Monday, June 20, 2016

The Gentle People (1939)

The Gentle People ran for 141 performances from January to May 1939 at the Belasco Theatre. The play, written by Irwin Shaw and directed by Harold Clurman, was a Group Theatre production and Franchot's first play in 6 years. The cast included: Franchot Tone, Sylvia Sidney, Sam Jaffe, Elia Kazan, Karl Malden, and Lee J. Cobb.

The play is about two men who fish in their downtime to escape everyday pressures. On one outing, a gangster named Harold Goff (Franchot Tone) demands protection money from Jonah Goodman (Sam Jaffe) and Philip Anagnos (Roman Bohnen). To save their boat and maintain peace, the fishermen pay him. Soon, through his romance with one of the men's daughters (Sylvia Sidney), Harold discovers that the humble, middle-aged guys have saved quite a bit of their hard-earned money. When a court of law does not protect the men from Harold's threats, they take the matter into their own hands. Jonah and Philip take the scheming gangster out for a boat ride and he never returns.
Franchot Tone and Sylvia Sidney in The Gentle People. Source:

Franchot in The Gentle People. Source: Life, February 6, 1939.

On February 6, 1939, Life magazine reported:
Where The Gentle People lags, it is supported by radiant acting from Franchot Tone, Sylvia Sidney and Sam Jaffe, all returned from Hollywood to Broadway, and from the Group company who have become past masters at U.S. realism.
Postcard promoting The Gentle People from my collection.
The back of the postcard includes a comment and critique section
for the play's audience members to complete.
There was much publicity surrounding Franchot's return to the New York stage, because it coincided with his divorce from Joan Crawford. Reporter Inez Robb was disappointed to find that the "never lovelier" Franchot darted into the Belasco Theatre and successfully dodged all questions about his personal life during the run of the play. Although Ms. Robb speculated that Franchot was completely over Joan, columnist George Ross predicted the Tones would reunite following a performance of The Gentle People, to which Franchot had given Joan tickets.

Franchot, who had been a celebrated young stage actor before he moved to Hollywood, dealt with a lot of putdowns and pondering in the gossip columns of the day. While he was busy rehearsing the play, most of the entertainment columnists were focusing on Franchot's "mighty, mighty purty" face, hinting that he'd been a failure at M-G-M, and questioning whether he could make it as an actor without Joan Crawford at his side. Once the play began its run, Franchot received rave reviews and the play was a major success. From 1939 on, Franchot would steadily perform in both films and plays.
Sylvia Sidney and Franchot Tone. Source:
Robb, Inez. "Valet Helps Franchot Tone Evade Persistent Press, Public." The Deseret News. February 14, 1939.
Ross, George. "Rumor Rumbles." The Pittsburgh Press. January 19, 1939.
"The Gentle People." Internet Broadway Database.
"The Gentle People." Playbill.

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