Friday, September 30, 2016

Franchot and Politics: The Nixon Luncheon

With the upcoming U.S. presidential election, I've decided to do a weekly Franchot and Politics series of posts here through election day. There are several politically-themed films in which Franchot starred. Franchot even played the U.S. president in Preminger's Advise & Consent, which I'll be covering for Pop Culture Reverie's Hail to the Chief Blogathon. In addition to the films, I'll be looking at politically-related events of which Franchot played a part.

On Friday, October 21, 1960, Franchot helped Helen Hayes and Jean Dalrymple host a luncheon for Pat Nixon (wife of later president Richard Nixon) in New York City. The luncheon, called the "Celebrity Committee Luncheon" by the press, was held at Tavern-on-the-Green on 67th Street at Central Park West. It was announced that there would be "no solicitations of funds or votes" and that all political parties were welcome. Mrs. Nixon was campaigning for her husband at the time.

Many other celebrities attended the luncheon including: Rosalind Russell, George Murphy, Constance Bennett, Ilka Chase, Katherine Murray, Tina Louise, Al Capp, Anita Colby, Jinx Falkenberg, Jules Alberti. The wives of prominent businessmen also attended and included: Mrs. Nelson Rockefeller, Mrs. Thomas E. Dewey, Mrs. Ogden Reid, Mrs. Preston Davie, Mrs. Bolinger, and Mrs. Gardner Cowles.

Mrs. Nixon, who wore a wine-colored suit and flowered pillbox hat, commented, "When I get home, I'm going to be a mighty famous person when I tell our girls about this party today," and praised the individuals who entertained her "for the courage to come out for the principles and leadership they believe in."

According to Mrs. Nixon's itinerary for the day, Pat arrived at Tavern-on-the-Green at 12:30 p.m. Seated at her table were: Mrs. Preston Davie, Helen Hayes, Jean Dalrymple, Franchot Tone, Constance Bennett, George Murphy, Jules Alberti, Mrs. Nelson Rockefeller, and Mrs. Bohlinger. There was a question and answer session during the lunch and Franchot, along with Helen and Jean, served as a panelist. The luncheon ended at 2:00 p.m. when Pat Nixon returned to the Hotel Waldorf-Astoria.

I know that Franchot donated time and money to liberal causes throughout his life, so I'm not sure that he would have voted for Nixon. I've not found any records of Franchot publicly endorsing Nixon or Kennedy (or any presidential candidate for that matter.) From interviews, it is clear that Franchot was well-versed in and had a family history of politics. I'm sure that the candidate he selected in the ballots was done so after much consideration of the issues at hand.

Pittsburgh Press. October 21, 1960.
Spokesman Review. October 22 1960.
Richard Nixon Presidential Library: Schedule for Friday, October 21, 1960.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Shadow over Elveron (1968)

Despite his battle with lung cancer, Franchot continued to work in 1968. His final performances are in the made-for-television movie Shadow over Elveron and the feature film Nobody Runs Forever. Although he looks older than his years and physically weak (in SOE, he uses a cane and in NRF, he is in a hospital bed), Franchot's performances are still stirring. I wrote about Nobody Runs Forever before. You can read that post here.

In remembrance of the anniversary of his death on September 18, 1968, I wanted to watch a performance of Franchot's that I'd never seen. Happily, I can say that I've managed to view all but 1 of Franchot's films (his first, The Wiser Sex.) Sadly, it is harder to find his television work, so I'm running out of new Franchot viewing experiences. Shadow over Elveron is an engaging movie with great performances all around, but knowing that it was Franchot's last television performance made it an emotional watch for me.
 Dr. Matthew Tregaskis (James Franciscus) moves to the small town of Elveron to be close to his new wife's father and family home. His father-in-law Justin Pettit (a seemingly ageless and handsome Don Ameche) has bought the son-in-law he's never met a medical practice and furnished home. Dr. Tregaskis and his wife Joanne (Shirley Knight) meet young teen Tino (Vic Dana) who helps them unpack equipment in the doctor's office. When Tino is arrested for the murder of a retired doctor, Dr. Tregaskis knows a mistake has been made and feels compelled to defend the boy. When he realizes that Tino is being abused in his cell, Dr. Tregaskis enlists the help of lawyer Barney Conners (Franchot Tone) in his pursuit of justice. By the time they've reached the courthouse, Tino has been hanged (either by his own hand to stop the abuse or murdered by abuser.) The menacing Sheriff Drover (Leslie Nielsen) and Dr. Tregaskis seem startled by the hanging, but it is Franchot's Barney Conners who is the most unsettled by it. Conners screams in panic, "Cut him down! Cut him down!"

Shadow over Elveron
James Franciscus and Franchot Tone

Shadow over Elveron
Leslie Nielsen
Once they are away from the sheriff, Conners and Tregaskis discuss how they will uncover the town's corruption. Franchot gives a very moving speech. He is frustrated with the injustice in the town and furious that an innocent boy is dead. This is a random and rambling observation, but I've noticed that Franchot holds his mouth differently in his performances of the mid-late 1960s. I think this is due to false teeth. If you watch Tone in the 1962 Ben Casey episode, "A Memory of Candy Stripes," you'll notice that his natural teeth look damaged. In years following that performance, Franchot's teeth are all white, smooth, and straight. Anyway, my point is that in this close-up speech (and others like it from this time), you may notice that his mouth seems to move a little differently than it once did.
Shadow over Elveron

Shadow over Elveron
Barney uncovers a bombshell about Sheriff Drover and plans to meet the new doctor to hatch a plan. But Sheriff Drover gets to Barney first and reveals a secret that strips Barney of all his self-confidence and brings him down to his knees.

The screen captures below occur when Barney is excitedly building his case and I see so much of young 1930's Franchot in these expressions.
Shadow over Elveron
Shadow over Elveron

In addition to Don Ameche, Shadow over Elveron includes performances from more of Franchot's contemporaries. Veteran actors Stuart Erwin and James Dunn are both townsmen who are intimidated by Sheriff Drover. It's interesting to watch Leslie Nielsen in the part of the villain, but his performance is so good that it's almost too real to watch. He's completely believable as the powerful, corrupt sheriff and it's hard to see him cut down the sweet, hardworking townspeople.
Although his screen time is brief,  it is good to see Franchot in two entertaining, quality films in 1968. I have so much respect for the fact that he continued to do what he loved right up until the end of his life. I was delighted to find the full-length Shadow over Elveron on Youtube. If you'd like to see Franchot's scene in Nobody Runs Forever, I uploaded that clip some time ago and it can be viewed here.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Dolores Dorn on Franchot Tone

Some time ago, I read Dolores Dorn's short e-book Letters from a Hollywood Starlet. Dolores was Franchot's costar in Uncle Vanya as well as his fourth and final wife. I've wanted to write about Dolores' memories of their marriage and my own reflections on this time in Franchot's life for a while now.
Franchot Tone and Dolores Dorn

First Impressions and First Date
Actress Dolores Dorn first met Franchot Tone when she read for the part of Elena's understudy in Uncle Vanya. Dolores met Franchot and director David Ross for the audition at Franchot's Warwick Hotel penthouse. Dolores was immediately struck by Franchot:
I'd met a lot of sophisticated, attractive men in London and Hollywood but none with the presence and savoir-faire of this man. And did I mention he was handsome with a twinkle in his eye too?...True, he was older, but I'd never met anyone like him in my life. Now I had another reason for wanting the part.
Franchot and David were impressed with Dolores and she won the understudy part. When Signe Hasso left the play, Dolores took over the role of Elena and entered into a relationship with Franchot:
After playing the role a few weeks Franchot asked me to have something to eat after the show. I didn't hesitate. The attraction between us on stage was obvious to everyone. The attraction I felt for him offstage I could barely conceal...Franchot and I went out almost every night after the show. For my birthday, he gave me a beautiful heavy gold bracelet with two dolphins going in the opposite directions supposed to symbolize my astrological sign of Pisces from Van Cleef & Arpels.
Despite Dolores' mother persistently vocalizing her dislike of the 29-year age gap in the relationship, Dolores and Franchot were undeterred by the difference and remained very much in love. It's apparent that Dolores was enchanted by Franchot as she can still recall all of the conversation covered in their first date. In her memoir, Dolores remembers that over a quiet French dinner, Franchot shared much about himself.  He told Dolores of his family history. He was proud that his dad had worked his way up from a teacher's son to the president of a company. Franchot grew up with all the perks of wealth yet revealed that he struggled with his classification in the upper class. He shared the experience of producing The Man on the Eiffel Tower and working with his best friends, Charles Laughton and Burgess Meredith. He agreed with Dolores in her dislike of the studio system and love of the theater and was eager to hear all about her experiences and aspirations. Franchot expressed his goal of owning his own theater where he could produce plays that included real-life issues (reminiscent of his Group Theatre days).

A "Secret" Wedding and Private Marriage

On May 14, 1956, Franchot and Dolores held a private wedding at the Montreal mayor's house and honeymooned at Franchot's Canadian home, which he called a "summer camp." Dolores described it as:
two rustic houses nestled in the woods between two fresh water lakes. The main house had two bedrooms, a kitchen, a dining room, a living room with a large stone fireplace and a large screened-in porch with a view of "Thirty-One Mile Lake." The other house was larger and was used as a guest house. They stood on an acre of woods.
Attending their wedding were Franchot's friends Jean Paul and Libby Dejordins, who celebrated with champagne, before driving Franchot and Dolores to the cabin. There, housekeeper and cook Donalda and her husband John, had a meal and a cozy fire prepared for the newlyweds. (Note: I'll be adding Dolores' description of the cabin and wedding to the post on Franchot's ties to Canada that I did last week.) After a long weekend, the Tones returned to New York and quietly resumed work on Uncle Vanya.

Although their close friends all knew, Franchot and Dolores managed to keep their marriage a secret for 2 more years! It wasn't until someone overheard Dolores answer to the name Mrs. Tone in a restaurant that Franchot and Dolores confirmed their marriage in 1958. Although Dolores doesn't say in her memoir and Franchot never spoke of it, I assume that their marriage was kept secret for two reasons:
1. They were happy in their relationship and didn't need public confirmation of it to remain content.
2. Franchot had such a horrible publicity experience in his very public relationship and brief, tempestuous marriage to Barbara Payton. I imagine he wanted to keep this new relationship and marriage a secret to maintain its authenticity and avoid public scrutiny.

Franchot and Dolores in their library in 1958 following confirmation of their 1956 marriage.

The Undoing Over Uncle Vanya and Franchot's Increasing Unpredictability

Franchot was so proud of Uncle Vanya (a play he had starred in even before he became a film star) and the positive response to its current run that he decided to produce it on film. Dolores and the rest of the cast were excited about the project as well and agreed to shoot the film during the day and perform the play on stage each night. Franchot first encountered difficulty finding an American distributor and later a European one. Certain of the film's success and eager to produce the type of film he'd always hoped to do, Franchot ended up using $250,000 of his own money to ensure the film was completed. (According to, that's the equivalent of a little over 2 million dollars today.) Although the film received good reviews, it did not do well enough commercially to earn Franchot his money back.

Franchot submitted the film to the first San Francisco International Film Festival and even emceed the festival's opening night on December 4, 1957. The film was well-received there, but didn't garner the award for best film or for best actor. Disappointed that his own performance went unnoticed, Franchot was not congratulatory when a surprised but absolutely deserving Dolores was announced the winner of the Best Actress Award. He had been so supportive of her career up until this point, but that night, Dolores writes, a depressed Franchot became "very drunk and verbally abusive."

The film was out of sight from that night until it was released on DVD a few years ago, but the disappointment associated with it lingered with Franchot for some time. It's a shame that the film didn't gain more of a following, because Franchot had put so much time and work and poured so much of himself into it and that is all visible in the final product. Uncle Vanya is one of my favorite films and although I have a hard time naming just one favorite Franchot performance, his portrayal of Astroff may top the list. He's not just playing Astroff. In many ways, Franchot is Astroff. Elena Gonzalvo wrote a fantastic article on the similarities between Astroff and Franchot that you can read here.

Dolores writes:
He became more and more depressed when nothing worked out. He began to drink and became more and more verbally abusive...His drinking behavior was getting me down. I felt badly for him and badly for myself.
In most of my research of Franchot in the 50's and 60's, many of those who knew him mention that he was brilliant, kind, gentle, and had a serious drinking problem. From what I've read, he would start off the day hopeful and charming but by the end of the night, he was full of melancholy and seeking comfort in a bottle of Scotch. It's sad to me that he had an inner pain so great that he felt the need to dull it with alcohol. Certainly, he drank before the 50's (it's hard to recall a film star who didn't), but it really seemed to become noticeable to those around him in the last two decades of his life. For the most part, Franchot was able to control the effects of drinking. Except the visible aging of his face, his heavy drinking was not apparent in the quality performances he turned out night after night on stage and on television. However, his drinking seemed to be the cause of the dissolution of his marriage to Dolores. She writes of a man who was unpredictable. When sober, Franchot was deeply supportive of her career. He advised her of good parts to accept and encouraged her to take lessons with Strasberg. Drunk, he was resentful of her quick success and possibly, her youth. Dolores even heard rumors that Franchot may have asked the Actor's Studio not to pass her audition. This rumor was never proven and Dolores did pass her audition, but Dolores says she always wondered if it was true. In her memoir, Dolores reflects:
At first it seemed like a betrayal to me but then I thought that Franchot didn't seem to want me to work as an actress. Did he want a more traditional marriage? It was beginning to look like that from the call and some subtle and not so subtle message he'd been giving me. Could I do that? I loved him, yes, but could I do that? Should I do that?
Following her miscarriage and peritonitis, a loving Franchot took good care of Dolores in the hospital. Shortly after, Dolores decided that she needed to move on. They separated and divorced in 1959. Dolores did not expect to see much of Franchot after the divorce, but as it turned out, they actually became good friends and remained that way until his death in 1968.

My Reflection

Dolores Dorn's short memoir only covers a brief time in her life and seems to suggest that she plans to write more later. I hope she does as I'd like to learn more about her life and career after Franchot. She comes across as a sweet, determined woman who truly loved Franchot. They had similar career interests and seemed to get along well in the beginning. I wonder if the marriage could've lasted had they not had that 29-year age gap. It seems to me that they were a good match. If Franchot had been younger, was just starting out in the theater like Dolores, had not experienced so many disappointments already, and had not turned to alcohol to cope with those disappointments, I believe Franchot and Dolores may have experienced a long-lasting marriage. I think it's important to note that there was still enough respect between the two of them to warrant a friendship that survived their divorce.

As an admirer of Franchot or any classic film star, it can be difficult when you uncover less-than-great things they did. I wish he had been happy for Dolores when she won Best Actress at the festival. I wish he hadn't let his own disappointments in life negatively affect his relationship with her. But Franchot, like all of us, was human. If you're really interested in a person and want to have a full picture of him, you can't ignore the flaws in his character. You can't deny that these flaws exist and I am frustrated when I see other devoted fans of the classic Hollywood era flat-out deny that their favorite star ever made any mistakes.

For the most part, I've found that Franchot was a thoughtful, hard-working, compassionate man who made others feel special and respected. That's the Franchot the majority of my posts focus on, because those qualities truly made up the majority of who he was. But I can't deny that he drank heavily and that habit affected his actions and in this particular case, his marriage to Dolores Dorn. We are all complicated beings, even my favorite Mr. Tone.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Franchot's Ties to the Gatineau Fish & Game Club

"I love every stick and stone in this wonderful country."

Spurred on by an interesting discussion with Ann on the Finding Franchot Facebook page (thanks, Ann!), I've been researching Franchot's ties to the Gatineau Fish & Game Club in Ottawa for the past few weeks. I have always been intrigued by Franchot's connection to the Canadian wilderness, because the land and activities there seemed to be such an important part of Franchot's life. I love that Franchot had this love of land, solitude, and survival so deeply embedded in him and how greatly it contradicts those journalists and critics who incorrectly peg Franchot as a rich playboy and little else. My research is by no means complete, but I thought you might like to see what I've discovered so far.

The Gatineau Valley Historical Society has published many interesting articles on the Franchot and Tone families in its Up the Gatineau! publication. Archie Pennie and Carol Martin, in their article "A Century of the Gatineau Fish and Game Club," described S.P. Franchot's (Franchot Tone's grandfather) involvement:
On March 5th, 1894, four Quebec businessmen met in Hull, Quebec and decided to form a hunting and fishing club on Pemichangan and Thirty-One Mile Lakes in northern Quebec. They were Alexander Maclaren of Buckingham, and Dr. W. F. Scott, Charles Leduc and J. M. McDougall of Hull. The original membership included four others to make a total of eight charter members: Albert Maclaren of Buckingham, S. P. Franchot of Niagara Falls, N.Y., and John Scott and Joseph Bourque of Hull. On June 27, 1894, a meeting of the stockholders was held and it was agreed that the Club should lease these two lakes from the Quebec Government for a period of ten years at a rate of $500 per annum. Incorporation of the Gatineau Fish and Game Club dates from November 16 of that year.
Pennie and Martin's full article, which goes into detail about the Club and its early days, can be found online here.

Franchot's maternal grandfather S.P. Franchot was an impressive man. The son of a congressman, S.P. would be a civil engineer, businessman, patent holder for his electrolyte process, and senator before his death in 1908.

In various early Hollywood articles, Franchot Tone mentions spending his childhood summers in Canada and in 1937, Franchot's father Frank Jerome Tone purchased additional property (the estate of W.W. Butler) on the club limits.

Newspaper Mentions of Franchot's Involvement
From the Montreal Gazette on July 23, 1940:
When Franchot Tone wants a holiday he picks for real pleasure a fishing trip in Ontario…Mr. Tone arrived at St. Hubert Airport yesterday afternoon, visited Montreal briefly and left by plane for Ottawa at 7 o’clock. In Ottawa he is to meet his father, Frank J. Tone, of Niagara Falls, N.Y., and the two of them will spend two weeks, maybe three, fishing and relaxing with perhaps a little golf on the side…born in Niagara Falls, Mr. Tone knows that part of Ontario just across the border pretty well, having spent his summer holidays from the age of three to 23 around there.
In Ottawa Citizen, May 19, 1960:
As you read this column (Rod and Gun by Vern Bower), Cliff and I will be in the far north of the Eagle Depot country with a group of friends including actor Franchot Tone…and mayor Jean Paul Desjardins of Gracefield. We move north from our Danford Lake headquarters to Kazabazua Creek, then sweep north to the Picante and from there we push on to Cayamant and on into the Eagle…Our headquarters will be in a cedar cabin, sweet-smelling because it was built from the reclaimed timber of a barn. Very unusual, and in a long stretching line, will be the tents in which Franchot Tone and his friends prefer to live while in Canada.
On August 28, 1960, the New York Times reported:
Henrik Ibsen’s rarely staged “When We Dead Awaken” will be rehearsed at a fishing camp in the Canadian wilds…Franchot Tone, who will be starred, along with Viveca Lindfors and Betsy von Furstenberg, has invited the cast to his fishing retreat at a lake near Gracefield, Que., about sixty miles north of Ottawa.
From the Montreal Gazette on June 2, 1966:
MLA Fournier has not been alone in his efforts to develop the county’s full potential as a mecca for Canadian and American tourists. He has had the valued support of veteran Hollywood actor Franchot Tone, who maintains a year-long residence in the Gracefield area.
In the Ottawa Citizen's obituary of Franchot in 1968:
Stage and screen star Franchot Tone, whose second home from early childhood was the Gatineau area, died at his home in New York City Wednesday of lung cancer...Tone sought privacy away from the gossip columns in the Thirty-One Mile Lake area 28 miles south of Maniwaki. His father was one of the first to build a summer home on Thirty-One Mile Lake near Gracefield, Quebec. Eventually the camp on Thirty-One Mile Lake became the Gatineau Fish and Game Club. Tone visited the area annually in the summer and fall to fish and hunt moose. He held a lease on at least a dozen good trout lakes. He sometimes visited Gracefield area in winter to hunt wolves on snow sleds. He was an excellent outdoorsman. When rehearsing a Broadway play, he would frequently invite the cast to Thirty-One Mile Lake for long weekends. He was a lifelong friend of the late Jean Paul Desjardins, mayor of Gracefield for many years. "I love every stick and stone in this wonderful country," he once said. 

Joan Crawford's Visits
It is possible that Franchot first showed Joan the Gatineau area in 1933, but I cannot prove it. When they were dating in November 1933, Franchot and Joan visited New York together. It's possible that Franchot would've taken this holiday to show Joan the Canadian home that he loved, too.

In July 1940, the Ottawa Citizen reported that Franchot was in the Gatineau Valley area on a vacation with his father and that he would be there for several weeks. In August 1940, the Ottawa Citizen included the headline,"Joan Crawford Pays Surprise Visit to Ottawa." The article read:
Recognized by only a few Ottawa people though she passed hundreds on foot and while driving around the Capital during an automobile ride, Joan Crawford, titian haired star of the screen, paid a flying visit to this city yesterday to do some shopping at the end of a four-day visit to the Ottawa district and Gatineau Valley, where she enjoyed what she termed a ‘real Canadian holiday’…Miss Crawford, who came to Canada unaccompanied, spent the greater part of the afternoon in Ottawa and left by train for New York. During her short stay here she was escorted by D. Leo Dolan, director of the Canadian Travel Bureau, and an old personal friend who had met her in Hollywood.
Something tells me that Franchot and Joan vacationed a bit together during this surprise visit. They were divorced at the time, but remained friendly, and Joan would visit the area with Franchot several more times after this. I've no proof, but I feel that there is no way Franchot would've been in the Gatineau Valley in July and August of 1940 and Joan would've been there in August and not been with each other at some point in their trips. I think they were just excellent secret keepers.

On March 26, 1955, the Ottawa Citizen stated about Joan:
As to Canada, she said she ‘adored’ Canada and particularly liked Lake Louise and Banff. She admitted being in Ottawa three years ago but ‘kept it quiet’.
Again, another trip to the region "kept quiet" in about 1952.

In June 1965, Franchot and Joan were photographed at the Jean Lesage International Airport after having vacationed together at Franchot's home in Gracefield. You can view those photos here.

Friends' Remembrances
John Strasberg (son of Lee Strasberg) wrote in his autobiography:
I don’t remember feeling any peace or harmony from the moment we moved back to New York in 1947 until I began spending summers in Canada with Franchot Tone when I was twelve. We hunted and fished, camping in Quebec’s wilderness country. Franchot’s wealthy industrious family owned three houses that sat on the ridge of land between two lakes that were part of the Gatineau Fish and Game Club, near Gracefield, Quebec. We portaged deep into land that he owned, smearing honey under the canoes of poachers so that the bears would destroy them. Franchot became one of my heroes, once I realized that heroes could be human…He exposed me to a world that I loved and felt at home in…Above all, he taught me that work is part of one’s natural respect and love of human life, but it is not a way to ignore it or dominate it.
In his autobiography, actor Burgess Meredith wrote:
There were also some quiet times in Canada at his hunting lodge. Tone had a secret side to him. It was his love of the Canadian woods. He was a fine woodsman.
Franchot's family still owns property and is active in the Gatineau area. Franchot's grandson (also named Franchot Tone) performed at the Gatineau Fish and Game Club in 2013.

  • The Concluding Chapter of Crawford:
  • Hills, Frederick Simon. New York State Men: Biographical Studies and Character Portraits. Vol. 1. 158-159.
  • Ottawa Citizen: November 16, 1933, July 20, 1937, July 23, 1940, August 28, 1940, March 26, 1955, May 19, 1960, June 2, 1966, September 19, 1968.
  • Meredith, Burgess. So Far, so Good: A Memoir. Boston: Little, Brown, 1994. 72-76. Print.
  • Pennie, Archie and Carol Martin. "A Century of the Gatineau Fish and Game Club." Up the Gatineau! Vol. 21:
  • Strasberg, John. Accidentally on Purpose: Reflections on Life, Acting, and the Nine Natural Laws of Creativity. New York: Applause, 1996. Print. 8-9.