Saturday, December 16, 2017

Franchot Talks to TV Guide, 1966

Franchot Tone as Daniel Freeland in Ben Casey, 1965-66.
Source: my collection.
In late 1965, Franchot granted an interview about joining the cast of Ben Casey and it appeared in the January 1, 1966 edition of TV Guide. It is my favorite of his print interviews, because it really shows that wit he possessed that all of his friends talked about in their recollections of him. I've collected some of Franchot's quotes from the interview as well as some of the interviewer's observations about him in this post. After buying a copy on eBay, I read the article and couldn't help but smile at Franchot's responses and feel emotional about his "best to come" response. Everything he says here is just so quotable! I love his reference to theater as the "feed bag" and his jokingly calling himself a "reasonable prima donna." When I read interviews of Franchot's, I always come away thinking "I really like this guy." And I think you will, too. That's why you're here, right?

On joining a television series in his 60's:
Tone flashes a smile familiar to two generations of moviegoers. "What's the use of having all this talent and not using it?" Tone says, and a network of laugh lines crinkle at the corners of his eyes. "Seriously, no plays came along and few pictures for a man my age except the odd cameo bits. I simply wanted to work."

Franchot's personality:

He has the aura of substance, the tenor of actorish dignity. A variety of books and recordings are stacked neatly in the living room, with the emphasis on Shakespeare and Mozart. "A man is happiest when his tastes are eclectic," Tone says. Only one magazine is in view, a copy of Playboy on the coffee table.

When Tone offers suggestions, [costar Vince] Edwards nods agreeably. "Fine, Franchot," Edwards says. "Whatever makes you comfortable." "I'm a very reasonable prima donna," Tone says. Edwards grins.

Both Vince and Franchot have a mutual love of horse racing. Sitting in his dressing room, Tone is usually immersed in a scratch sheet, pencil in hand. When the thoroughbreds are running, Tone and Edwards are at the track, although not together—Tone, the rich man's son, patronizes the $5 window, Edwards the $100 window.

"I'm unlucky in love. I should be lucky at gambling." But he isn't.

Gig Young, who starred with Franchot in "Oh Men! Oh Women!" told TV Guide:
Without being a fool about it, Franchot shared the limelight. He's an unselfish man, and when you say that an actor is unselfish—well, who's ever heard of an unselfish actor?

Another actor who chose to remain anonymous commented:
Tone has so much charm he makes people forget he's as self-centered as anyone in this business. Tone does what is best for Tone.

Franchot's Thoughts on Awards:
They are good for the people who give them and the people who get them and that's what awards are good for. (The interviewer noted Franchot was "properly sardonic" on the subject.)

Franchot's Thoughts on Marriage:
Marriage is very good for the children.

Franchot's Thoughts on Acting:
Everything I know about acting I learned from Lee Strasberg. At the Group, I learned Strasberg's variant on the Stanislavsky System—that's S-y-s-t-e-m, not Method. Method actors lack discipline. System actors are disciplined. I'm a pretty good actor today only because I've always renewed myself at the feedbag—the theater.

His Pride:
I'm proud that I've still got the best to come. I'm proud of "Strange Interlude" and "Uncle Vanya" and "Bicycle Ride to Nevada," which the critics roasted. I'm proud of some of the movies I was in. I'm proud of a half-hour GE Theater on Charles Steinmetz. I'm proud of my Mark Twain on a Playhouse 90. I'm proud of "The Old Cowboy" on The Virginian. And I'm going to be proud of Ben Casey.

Source:
"Who Has Ever Had a Better Time?" TV Guide. January 1, 1966. 12-14.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Bitter Heritage (1958)

Franchot starred as Frank James, the brother of outlaw Jesse James in Bitter Heritage, a 1958 television production featuring a young Elizabeth Montgomery. Airing on August 7, 1958, Bitter Heritage was a 90 minute western drama focused on Jesse James, Jr. coming to terms with his family's notorious legacy. Warning: there are plot spoilers in this summary.

Jesse Jr. (James Drury) has nightmares about his father's death. He has been raised by his uncle Frank James (Franchot Tone), a man who has desperately tried to escape his former life of crime by living far away from the James homestead. Frank hasn't been home in 15 years, but there's good land there and a brood mare sale that lands him back in Kearney. (There's a funny scene in which Jr. asks his uncle if he remembered to bring money. Franchot, as Frank, grabs his belly—he's hidden the money under his shirt—shakes it, and smirks, "That's not belly fat, boy!")

As they ride closer and the town comes into view, Jesse Jr. asks his uncle what he sees. Frank replies:
Ghosts!...Some things you can't forget. People don't letcha...things don't change if people stay the same.
Jesse Jr. thinks that his uncle and grandmother (Eva Le Gallienne) are living in the past and making too big a deal of the events that transpired here before. He's optimistic and naïve and fails to face who his father really was. As Frank says over breakfast with his mother:
We lived those times. We understand them. He don't.




Although fifteen years have passed, Frank's instantly recognized in town. Colonel Brecker sees Frank checking in at the hotel and refuses to shake his hand. The colonel's young and fearless daughter Mary (Elizabeth Montgomery) invites Frank and Jesse Jr. to a party at their house while the colonel complains to the town sheriff about their presence.

Frank is already doubting his decision to come back to Kearney under any circumstances when old gangmates spot him. Luke (Robert Middleton) has been waiting to kill Frank James ever since Frank ran out and Luke narrowly escaped death at a hanging. Now, Luke assumes that Frank is back to step on Luke's toes and start trouble. Luke and his pals bombard Frank's hotel room, punch and threaten him.

Frank wants to leave immediately. He says that he's been tried and acquitted twice cause no witnesses ever came forward, and he doesn't plan on causing a stir now. Jesse Jr. thinks Frank's a coward. Frank responds:
There's a difference between running and stepping outta something you've got no control over.
We learn that when Jesse Jr. was a boy, Frank saved him from being a sideshow attraction. Frank rescued him and gave him a normal life. He doesn't want it ruined now.


Jesse Jr. refuses to leave. He's smitten with Mary and plans to attend her party. Frank becomes drunk at the bar and is telling lively stories. Luke's posse comes in, bully Frank, introduce a mentally ill homeless man who claims he is the real Jesse James, and taunt Frank by singing a song about his brother.

Frank is beaten by the men outside of the bar and his gun is stolen from him on the first night he's carried it in 15 years.



Frank recovers at the James homestead and Grandma criticizes Jesse Jr. for attending the Brecker party and says that Jesse Jr. is denying his birthright.

While Frank and Jesse are at home, masked men calling themselves Frank and Jesse rob the local bank. They kill the banker and leave behind a gun marked with the initials FJ. Mary is in the bank when it happens and swears that it wasn't Frank and Jesse. But the townspeople are eager to persecute the James family and a posse rides out to impose their own justice.


Grandma walks out front with a gun while Frank abandons the house from the backdoor. Jesse Jr. (and some viewers) assume Frank, desperate to escape the past, is running out. In truth, Frank gets on a horse and purposely leads the posse away to protect Grandma and Jesse Jr. As the men chase Frank, Jesse Jr. rides to the sheriff and asserts himself. With a loaded gun, Jesse Jr. threatens to shoot if he is not heard. The mentally ill man who believes he is the original Jesse James tells Jesse Jr. that the bank robbers are in a cave. The posse (with Frank) and Jesse Jr. ride to the cave to discover Luke and his gang hiding inside with the stolen money. Finally, Frank and Jesse Jr. are vindicated and welcomed back to their home.

 
Bitter Heritage is an engrossing tale of embracing the future while never forgetting the past. The telefilm is full of accomplished actors providing meaningful performances. Franchot is touching as the ex-outlaw eager to live a regular life away from scandal. Franchot starred in a handful of western roles in television and he seems right at home in that genre. It's a wonder that Franchot never starred in a western film after the 1940 western-comedy Trail of the Vigilantes. He was able to easily embody the good guy, bad guy, and especially, the man in-between in his western characters.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The 3rd Annual Franchot Tone Holiday Gift Guide is Here!

Each year I choose a selection of Franchot-related items that will make great gifts for you or that special Franchot fan in your life. This year I have six suggestions, but please make sure to check out other great Franchot goodies that made it onto my previous holiday gift guides: 2015 and 2016.

Stage Mother DVD
This 1933 drama was just recently released on DVD by Warner Archive and is on my own wishlist this year. Although his character arrives late in the film and his part is not large, Franchot gives a great performance and is pivotal to the plot. Stage Mother is a gripping precode about a young woman (Maureen O'Sullivan) who wants to live an ordinary life  and escape the ill effects of her domineering mother (Alice Brady).

Find it at WBShop

Wall Art of Joan and Franchot in Dancing Lady
Art.com offers this shot of Franchot and Joan in a steamy moment in Dancing Lady. It comes in multiple sizes, frames, and mounts. I like this shot a lot, because they both look gorgeous and it's my favorite scene of theirs in that film.

Find it at Art.com

Wall Art of Franchot
Art.com also offers this square portrait of Franchot in multiple sizes and styles. When I buy FT photos, I usually stick to original 8x10s. But this particular shot from a favorite series of mine never pops up in original form and the thought of sizing it to my liking is very appealing.

Find it at Art.com

Nice Girl? DVD
I've been watching an old recorded copy of Nice Girl? forever. I noticed that Amazon now has Nice Girl? released on DVD through the Universal Vault Series.  I'm not sure how long it's been available, but I know it wasn't there a year or so ago. It's a fun comedy starring Deanna Durbin, Robert Stack, and Franchot Tone. I'm hoping Universal will release my favorite Durbin-Tone collaboration His Butler's Sister now!

Find it at Amazon

Franchot Tone-related Sheet Music
I've featured "Did I Remember" from Suzy on the Gift Guide image, but there are many pieces of sheet music available that are tie-ins to Franchot's work. Play them on the piano or, since they usually have nice photographic covers, frame them! Here are some that are on eBay right now:
"Learn How to Lose" from The King Steps Out
"Love at Last" from Nice Girl?
"When You're in Love" from The Girl Downstairs
"Stars In My Eyes" from The King Steps Out
"When You're Away" from His Butler's Sister
"Madly in Love" from The King Steps Out
"A Love Song of Long Ago" from They Gave Him a Gun

Find it on eBay

Five Graves to Cairo DVD
Franchot Tone starring in a Billy Wilder spy drama along with Anne Baxter and Erich von Stroheim? Yes, please! This 1943 film is a great addition to any DVD collection, whether the owner is a Franchot fan or not.

Find it at TCMShop

I wish you all a very happy holiday season!

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with or sponsored by any of the companies mentioned above (or anyone for that matter.) I also do not own the prints featured from art.com so I cannot attest to their quality first-hand.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Photos Galore

I have not been able to maintain this blog these last few months in the way that I desire. I apologize to any faithful readers for that. It has been a season of illness for me and so I haven't been able to dedicate myself to new Tone research in the way that I typically do. I have posts on some television episodes (like Bitter Heritage and Ticket to Tahiti) planned as well as more fun stuff from Theatre Arts Monthly. I'd also like to write about more of Franchot's early film work, as I've dedicated a lot of time to his post-1950's career lately. Anyway, I'll shake off these germs and get back to regular posting, hopefully next week. In the meantime, here are some wonderful Franchot photos either currently available or recently sold on eBay.

Three Comrades, 1938
They Gave Him a Gun, 1937


Midnight Mary, 1933

Moulin Rouge, 1934


Franchot, Joan, and Walter P. Chrysler, Jr.


The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, 1935


The Gorgeous Hussy, 1936
True to Life, 1943

Straight is the Way, 1934
 
Every Girl Should Be Married, 1948
See you soon!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Witchcraft: The Doll in Brambles

Happy Halloween! Or, if you don't celebrate, happy Tuesday! I have something I hope you will consider a special treat today. I added Franchot's opening and closing segments of Witchcraft to Youtube.

Witchcraft was intended to be a weekly anthology show, much like Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, with a horror and witchcraft theme. Franchot was to host this series, but the pilot episode "The Doll in Brambles" never aired and so this unique television opportunity never came to pass. I've seen the dates 1958 and 1961 attached to this pilot, but, to me, Franchot looks much younger here than he did in those years. I feel like there is no way this was shot in 1961, because this is a 1950-1955ish looking Franchot here. It's possible it was 1958, but even that seems a little too late, compared to photos of Franchot in that year.

Franchot is a perfect fit as host of this series and it's too bad this did not become a regular hosting gig for him. He has the elegance, intelligence, and perfect, shall we say, tone to be a trusted host that you return to each week for another night of entertainment. The actual story (which Franchot does not act in) is about a grandmother witch who tortures her granddaughter and has threatened to curse the granddaughter's fiancée should they proceed with a wedding. Although the main story is not quite on par with a Twilight Zone story, it is still entertaining and matches a lot of the anthology shows of the time.

Without further hesitation, here's a clip of Franchot hosting Witchcraft. Enjoy! If anyone has more concrete details about this anthology, the actual date, why it didn't air, or any information at all, I'd love to know more.




Thursday, October 12, 2017

Franchot Talks of Uncle Vanya

In October 1957, Franchot talked to drama editor and critic Lewis Funke for Theatre Arts Monthly. Franchot explained, in detail, his reasons for filming, producing, and co-directing a version of Uncle Vanya. The play was earning phenomenal reviews and Franchot felt it was worthwhile to capture the production for eternity. I've written about the film before (here) and it is top-notch. Franchot is completely wonderful in the role. In light of his costar and fourth wife Dolores Dorn-Heft's comments about Franchot's ultimate disappointment and deterioration over the film's reception (here), the transcribed interview in which Franchot is very hopeful and eager may leave you with a tinge of heartache for him. When it was released, the film received rave reviews from critics, but failed to be a commercial success. It cost Franchot a lot of money and he was saddened that his performance didn't garner any awards or individual acclaim. Although Franchot could see that films were changing and was absolutely correct to see that it was the right time to create an art-house film for intelligent audiences, he failed to foresee that audiences would even more heavily embrace a film like Uncle Vanya as time went on. He was ahead of his time in a lot of ways. Uncle Vanya is now on DVD and is praised for its nuanced performances. I think Franchot would be pleased and proud that Uncle Vanya is now out in the world in the hands of those who appreciate it.



Here's what Franchot had to say about this endeavor in 1957:

You might say that I was driven by a wish to immortalize our production. I don't know exactly when the wish was born, but I do know that once it was, I could not put it away. I kept thinking what a shame it would be for the play to end just because it had run its course on Fourth Street. It was so good, the ensemble playing was so superb, and Stark Young's translation was so beautiful and fresh that I couldn't put the thought out of my mind.
Then suddenly it occurred to me that the play could and ought to be put on film just the way we were doing it on the stage, with some changes, of course, to avoid the danger of its becoming a static thing on the screen. That, you know, is the great pitfall in trying to make an exact copy from the stage.



Up until comparatively recently, of course, the idea of putting a play such as this on film would have been pretty foolhardy. The market potential would not have warranted the financial risk. But there has been tremendous growth of the art-film houses throughout the country which can only be attributed to the maturing artistic taste that is everywhere notable among our people. There was a time when you could count the number of art houses in New York on one hand, and the number throughout the country was equally minute. Although there are no firm figures at present, it is estimated that there are now over four hundred of these little houses across the country catering to that discriminating clientele that is seeking better and more intelligent fare than they can find on their television sets or in their neighborhood movie palaces.
But even with this knowledge, I still was not in a position to take the risk until I had really professional advice. I called upon my old friend Arthur Krim, who used to be the lawyer for the Group Theatre when I belonged to it, and who now is the president of United Artists. He saw the play and assured me that with the proper budget, I might hope to break even and perhaps make a little money. That did it.

We didn't want to have anyone else's mind or anyone else's creativity super imposed on or interfering with the play. We realized that for a motion picture it would be necessary to get more action into the telling of the story than there was on the stage. But we felt that whatever action we wanted we could get from the play itself. By following Chekhov's directions and his writing we could move the action around up a staircase, around a room, in the garden. This we believed would be sufficient to give the film the necessary fluidity.
Yes, there have been a few cuts. But I don't think anyone is going to really mind those decisions. They have been made only where we found that Chekhov was somewhat repetitions. For instance, playwrights have to contend with intermission and when their plays resume they are bound to reiterate exposition points. This repetition has been eliminated because in pictures once you've made a statement you can believe that the audience will not forget it.


It's one of the biggest gambles of my life. But I cannot recall when I received more gratification from an undertaking. This is the first time in America that anyone has put Chekhov on film. Call it a great financial risk, a noble experiment or what you will. But if we've succeeded in duplicating what we had on 4th street, there will be no greater thrill for me. It surely would have been a terrible waste to lose forever George Voskovec's Uncle Vanya, Clarendon Derwent's Serebriakoff, Geraldine Hiken's Telegin, Mary Perry's Marina, Peggy McCay's Sonia and Shirley Gale's Maria Vasilievna. And, although we have lost Signe Hasso's Elena, we have Dolores Dorn-Heft, giving what I think is another beautiful portrait. Who knows? We may wind up among the archive films of the Museum of Modern Art.

Source: Funke, Lewis. "Uncle Vanya." Theatre Arts Monthly. October 1957.

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Time of Your Life (1955 and 1958)

1955 production
Although disappointed that an agreement to play Mister Roberts dissolved after director's Josh Logan's protests (I wrote about that here), Franchot signed on to play Joe in William Saroyan's The Time of Your Life in its place. (In my research of The Time of Your Life, I actually came across a January 3rd notice in Theatre Arts magazine that states that Franchot will headline Mister Roberts through January 16.) When asked if he'd be interested, Franchot's response to Jean Dalrymple was ""Joe! The Time of Your Life! Wonderful! I'd love to do it!" The Time of Your Life resulted in a major success for Franchot.  The play ran as part of New York City Center's season for 15 performances between January 19th and January 30th, 1955.

Franchot in The Time of Your Life, 1955.

William Saroyan wrote on January 16th that the two-week revival of his play
represents the only play by me to be professionally produced on Broadway in more than ten years. I have every hope and very nearly every reason to believe the play will be effectively performed by an excellent cast...
Saroyan's wish for the play to be well-received came true. Brooks Atkinson reviewed Franchot's performance:
The acting is out of the top drawer. As the central character, Mr.Tone plays with a dry detached geniality that establishes the right relationship between the environment and himself, and that admirably avoids sentimentality...It belongs on the stage where it is alive, unique and delightful.
Maurice Zolotow called it a "beautiful play whose lines are filled with a tender and warm feeling for language, whose people are real and moving." Zolotow praised the acting of cast members John Carradine, Wolfe Barzell, Myron McCormick, Fred Kareman, and Paula Lawrence. You'll notice an important name missing from that list. Zolotow confessed:
Every human being has one blind spot, and I confess mine is Franchot Tone, the Joe of this revival. I have seen him in many roles and I know it is irrational to say this, but he has never convinced me he is the person he is playing. 
The play was such a success that Playhouse owner Ben Marden wanted to transfer the City Center production to Broadway once its two weeks were up. Louis Calta also publicly lamented that such a play could not be moved to a longer Broadway engagement. Actors who performed in City Center productions did so because they believed in the mission of the center and to hone their craft. All those involved in City Center productions, including Franchot, generously worked for minimum salaries so that they could keep ticket prices low and the Center's vision pure.

Franchot Tone and Gloria Vanderbilt

During the run of the play, Franchot's romance with heiress Gloria Vanderbilt added extra publicity for the production. Vanderbilt's small role in the play was being highly publicized during the time and she and Franchot engaged in what she termed a "transient" relationship. You can read her thoughts on Franchot here.

During the run of the play, Franchot and Gloria made a special television appearance on The Colgate Comedy Hour on January 23, 1955. I've not seen this appearance but their scene was summarized as "Franchot Tone and Gloria Vanderbilt in "In the French Style." The episode was hosted by Gordon MacRae. Other guests on the show that evening were Paul Winchell, Ronny Graham, Joyce Bryant, the DeMarco Sisters and the Mayo Brothers.

1958 production
Although The Time of Your Life never did a full Broadway run, fans had another opportunity to see Franchot in the role of Joe. Three years after the first production, Jean Dalrymple secured Franchot Tone and actress Susan Strasberg for a weeklong engagement of The Time of Your Life at the Brussels World's Fair in Belgium. Also in this production were Dan Dailey and Ann Sheridan.

The play opened to an audience of 1,150 socially prominent citizens (attendees were listed as commissioners and ambassadors) at the United States Pavilion Theatre on October 8, 1958. Belgian reviewers gave the performance high praise and the cast received eight curtain calls on opening night.

Franchot Tone and Susan Strasberg
This special event led to the play being filmed for television in Britain. The production aired as a presentation of Armchair Theatre on October 19,1958. I'd love to see this. I feel like it would be equivalent to seeing Franchot in the filmed version of Uncle Vanya. Viewing Franchot in his element as Astroff in Uncle Vanya is a serious and emotional experience for me and I think that seeing his performance of Joe would have the same effect. I don't know if a recording even exists of The Time of Your Life, but I hope if there is, it'll be released someday.
Franchot in the Armchair Theatre production, 1958.
British TV Times promoting The Time of Your Life, 1958.

Sources:
http://abcatlarge.co.uk/armchair-theatre/
Atkinson, Brooks. "Time of Your Life: Saroyan in Top Form in an Excellent Revival for the City Center Series." The New York Times. January 30, 1955.
Calta, Louis. "Center Play Eyed as Broadway Item." The New York Times. January 25, 1955.
Funke, Lewis. "News and Gossip of the Rialto." The New York Times. May 11, 1958.
Saroyan, William. "Saroyan on Saroyan: Pulitzer-Prize Playwright Investigates His Record." The New York Times. January 16, 1955.
http://www.televisionheaven.co.uk/at134.htm
"U.S. Play Opens at Fair." The New York Times. October 9, 1955.
Zolotow, Maurice. "The Season On and Off Broadway." Theatre Arts. April 1955.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Jean Dalrymple on Franchot and The Country Girl

In the fall of 1966, Jean Dalrymple had secured Franchot and Jennifer Jones as the leads in an upcoming production of The Country Girl. In addition to The Country Girl, Jean had also planned The Rose Tattoo (starring Maureen Stapleton) and Elizabeth the Queen for the fall season for City Center. Jean recalled:
To have it all go as planned was too much to expect. Just the week before rehearsals for The Country Girl were to start, Franchot went into the hospital for a routine checkup. A day later his doctor called me with tragic news. Franchot would be in the hospital for several weeks. A tumor had been discovered in one of his lungs.
My first impulse was to cancel the play, but Jennifer Jones had already come on from California and Lee Strasberg, although as shaken by the terrible news as I was, said he would personally find a replacement. Then Franchot himself called me from the hospital and said in a voice choked with emotion and tinged with his usual irony, "The show must go on, you know."
Although Franchot sadly missed out on The Country Girl (wouldn't he have been absolutely fantastic in that role?), he would soldier through the treatments and pain, never giving up on his professional projects. Between 1966 and his death in 1968, Franchot continued to appear in television and also did a play and a movie.

Source:
Dalrymple, Jean. From the Last Row. New York: JT White, 1975.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Jean Dalrymple on Franchot and The Time of Your Life

Recently, I wrote about the Theatre Four, which was the theater Franchot and Jean Dalrymple purchased together in 1967. In her memoir of her time spent at the New York City Center, producer Jean Dalrymple talks a lot about Franchot's involvement there from the 1940's to his death in 1968. I learned about several plays Franchot really desired to do, but the productions fell through for one reason or another.

For example, Franchot wanted to do the play Arms and the Man, the George Bernard Shaw comedy that deals with war's futility. That plan disintegrated, because Shaw refused to cut his 15 percent royalty, a cost that the sometimes financially-struggling City Center could not afford.


Franchot Tone and Jose Iturbi kiss Jean Dalrymple.
Another play that Franchot had his heart set on was Mister Roberts. Dalrymple was enthusiastic about Franchot's abilities and benefited from his participation at City Center. First of all, Franchot was considered a big name and would draw an audience. Secondly, Franchot was a dependable and capable actor that she admired but often struggled to find the perfect part for. Third, Franchot and Jean were very good friends and had been since Franchot starred in Dalrymple's Broadway production of Hope for the Best in 1945. Mister Roberts' original producer Leland Hayward approved the Mister Roberts project, provided the set pieces, and the promotional mailers were set to go.

When the announcement appeared in papers, Josh Logan, angry, called and forbid the play to go on. Logan was directing the film version which would be premiering around the same time as Franchot's performance in the play and felt the play's revival would damage the returns on the film. The film would go on to be nominated for Academy Awards (Jack Lemmon won one for his performance) and grossed 8 million, so I don't feel his reasons were justified. There's no way, in my mind, a City Center theater performance would be a spoiler for a big budget film starring Cagney, Powell, Lemmon, and Fonda. Logan wouldn't budge. He refused to approve and said Hayward had no right to give his approval. Dalrymple understood and needed to maintain a good relationship with Logan (he often directed plays for her), so she had to break the news to Franchot:
...how was I to break the news to Franchot, who already was busy studying the part? He was the first one I ran to and after his first outburst of anger and disappointment,  good friend that he was, Franchot agreed to do some other play—if I could come up with one he liked.
Franchot Tone and friend Jean Dalrymple on the Maid of the Mist,
in Franchot's hometown Niagara Falls.
Dalrymple relates that she pored over play anthology over play anthology in her personal library, but couldn't find a project that she felt was suitable for Franchot. In the middle of the night, an exhausted and discouraged Dalrymple threw a book down onto her bed and it opened to a page and the lines jumped out at her:
Joe: Out of the twenty-four hours at least twenty-three and a half—my God, I don't know why—are dull, dead, boring, empty and murderous.
It was a middle of the night hallucination, but I heard Franchot say those words. Whoever Joe was, it had to be a part for Franchot.  It was Joe in Saroyan's the Time of Your Life...in that moment I knew it was for him and could hardly wait for morning to come, Franchot to wake up, and the good news to reach him.
I was right. No sooner had I said to him,"How would you like to play a man sitting in a bar, drinking champagne, philosophizing and trying to set other people's lives to rights?" than he exclaimed, "Joe! The Time of Your Life! Wonderful! I'd love to do it!"
I enjoyed this backstory of how The Time of Your Life came to be and I'm glad that it turned out to be such a perfect fit for Franchot. It was a great success and over the next week, I will be writing in more detail about its production, both on the stage and on television. There's another, sadder story that Jean tells of her time with Franchot that I'll also share in short time.

In the meantime, you can learn more about Jean Dalrymple by reading her obituary here or brush up on your knowledge of City Center here and here.

Sources:
Dalrymple, Jean. From the Last Row. New York: JT White, 1975.
City Center's All-Star Winter Play Festival theater program. 1955.
 

Friday, September 15, 2017

Reflecting on Franchot this September

Franchot in the 1930's. Source: my collection.

September 18th marks the 49th anniversary of Franchot's passing from lung cancer. Though our lifetimes didn't coincide, Franchot, for a handful of years now, has been a major part of mine.

This summer as part of a reading challenge, I read seven film-related biographies—on Dolores del Rio, Lupe Velez, Judy Holliday, Mary Martin, Glenn Ford, Dana Andrews, and Lew Ayres. I enjoyed them all and I found I admired all of the subjects for one aspect or another. The books inspired me to watch more of these actors' works and truly appreciate them in a new light. Recently, I was having a conversation about my readings and pondered the reasons why, despite the accomplishments and intriguing lives of other stars, they do not grab me the way Franchot has. Even if a full biographical book on Franchot was published by someone and I read it, I feel like my hunger for researching him would remain unquenched. I never hit that point of believing my examination of Franchot is complete. I've been actively researching for several years now and I have so many unanswered questions and gaps in his timeline. But I love the hunt! There's no better feeling in this world than to stumble across the one photo or interview you never expected to uncover.

But it's not just the thrill of research that keeps me tethered to Franchot—it's the man himself, of course. I remain fascinated by his life and his work. Like many film fans, I've had phases of intense devotion throughout my life. There was my childhood and pre-teen fascination with Shirley Temple and Doris Day which transformed into a teenage obsession with what I'd term the "Hollywood Big Hitters": Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Audrey Hepburn, and Natalie Wood. My college years were spent delving into books on Greta Garbo and Ava Gardner and Rita Hayworth. As an adult, the people who've interested me the most are Franchot, Loretta Young, Sylvia Sidney and Warren William. So yes, I've traveled through the experience of researching one star or another, but other than Natalie Wood and Loretta Young—who have remained and I feel always will remain lifelong fixations for me—Franchot is the star that I cannot escape (don't worry, it's a prison of total happiness!) And I've come to the conclusion that there are several reasons as to why:

Screen Quality

In my opinion, he possessed a different screen quality than other male actors of that time. His performances speak to me in a distinctive way that those of his contemporaries fail to do. There's a gentle and steadfast quality in his performances and unmatched sincerity in his delivery of his characters. I believe in every single character he played and find them compelling. This is especially true in films like Gentlemen Are Born, The Bride Wore Red, and Three Comrades. I've never personally identified with the performances of another male actor of that generation until Franchot came into my life.

Polarity in Career Choices

The polarity in his career choices can be astounding. Franchot expressed that he felt most at home on the New York stage and received more critical acclaim and professional respect in that area. In interviews, he said he liked being a working character actor and that he wished to do realistic, gritty plays. Franchot was never quite comfortable with the publicity angle of Hollywood and was rather private. In spite of all this, Franchot left the Group Theatre in order to pursue a very public Hollywood career. In the early interviews, Franchot continued to say he would return to the stage and would form no lasting ties in Hollywood. But the truth is, Hollywood always had his heart. The movie star lifestyle reeled him back to films time and time again, even the lower budget and lower publicized ones.

His Personality
There's a kindness and tenderness in Franchot as a person. You can hear it in the words of his well-articulated interviews and in the reflective memories of those who knew him. Those who knew him seemed to like him and respect him. They enjoyed working with him and commented on how modest Franchot was about his own talent—and they talked of what a natural talent he had. Despite growing up in a successful, wealthy family, Franchot identified with the everyman. He supported causes that protected the people who did not have the fortune or status to protect themselves.

He's a Survivor

Although he was a quiet, private man who enjoyed classical music, reading, and would rather be fishing and hunting in the Canadian woods than anywhere else, a nightlife of beautiful (sometimes notorious) women, scotch, and dancing was also a major pastime in Franchot's life. He's an interesting case to me, because he was an intricate human being with conflicting needs and wants. He didn't want publicity, but he engaged in one of the most highly publicized relationships (i.e. trainwreck) in Hollywood with Barbara Payton.  He could be incredibly self-destructive both personally (with his romantic liasons and heavy drinking) and professionally (accepting roles in B-movies that further typecast him instead of demanding important roles in substantial films.) Yet, he was a survivor. Despite being blacklisted and sometimes ridiculed and often misunderstood, Franchot kept working. He maintained his dignity and elegance through everything. He worked up until his death and he left an abundance of amazingly well-done performances for future generations. And it's his perseverance that, I think, keeps me permanently attached. I admire Franchot for not letting any disappointments tear him down.  There were bumps in the road, but he continued to dedicate himself to his craft. In interviews he did in the 1960's, you never get the sense that Franchot has lost touch. He constantly says that he is so excited for the opportunities he has and that he's continuously working on his performances. Franchot comes across as thrilled to be a character actor on television. I like that. Despite wealth and fame, Franchot never adopted a superiority complex, never threw power in other's faces, and never felt like he was too good to learn and to improve.

He Wouldn't Mind It?

True, Franchot wasn't crazy about publicity and he was modest about himself. But I feel like he would appreciate my dedication. And I sense that older Franchot was more open to publicity than younger Franchot. In a 1966 interview with Janet Roach, Franchot was delighted to talk and said:
I could talk for hours about the tricks, but nobody asks me.
The first time I read that statement, it made me feel incredibly sad and it's stayed with me. More people should've interviewed him, should've asked him to share his thoughts in those later years. He seemed willing and ready to share his tricks of the trade and I regret that no one thought to pursue him on the record. I am happy that this blog does belatedly attempt to finally get Franchot on the record. I am by no means trying to assert that I am the biggest and best Franchot devotee out there, because I've met some wonderful people who share this common interest. But I do enjoy what I'm doing with this blog and how much I've learned about this dynamic man in the process. I like to think Franchot would get a kick out of it.

Franchot in the 1960's. Source: my collection.

In concluding all the reasons why Franchot has captured me, I'd like to share again how actor Christopher Plummer characterized him. It's the description that fits the Franchot I've encountered and includes all of those anomalies in his being that make him such an interesting study:
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...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.
I never lived when he lived, but a day doesn't go by that I'm not "Franchot-ing" whether it's reading about him or watching him. There's an eternal bittersweet feeling that lingers around him. Some dreams were unrealized, but the body of work he left behind is superb. I miss him.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

One New York Night (1935)

One New York Night is a 1935 mystery-comedy directed by Jack Conway and starring Franchot Tone, Una Merkel, Conrad Nagel, Harvey Stephens, Steffi Duna, and Henry Kolker. The film's tagline was "Fun - Romance - Mystery - It's all of these rolled into one merrily exciting entertainment!"

We are introduced to several characters in the lobby of the Hotel Diplomat and a man named Mr. Carlisle appears to be involved with everyone. A couple approaches Mr. Carlisle demanding that he right the wrong he has done them. It appears that Carlisle has backed out of a stock deal and hurt the finances of a former partner. A well-dressed man named Kent works for Carlisle and agrees to meet him in room 309 later that evening. A gorgeous countess is also there to meet with Carlisle, but is desperate that her fiancée not find out. A man wanders around the lobby with his invisible dog looking for his invisible plane. Two men watch the comings and goings of the Hotel Diplomat until they notice the "tip off" that indicates a deal is on. All the while, Phoebe (Una Merkel) witnesses everything while running a very busy hotel switchboard.




Amidst this Grand Hotel-esque bustle, Foxhall Ridgeway (Franchot Tone) arrives. Old Foxy is a Wyoming rancher there for a "room with lots of windows and a shower." When asked his business, Foxhall answers "women." Foxhall is frustrated when Phoebe bumps into him and then blames him for it. Soon though, the rancher and the switchboard operator become fast friends. Foxy tells Phoebe that he came to the hotel in a "very friendly spirit" and that he was there in New York to "corral a girl." In addition to the countess whom he briefly spies in the lobby, Foxy has three good wifely prospects written down in a notepad and asks Phoebe to get them on the phone. Excited, Foxy remarks, "I've been in New York twenty minutes, here I am going right into action. Pretty good, I say!"




Prospect 1 is married. Prospect 2 is expecting a baby. Prospect 3 has disconnected her phone.

Phoebe can nearly hide her contentment. Foxy is oblivious to her attraction to him, because to him, blondes are just "alright," not "dynamic" like brunettes. With a slow cowboy drawl and large eyes that express his incredulity at the chaos of the big city, Franchot plays Foxy perfectly. It's a role that, had it been made in the late 30's, could've ended up a Jimmy Stewart vehicle. But I'm so glad it's Franchot's. He blends the naïve cowboy persona with that of a man who, when faced with a murder in an adjoining room, takes charge of the situation. And that's exactly what happens. Mr. Carlisle's body is discovered and then mysteriously vanishes. When he tries to alert others, Foxhall is either ignored or threatened with silence. His only sidekick in the investigation is Phoebe, who abandons her seat at the switchboard to help Foxy track down the murderer.



Although he is quick in action, old Foxy still can't believe he's gotten mixed up in this mess. In that slow, warm drawl, Foxy protests, "I didn't come to New York to look for bodies and bracelets! I came here to find a girl. And I haven't even had my supper yet." Of course, viewers can see that Foxy is unknowingly telling this to the perfect girl for him, Phoebe. Eager to return to his ranch, he proudly boasts, "Say if all my cows were lined up nose to tail, they'd reach all the way from Columbus Circle to Albany."

Both Franchot and Una's characters are tremendously endearing and you find yourself rooting for them to find the killer and for Foxy to realize that Phoebe is the girl for him. The film is short (just 71 minutes) and there's a chance you'll figure out the murderer before Foxhall, but it is a truly enjoyable little whodunit—more for the fun teaming of Una and Franchot than anything.







One New York Night is not yet available on DVD, but it does play on TCM from time to time and has occasionally popped up on Youtube.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Beyond Desire and a Theater of His Own

Beyond Desire cast. Source: Theatre Arts Monthly/scan from my collection.

Beyond Desire opened at Theatre Four in New York City on October 10, 1967. Unfortunately, the play was not a hit and closed just five days later on October 15th. The play, written by Constance Loux and based on Pierre La Mure's novel, was produced and directed by Franchot's friend and frequent collaborator Jean Dalrymple. The cast included Franchot Tone, Betsy von Furstenberg, Richard Sterne, Jay Barney, Mary Bell, Norman Budd, Jo Flores Chase, Richard Kuss, Andrew Plamondon, Jane Marla Robbins, John Scanlan, Ethel Smith, Ben Yaffee, and Jay Velie.

Seemingly plagued with issues from the start, Beyond Desire's opening date had been postponed and it ran for only seven previews and eight performances before closing. The New York Times reported that Franchot would be both narrating and performing a separate role in the play, but from all accounts, it appears that Franchot, with star billing, only performed as the play's on-stage narrator. (I wonder if this was just the part as intended, if Franchot wanted to lend his name to this production, or if his sitting to the side as narrator had something to do with his cancer diagnosis.)

The play was based on the life of composer Felix Mendelssohn. Dan Sullivan, for the New York Times, reviewed the play this way:
"Beyond Desire" might well be titled "Beyond Recognition."...romantic slush, and worse than that, stale romantic slush...the play is a collection of Lines You Thought You'd Heard the Last Of, lines you thought they'd never dare use again.
Regarding Franchot, Sullivan remarked:
Franchot Tone has star billing, but only sits to one side of the stage, trying to tie together the 50 or so scenes with some kind of coherent narration.

The negative reviews and swift run of the play surely were a disappointment to Franchot and director Jean Dalrymple, since Beyond Desire was the first play they chose to produce at Theatre Four. You see Theatre Four had just recently been acquired by Ms. Dalrymple and Franchot, longtime friends and colleagues.

Just two months prior to Beyond Desire's opening, Jean and Franchot partnered to purchase the theater for a price between $200,000-500,000 (that's a minimum of 1 million plus today.) Theatre Four had first been a church, before David Ross transformed the property to include a theater in the 60's. Jean and Franchot planned to produce plays and musicals in their new theater.

Owning a theater had been a lifelong dream for Franchot and this must have been a happy career milestone for him. Dolores Dorn, Franchot's costar in Uncle Vanya and fourth wife, talked about this aspiration in her memoir (my original post on that is here.) On their very first date at a French restaurant in 1956, Franchot confided in Dolores that his dream was to eventually own his own theater. Franchot told her that his vision for his theater was to be a home for plays with real issues and that he was influenced by his time with the original Group Theatre in the early 30's.

Sadly, Franchot would die of lung cancer just a little over a year after acquiring the theater. I have not been able to track down what became of the theater immediately following his death, but I'll assume that it remained in Jean Dalrymple's possession for the time being. At some point, it became known as the Julia Miles Theatre and known as the home to the Women's Project and Productions. Citidex describes the theater as a "small space with under 200 seats is located just north of Manhattan's Theatre District."

Another blow discovered in my search: It looks like Franchot's theater at 424 West 55th has since been demolished to make room for an affordable housing building.  In a 2014 article for Curbed New York, Zoe Rosenberg reported that the lot was formerly the site of a "three-story church with a 3,000 square foot theater" which sold for over 8 million in 2013.

Although the first play "Beyond Desire" wasn't well-received, I can only imagine what might have been had Franchot not passed away at the age of 63 just a year later. I can picture a future Franchot, in his late 60's through his 80's even, stepping into the role of respected director and producer of hard-hitting plays presented in the theater he co-owned with Dalrymple. I envision an aged Tone mentoring young actors and possibly teaching his own acting classes there.

I've been reading Dalrymple's memoirs which are focused solely on her work with City Center and, because of this focus, do not mention Theatre Four. However, there are some nice passages about Franchot at City Center that I'll share soon.

Sources: "'Beyond Desire Closes.'"The New York Times. October 16, 1967. pg. 56.
"Franchot Tone in Dual Role." The New York Times. August 29, 1967. pg. 26.
"Jean Dalrymple Buys a Theater: Franchot Tone is Partner in Off-Broadway Venture." The New York Times. August 3, 1967.
Lortel Archives:
http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/3334
Sullivan, Dan. "Theater: Mendelssohn in a Flat Key." The New York Times. October 11, 1967. pg. 36.
Lasson, Robert and David Eynon. "The Poll's the Thing." The New York Times. October 8, 1967. pg. X1.
Rosenberg, Zoe. "Small Structure to Replace Church on West 55th Street." Curbed New York.
"Theatre Four."
www.citidex.com
"Two Plays Set New Dates." The New York Times. September 25, 1967. pg. 55.