
At one time, not too far into the recent past, he was considered by critics, pundits and public alike 'the bright white hope of the American theatre.'...he had shown staggering potential in the famed Group Theatre days...Franchot, with his and his family's money had largely financed the Group Theatre from its inception. So it would not be an exaggeration to surmise that almost single-handedly he had oiled the machinery for the great New Wave movement...
On Franchot's vulnerability and pain:
But Franchot had a weakness for the movies and a penchant for domineering, glamorous women...He seemed to search for this kind of self-destructive alliance, and alliance that could not but help inflict certain pain. Indeed, Franchot Tone was a handsome, sensitive, highly educated and tremendously talented gentleman who was, nevertheless, motivated and driven by pain. His hard living had somewhat diminished his former brilliance, but every so often his work showed strong evidence of great depth and nobility of spirit...His sense of humor, as one might guess, was seeringly self-deprecating, drawn as always from this inexplicable inner torment. These vulnerable qualities were to make his Chekovian performances (Uncle Vanya and A Moon for the Misbegotten), both of which I later saw, so memorable—a rare combination of lightness and poignancy.
On working with Franchot in "The Petrified Forest":
He brought a substance to the play it didn't quite deserve...he managed at times to lift the piece far above its ken into the loftier spheres of O'Neill.
On their similarities:
...we shared an unspoken bond. We were both romantics—incurable to the last—and our separate upbringings shared the same confusion of identity. He may have seen in me, occasionally, his younger self. I'm not sure and I wouldn't wish it on him; but I saw in him someone I could perhaps aspire to; not the hidden sad, pained man that was part of Franchot but the part he couldn't conceal, no matter how hard he tried, the part that was refined, noble and infinitely kind—the man of golden promise.

Nobody Runs Forever, 1968

Source: Plummer, Christopher. In Spite of Myself: A Memoir. New York: Afred A. Knopf, 2008. Print. 104-107.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Franchot & Joan: A Lifetime of Love

Fresh from the New York stage and with only one film (The Wiser Sex with Claudette Colbert) under his belt, Franchot Tone was assigned the role of Ronnie in the 1933 war drama Today We Live. The leading lady of the picture would be Joan Crawford, flapper-turned-dramatic actress, who was well-respected and a public darling after her most recent successes in Grand Hotel and Possessed. Vying for Miss Crawford's attention in the film were the handsome and talented Gary Cooper and Robert Young. A Hollywood unknown, Franchot was cast as her brother. With a marriage to Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. on the rocks and divorce looming, Joan and Franchot acted on their mutual attraction for one another.

Magazines were abuzz with "Are they or aren't they?" columns before the end of 1933, but neither Joan or Franchot would give journalists the satisfaction of a confirmation. (Amusingly, in one personal telephone interview in which Joan refused to address a relationship, she put Franchot who happened to be at her house on the line so he could talk to the reporter, too!) By 1934, moviegoers had already seen two more romantic dramas starring both Joan and Franchot. In 1933's Dancing Lady, a tails-and-tie Franchot competes with Clark Gable (Joan's real life on-and-off lover) for Joan's affection. And although Clark always wins Joan (the three were combined again for 1936's Love on the Run), Franchot certainly gives him a run for his money in the steamy swimming scenes. They may have been concealing their relationship off-set, but there was no hiding the electricity between Franchot and Joan in their Dancing Lady scenes. The swimming scene is, to me, one of the sexiest love scenes in classic film. The 1934 romantic drama Sadie McKee teamed them up again. Joan's character Sadie has grown up in the servants' quarters of Michael Alderson's wealthy home. Sadie and Michael (Franchot) have had a flirty attraction since they were kids, but a thoughtless, snobby comment from him turns Sadie off and Michael must find a way to repair their relationship. They respected each other's acting ability and reflected on the ways in which they influenced one another in an interview with Ben Maddox for Screenland in December 1933.

Joan said of Franchot's acting technique:

"From all appearances, Franchot is the most indifferent person in the world. Then you begin your scene with him and are astounded to find you are working with the keenest of actors. Technically, he is perfect. He knows how to express every kind of feeling instantly! I have no technique at all myself. I'm all emotions and when I cry, for instance, I keep on until I'm cried out. I'd give anything to be as skilled in acting as he is...I have learned peace of mind from Franchot. He has taught me to have faith in my own judgment." 

Franchot was grateful to the film-experienced Joan for providing him with the following tips:
"On the stage it was a negligible factor, I felt that posing for portraits and autographing books for fans was a form of exhibitionism. At premieres I used to blush violently when noticed...Joan showed me how wrong I was. She convinced me that a picture player is not making a fool of himself when he acknowledges the public's curiosity. She believes one should be very grateful to the fans for their approval. I agree now that I've reasoned it out...My gestures were quicker than they should be for the screen and Joan slowed me down...Joan is fair to everyone. She wants each person to do his best."

1935 was an important year for the couple. Franchot had now gained his own following in pictures with Jean Harlow and Loretta Young and starred in 3 Oscar-nominated films in '35 alone: Mutiny on the Bounty with Clark Gable, Lives of a Bengal Lancer with Gary Cooper, and Dangerous with Bette Davis. 11 years before Joan would earn her first nomination for Mildred Pierce, Franchot was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for his performance as Byam in Mutiny. (I actually didn't realize that he beat Joan to a nomination until I was writing this post. I can't believe Joan was not nominated multiple times in the 30's. She absolutely deserved to be.)

Now public with their romance, the couple opted for a private marriage ceremony on the morning of October 11, 1935. According to the New York Times, Mayor Herbert Jenkins performed the ceremony with just a handful of witnesses present. Joan wore a dark blue ensemble and Franchot a gray-striped suit. The ring Franchot placed on Joan's finger was in white gold band set with emeralds and diamonds.

In her autobiography, Joan gave a loving description of her husband:
"Franchot Tone had a quiet way of looking at me across a set, a capacity for giving more than a scene required... He was a tonic to me, this remarkable young man with his individuality of thought and imagination, who understood and was very patient with me, whose two hands were always filled with beauty. Franchot was of a different fiber from anyone in Hollywood."

Although he got the girl in real life,  Franchot was relegated to second leads in their next three film collaborations, which saw Joan preferring Robert Montgomery (in 35's No More Ladies), Robert Taylor and then Melvyn Douglas (in 36's The Gorgeous Hussy), and Clark Gable (in 36's Love on the Run) over Franchot. In 1937's The Bride Wore Red (my personal favorite of their films), Franchot's sweet and caring mailman loves Anni despite her focus on the wealthy character Robert Young portrays. Franchot is finally given a substantial part opposite Joan and wins his girl in the end.

MGM always cast Franchot and Joan in love triangle plots. I wish the Tones had been given a romantic drama to star in together, instead of Franchot always being sort of an afterthought character in a Crawford picture. Franchot shines in his film romances with Miriam Hopkins (The Stranger's Return), Loretta Young (The Unguarded Hour), Katharine Hepburn (Quality Street), Franciska Gaal (The Girl Downstairs), and Deanna Durbin (His Butler's Sister). It's a shame that he was not given more of a lead role in the films he and Joan made together. There's so much magnetism in their scenes together. Can you imagine if they had been given a full romance film starring just the two of them? The screen would've positively sizzled!

At home, Franchot and Joan enjoyed their tennis court, pool, dogs, and nights on the town with friends, often Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck. In photographs of the couple taken during their marriage, they always look so happy in each other's company. I've noticed, too, how adoringly Franchot gazes at his bride in many of the pictures.

In my research of Franchot, I tend to come across two alternate assumptions that have been published online and in books. The first assumption people make is that Joan dominated Franchot. Told him what films to make, what to wear, who he was allowed to see, etc. The opposite assumption made is that Franchot dominated Joan. Pushed her into opera lessons and literature study, and asked her to leave Hollywood for theatre. I don't think either party dominated the other. In 1937, Franchot addressed the rumor of his grooming Joan for the stage in Screenland:
"...that myth about the little theatre we have in our garden should be exploded. It is not for Joan to learn stage acting in, and never was so intended! I've read that it was built so I could teach her the technique of the footlights. That's a sample of the incredible situations I've been in since I've been here. Joan doesn't require any special coaching from me or anyone else to be able to act on the stage. She is an actress."

As in most relationships, I feel that Joan and Franchot simply tried to introduce each other to their own interests and supported each other in new endeavors. Joan taught Franchot what she knew and Franchot did the same for Joan. I believe, and they both said, that they always had a mutual respect for one another. On top of the obvious physical attraction, it is clear that they were intrigued by one another's personalities.

In the beginning of their relationship, Joan and Franchot were drawn to each other because of their different backgrounds and approaches to their careers. Eventually, these different personalities caused them to grow apart. Here's what I think. Joan endured a tumultuous childhood and worked tirelessly to become the star Joan Crawford. She never wanted to be poor again. She never wanted to not be Joan Crawford. She had come too far to risk losing it.  She enjoyed being a star and the responsibilities that came with it. Franchot and his friend Burgess Meredith, at separate times, mentioned that Joan needed a lot of approval. She was very sensitive to people's response to her and wanted to please the public. She filled her days with film preparation, exercise, dance lessons, and the like so that she could maintain her talent and physique. Her film career was important to her and she made it a top priority. Franchot came from a well-to-do background, a stable family life, and educational and social opportunity. But he was no loaf, either. He worked relentlessly in plays from the time he graduated college until his death in 1968 (excepting the years in the 30's when he focused solely on his film career). In one year alone, he made 7 feature films. Franchot's craft was important to him and he was always interested in expanding his technique and exploring new characters. But, and here's the difference, Franchot did not need to be the star Franchot Tone. Although I'm sure he enjoyed being liked, Franchot didn't seem to care if anyone approved of what he was doing or not. He didn't feel the pressure that Joan must have felt in Hollywood. Yes, he wanted good roles and was frustrated when he didn't get them. Yes, it must have been hard being referred to as Mr. Joan Crawford and having gossips ridiculously claim that you are only in pictures because of your marriage to her. But, I don't think that they broke up because he was spiteful of her success, but rather, because he didn't always understand her consuming need to maintain it.

When Franchot and Joan parted in the summer of 1938, they released a statement that they were separating on the friendliest of terms. When Joan filed the divorce suit in February 1939, the New York Times reported that although Franchot knew how many hours Joan dedicated to her film career at the studio and at home, he still insisted that she "go out with him socially", "continually objected to her activities....and made unreasonable demands upon her time." This gap between them caused Franchot to be "sullen and angry" and he often went days without talking to Joan. In the end, there were whispers of infidelities on both sides and even physical fights.

They were seen out dining and dancing following their divorce, and eventually went on to wed others (Joan two more times, Franchot three) and have children. Following Joan's divorce from Phillip Terry and Franchot's from Jean Wallace and Barbara Payton, Franchot and Joan were seen in each other's company. In 1950, Joan shared with Modern Screen:

"I still worship Franchot—worship, you understand, not love—for his ability to talk very intelligently about our profession. I've never been able to do that. I can only feel my roles...Franchot would never deliberately use his ability to harm another player."

In the 1950's

In 1954, Joan told May Mann of Screenland:
"Franchot Tone knew I was coming to New York (we always correspond) and he was completely wonderful. He sent flowers and had tickets for me for his play and several other shows. And we talked, and danced, and laughed, and recalled the time when we both studied singing. We were serious about it; we studied opera. Now with the bitterness all gone, I thought to myself, 'If I'd only been more mature, and had had a sense of humor when we were married!' However, one cannot go back—not even wishful thinking could make it so."
Throughout the 1950's and 60's, Franchot was seen at parties in Joan's honor and Joan was spotted at the opening nights of Franchot's plays. When asked about his relationship with Joan in 1964, Franchot remarked:

"[We] have dinner every once in a while and Joan is always stunning. She's very busy with her executive work for Pepsi-Cola and with pictures. She's good at anything she does."
In her autobiography, Joan reflected on their continued friendship after their divorce:

"I have the utmost trust in Franchot and regard for him. It took courage for us both to walk away, courage I didn't know I had. Somewhere I had once read, 'Let your courage be as keen but at the same time as polished as your sword.' We walked away. We retained a mutual respect." 
Their companionship continued while Joan gained new success with Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and Franchot with plays such as Strange Interlude and becoming a series regular on Ben Casey. In early July 1965, Franchot and Joan visited together at his home in Canada. They were photographed at the airport in Quebec and you can view that candid shot at The Concluding Chapter of Crawford website. They remained close until Franchot's death on September 18, 1968.

In August 1967, a little over a year before his death of cancer, Joan received this letter from Franchot in which he apologizes for something unknown (to us) that he did and writes the exceptionally romantic line, "I pray never again to let you for a moment think I do not love and glorify and thank you for all your kindness and thoughtfulnesses (is that a word???)". Here's the letter which is available on The Best of Everything: A Joan Crawford Encyclopedia:

I'm always stunned when I read comments that suggest Franchot used Joan to gain movie roles or Joan browbeat Franchot into being a submissive husband. It's obvious to me in the words and photographs of them which span over thirty years that Franchot and Joan simply enjoyed each other's company and that their relationship was one of understanding and devotion.

This post is a part of Phyllis Loves Classic Movies' Star-Studded Hollywood Couple Blogathon. To read about other famous couples, please visit the roster on the Phyllis Loves Classic Movies blog.

  • The Best of Everything: A Joan Crawford Encyclopedia.
  • Clark, Frances. "Joan Crawford's Other Life." Modern Screen. 1950.
  • The Concluding Chapter of Crawford:
  • Crawford, Joan and Jane Kessner Ardmore. "Courage to Part From Love." The Miami News. August 17, 1962. Page 5A.
  • Crawford, Joan, and Jane Kesner. Ardmore. A Portrait of Joan: The Autobiography of Joan Crawford. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1962. Print.
  • "If You Were Joan." Movie Classic. 1935.
  • "Joan Crawford Asks for Divorce." New York Times. February 11, 1939. p. 18
  • "Joan Crawford Married to Tone: Wedding of Film Stars Friday by Mayor." New York Times. October 14, 1935. p. 19.
  • Kerr, Martha. "What's Wrong with the Man?" Modern Screen. 1935.
  • "Leaves Joan Crawford: Tone Agrees to 'Friendly' Separation in Hollywood." New York Times. July 20, 1938. p. 22.
  • Maddox, Ben. " Joan Unmasks Hollywood for Franchot Tone." Screenland. December 1933. p. 28, 70-72.
  • Maddox, Ben. "The Truth about Tone." Screenland. April 1937. p. 77
  • Mann, May. "I Live an Exciting Life." Screenland. August 1954. p. 42.Morehouse, Ward. "No More Toney Roles for Franchot Tone." The Toledo Blade. May 31, 1964. Page 2.
  • Stars and Letters: Letters from Hollywood's Golden Age:
  • Walker, Danton. "Hollywood on Broadway." Screenland. June 1954. p. 44
  • Wilson, Earl."Joan Crawford Would Try Anew with Franchot Tone." Milwaukee Sentinel. March 18, 1954. Page 21.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Doris Roberts (1925-2016)

Most famous for her role as Marie Barone on Everybody Loves Raymond, Doris Roberts (who passed away on April 17) made her Broadway debut in the Pulitzer Prize winning play The Time of Your Life starring Franchot Tone and Gloria Vanderbilt. Produced by the New York City Theatre Company, the play ran for 15 performances from January 19-30, 1955.

In her autobiography, Roberts recalled that she had just three lines in the play, but, as she put it, they were "mine and mine alone." When William Saroyan tried to cut one of the lines, Roberts begged him to keep it in, and he did.

In 2009, Roberts told Susan King of the LA Times, ""Franchot Tone would drink champagne at the bar every night in the play. I used to watch his ankles swell."



Friday, April 15, 2016

Shabby Chic?

In a photo and caption from an old fan magazine that I've saved (but cannot identify the date at the moment), Franchot remarks, "I buy clothes about every three years, which accounts for the fact that I'm frequently shabby-looking."

I beg to differ, Mr. Tone. You are decidedly and consistently "un-shabby-looking." Readers, I present you Exhibit A (through H)!


Sunday, April 3, 2016

Bette Davis Blogathon: Dangerous (1935)

Source: Motion Picture Daily

In the Good Old Days of Hollywood is hosting a Bette Davis Blogathon and I'm delighted to be contributing this post on the 1935 drama Dangerous starring Bette and Franchot Tone. Bette's performance garnered her first Academy Award for Best Actress.

I've yet to uncover Franchot's thoughts on the making of the film or his costar, but Bette talked about Franchot in her book, This 'n That:
"When I was filming Dangerous in 1935, I had a crush on my costar, Franchot Tone. Everything about him reflected his elegance, from his name to his manners. He had a great deal going for him, including Miss Joan Crawford. He was madly in love with her. They met each day for lunch. After lunch, he would return to the set, his face covered with lipstick. He made sure we all knew it was Crawford's lipstick. I was jealous, of course."
Although I have no record of it yet, I imagine that Franchot would've been very proud of this film and enjoyed the experience of working with the dedicated and immensely talented actress.
Source: Silver Screen
In the film, Bette Davis plays Joyce Heath, a young alcoholic who was once considered a rare talent on the stage. Distant, demanding, and in debt, Heath's only recent public performances have played out in seedy bars and busy streets. To the public, Heath has become somewhat of a punchline and on stage, her name is all but poison. 

Don Bellows finds Joyce Heath in a bar. Source: eBay

Having been greatly moved by her performances, wealthy architect Don Bellows (Franchot Tone) credits the actress with inspiring him to pursue his own dreams. When he learns of her fall from grace, Bellows is determined to prevent Heath from further self-destruction. Although he is engaged (to Gail, played by Margaret Lindsay), Bellows falls in love with Heath hard and fast. 
Franchot Tone & Bette Davis. Source: eBay

Franchot Tone & Bette Davis. Source: eBay

Franchot may have only had eyes for Joan Crawford offset, but once the director yelled action, he transferred all of that passion and dedication into his relationship with the fictional Joyce Heath. Bette and Franchot's romantic chemistry is through the roof in this film! It is completely undeniable. You can witness the characters' attraction to one another in every glance, word, and movement. Dangerous is an enormously romantic film. Both Bette and Franchot look absolutely flawless in their close-ups and beautiful as a couple, and the way Bette is styled (in hair, makeup, and clothing) remains my favorite of her onscreen looks.

Bette Davis. Source: eBay

Franchot Tone & Bette Davis. Source: eBay

Need more proof of their sex appeal as an onscreen couple? Look at the way they gaze at each other in these scenes!

On Bellows' secluded farm, Heath weans herself off alcohol and expresses a desire to return to the stage. Because of her reputation, no producer will hire the fallen actress. The smitten Bellows (who has ended his engagement) puts up the money himself to produce the play of Heath's dreams. Their romance and Heath's comeback are moving along marvelously and then Bellows asks Heath to marry him. And everything suddenly changes. Secrets are exposed, feelings are both concealed and hurt, and both Bellows and Heath are put to the test. The "Joyce Heath curse" that Bette's character has been warning him about threatens to destroy everything that Don Bellows has attempted to repair.

Bottom line: Watch this movie immediately! If you've already seen it, watch it again. It's brilliant! Full of sacrifice, drama, and passion, Dangerous will completely envelop you and not release you until long after the end credits have rolled. It is that good.

Source: Motion Picture Herald
Source: Film Daily
"One of the most satisfying screen dramas of the past month, and one that is bound to win new admirers for Bette Davis and Franchot Tone...Their relations and what happens to their lives makes highly interesting and intelligent screen fare."-Modern Screen

"A fresh love pattern that sweeps through your heart like a warm summer breeze...Tone and Miss Davis, holding the prize roles, turn in magnificent performances..."-Hollywood Magazine

"Intriguing and unusual romance that carries strong femme appeal...The film rises to a series of dramatic situations handled very capably by Miss Davis and Franchot Tone."-The Film Daily

"What a picture!...Her ability to run the gamut of emotions is remarkable. And Tone gave a very fine performance."-Motion Picture Herald

Last year, I posted a brief summary and many screenshots of Dangerous. You can view those film captures here.
Bette with her Oscar for Dangerous.  Source:
For a celebration of Bette Davis, view the full roster of blog posts in the Bette Davis Blogathon.

Media History Digital Library.

Davis, Bette, and Mickey Herskowitz. This 'n That. New York: Putnam's, 1987.

Friday, April 1, 2016

April News

Set your DVR! TV Listings for April
Love on the Run (1936) starring Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, and Franchot Tone will air on TCM on Wednesday, April 6 @ 03:00 PM (ET).

Phantom Lady (1944) starring Franchot Tone and Ella Raines will air on TCM on Friday, April 8 @ 06:30 PM (ET).

Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) starring Clark Gable, Charles Laughton, and Franchot Tone will air on TCM on Sunday, April 17 @ 08:00 PM (ET).

Bombshell (1933) starring Jean Harlow and Franchot Tone will air on TCM on Friday, April 22 @ 06:15 PM (ET).

The 1955 Four Star Playhouse television presentation of Award (now in the public domain) is available on Jimbo Berkey's terrific public domain site. You can watch it here. The drama stars Franchot Tone and Ida Lupino.

On the Blog
This blog and my Instagram account dedicated to Franchot both have 1 year anniversaries this month. Thank you to everyone who has followed me and my posts! This has been a wonderful outlet for my Franchot research, film summaries, and discoveries. It has given me the opportunity to meet other fans who admire Franchot's work as much as I do and that has been a true delight!

In April, I'm participating in two exciting classic film blogathons. In a few days, I'll be writing about the 1935 Franchot-Bette collaboration Dangerous for the Bette Davis Blogathon hosted by In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Later this month, I'll write about Franchot and Joan Crawford's relationship for the Star-Studded Couple Blogathon hosted by Phyllis Loves Classic Movies.

I didn't get a chance to write about the 1944 film Dark Waters in March, so I'll be posting that in April.