Monday, August 7, 2017

TCM Celebrates Franchot Tone on August 8th!

TCM is featuring Franchot during their Summer of the Stars schedule! Tuesday, August 8th (tomorrow!) will be all Franchot, all day. Can you think of anything better? Although sadly I don't have TCM at the moment (I cut cable earlier this year to save a bit of money and promptly spent all that money on Franchot memorabilia), I am still out-of-this-world grateful that they are giving Franchot the recognition he deserves, introducing his films to new and old fans alike, and including some fantastic rarities in the line-up.

Obviously, if you have a DVR or are at home, watch them all! It's an uncommon treat to have Franchot playing on television an entire day. But if you must be choosy with which ones you watch, I thought a guide from one Franchot fan to another might be useful. Below you'll see the times (all Eastern times) each film is playing, plus a little info about each film and the links to summaries and posts I've posted in the last 2 years (links may contain movie spoilers.).

Due to DVD availability and infrequent television showings (which I note below), there are several that you absolutely don't want to miss.

Today We Live
6:00 a.m.: Today We Live (1933)
Watch it want to see one of Franchot's earliest films and his first pairing with future wife Joan Crawford. This is a romantic drama set in World War I. However, don't expect to see Franchot and Joan's first onscreen kiss—they're brother and sister in this picture!
On DVD? Yes, thanks to Warner Archive.


8:00 a.m.: Dangerous (1935)
Watch it're looking for romantic drama (and Bette Davis' character certainly brings the drama!) with palpable onscreen chemistry between its stars. Bette won an Academy Award for her performance in this film and it's one I find myself watching over and over. I've written about this film twice before: my summary with screencaps can be found here and my entry on Dangerous (with gifs!) for the Bette Davis blogathon can be found here.
On DVD? Yes, thanks to Warner Archive.

Exclusive Story

9:30 a.m.: Exclusive Story (1936)
Watch it like seeing good guys (in this film, newspapermen and an attorney) battle the bad guys (racketeers) to protect their community. Exclusive Story may be the weakest film in the lineup, but it's still a worthwhile watch. It's a film that I quite enjoy. I've written a summary with screencaps on this blog: my post is here
On DVD? Yes, thanks to Warner Archive.

Fast and Furious

10:45 a.m.: Fast and Furious (1939)
Watch it want to laugh your face off! Franchot and Ann Sothern are hilarious in this one. It's a little detective story in the vein of The Thin Man series and a lot of fun to watch. It was one of the first films I highlighted on this blog: that full summary is here
On DVD? Yes, again thanks to Warner Archive.

The Wife Takes a Flyer

12:15 p.m.: The Wife Takes a Flyer (1942)
Watch it don't want to miss your chance to see this rarely shown film. This one never plays on television and has not been commercially released on DVD. It is a funny movie set in World War II starring Franchot and Joan Bennett as love interests. It's a bit of a goofy comedy, but you absolutely need to watch it. This one doesn't come around that often and Franchot has some very funny bits in it. A couple of his scenes make me laugh so hard I have to rewind them to watch again.
On DVD? This one has not been commercially released on DVD. Take advantage of this opportunity to watch it on tv if you can!
Uncle Vanya

1:45 p.m.: Uncle Vanya (1958)
Watch it want to see the closest thing to Franchot performing on stage as you can. This is one of my favorite Franchot performances. Uncle Vanya was a labor of love for Franchot. He produced it and distributed it with his own money and spent sleepless days and nights filming the film version while at the same time starring in the theater production. This is Franchot the actor. This is a production he was proud of. This is a must see. I have written about my love for this film and Franchot's performance in it before: that post is here.
On DVD? Yes, thanks to VCI Entertainment.
Five Graves to Cairo

3:30 p.m.: Five Graves to Cairo (1943)
Watch it are a Billy Wilder fan who wants to see what Franchot can do with an espionage thriller set in the war. This is a very well-written script and well-produced film. I highly recommend this one for Franchot's performance. It is a top quality film that he was given among a sea of B films in the 1940's.
On DVD? Yes, thanks to TCM.

Mutiny on the Bounty

5:30 p.m.: Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
Watch it want to see the performance that earned Franchot a Best Actor Oscar nomination and an incredible action adventure film. This part truly showcases Franchot's strengths as an actor and it's no wonder his performance was recognized.
On DVD? Yes, thanks to Warner Brothers.
The King Steps Out

8:00 p.m.: The King Steps Out (1936)
Watch it've never seen Franchot with curly hair, ha! I don't consider this the strongest film on the bill, but it's an interesting part for Franchot and he looks wonderful in his royal garb. This is mostly a vehicle for operatic soprano Grace Moore so expect many songs. I wrote about this movie for the Royalty on Film Blogathon. My post is here.
On DVD? No, this one has not been commercially released, so take advantage of this opportunity to see it.
The Unguarded Hour

9:45 p.m.: The Unguarded Hour (1936)
Watch it're into sophisticated dramas with witty dialogue. I love The Unguarded Hour! I've heard from some people that they feel this film is too talky and too dry, but I feel the opposite. I find it mysterious and engrossing and glamorous with a nice twist at the end. Anyone who knows me knows that Franchot and Loretta Young are my favorites and so this film (and Midnight Mary, of course) are treasures to me. I've written about The Unguarded Hour once before: you can read that
On DVD? Yes, thanks to Warner Archive.

Gentlemen Are Born

11:30 p.m.: Gentlemen Are Born (1934)
Watch it want to see Franchot as part of an ensemble cast, each character trying to make the hard transition from optimistic college students to facing the bleak world that presents itself post-graduation. I first saw this on TCM a while back and it is unbelievably undervalued. What a film! This is an absolute must see, in my opinion. I wrote about it last year: that post is here.
On DVD? No, do not miss your chance to see this!
Quality Street

1:00 a.m.: Quality Street (1937)
Watch it enjoy period pieces, understated romances, and Katharine Hepburn. I really like this one. I don't know that it is for everybody, because it can feel a little slow-paced—but I find I enjoy it more and discover new moments that I missed with each viewing. Plus, Franchot is quite handsome here (that's sort of always the case though, isn't it?) I've not written about this one before, but I will be for an upcoming Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn Blogathon this fall.
On DVD? Yes, thanks to Warner Archive.
The Girl from Missouri

2:45 a.m.: The Girl from Missouri (1934)
Watch it enjoy the Tone-Harlow pairings and like to see a wealthy playboy defying his father for a poor girl he loves. This one is my favorite of the Tone-Harlow films and I adore Lionel Barrymore in the part of Franchot's father.
On DVD? Yes, thanks to Warner Archive.
Between Two Women

4:15 a.m.: Between Two Women (1937)
Watch it are a fan of a tried-and-true romance and because it is a unique opportunity to see this film. This is a predicable romantic triangle, but it's also dreamy and passionate and one of my favorite films. Franchot plays an honest, hardworking doctor who is torn between a society glamour girl and an already-married, sweet nurse. I truly love this one and feel it's a must-see.
On DVD? No, watch it! You must!

I hope everyone who is able will enjoy Franchot day! For those of us without access to TCM, it may be a good day to pull out our favorite Franchot DVD in celebration. Again, I'm so happy TCM is highlighting this much deserved actor who never seems to get his due.

If anyone has newly discovered Franchot and this blog, welcome! Hope you check back for more!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Irving Thalberg's Support and Ultimate Surrender of Franchot's Career

Irving Thalberg began his film career immediately following his high school graduation. While still a teen, Thalberg became a secretary for Universal and remained there until 1924, when the promise of a more lucrative salary drew him to Louis B. Mayer and MGM. There, Thalberg helped to turn (some would argue that he alone turned) the studio into the powerhouse it became in the late 1920's through the 1940's. He had a knack for knowing the public's tastes and expertly creating stars out of MGM's players, yet yearned for a studio that created only solid, important films.

Prone to illness since childhood, Thalberg's immune system was as weak as his mind was strong. He was forced to take an extended rest after a heart attack in 1932 and during this time, Mayer demoted him from production supervisor to unit producer. From 1933 to his untimely death in 1936, Thalberg produced some of MGM's most successful films. During this period, the "Boy Wonder"—as he was termed by his colleagues—would fight for Franchot Tone, but would ultimately fail to convince Louis B. Mayer of Tone's worth.

In a letter written in October 1933, Irving writes of his initial push for support of Franchot and his defeat by Mayer:
I made a request of Louis, inasmuch as Franchot Tone was dissatisfied with the treatment he had been receiving and was insisting on abrogating his contract, that I be permitted to take him over for a certain length of time. Since he's been with us, he's been used only in bits and means nothing, and I believed I would be rendering the company a great service in taking over this man, meaning nothing, and making him into a star—which I felt I could do. Louis couldn't see it—and rather than press the matter, I dropped it completely.
In this letter, Irving expresses frustration over MGM executives' "demoralized and uninspired" attitude and their readiness to produce "juvenile, immature" films instead of taking the time to focus on their talent (like Tone) and the scripts represented.

Irving expected Franchot's contract to include an availability clause that would give him first rights to Franchot and other artists he believed in. Despite his calls to MGM's legal department, Irving lost this contract dispute and other producers and studios were able to use Franchot first—further alienating Franchot from the more mature, star-making films Irving may have had in mind.

Thalberg, of course, bought and produced Mutiny on the Bounty, which would be a huge success for MGM and win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Mutiny on the Bounty turned out to be Franchot's most successful film and would earn him esteem in the film community in addition to a Best Actor nomination. Even though Irving lost control over Franchot's image and career, he does deserve credit for helping to land Franchot in this career-defining role. It provided the perfect character in which Franchot could show his unique acting skills to his advantage. (Strangely though, Franchot was not Thalberg's first choice for Byam. It was offered to Franchot after Cary Grant turned it down.) In 1947, Franchot would tell the Saturday Evening Post that he knew Mutiny on the Bounty would be an important film because Irving was "behind the wheel."

1935 should have been a pivotal career year for Franchot. He starred in three films with Oscar nominations in that year alone: Mutiny, Dangerous, and The Lives of a Bengal Lancer. I'm certain that these opportunities made Franchot feel that his career was on the right path and that he'd be offered more substantial parts in the future. However, 1936—the year Irving Thalberg died—only brought more second leads for Franchot. Following his Oscar nomination, MGM placed him right back as a supporting actor in vehicles for Joan Crawford, Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, and Cary Grant. I enjoy his '36 films, but I'm sure they are not what Franchot had in mind for himself following such success the previous year.

I can only wonder what may have become of Franchot's career had Irving Thalberg survived and gained his previous power at MGM. I only wish that Irving had fought harder for Franchot and his rights to him in 1933. Had Irving been able to have his say in the pictures Franchot starred from 1933 on, Franchot's popularity and lasting legacy today may have looked very different. I feel like Irving had a keen eye for an actor's strengths and—had he fought harder against Mayer early on and Franchot fought harder for himself—could've placed Franchot in the right films to build him up as an actor and as a more prominent star.

Franchot and Joan at Irving's funeral. Source:
  • Crowther, Bosley. Hollywood Rajah: The Life and Times of Louis B. Mayer. Dell, 1960. p. 241.
  • "Irving G. Thalberg." TCM.
  • Tone, Franchot. “The Role I Liked Best,” Saturday Evening Post, June 7, 1947, p. 132
  • Viera, Mark. Irving Thalberg: Boy Wonder to Producer Prince. University of California Press. 2010. p. 182-183.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Candid Apology

To any faithful readers out there in the world, I apologize that this blog has not been regularly updated this summer. Due to personal/professional scheduling reasons, I did not have the time I so desperately wanted to research Mr. Tone in June and July. Now that August is around the corner, I should be able to return to my previous habit of posting at least once per week and after quite a hiatus, have already signed up to participate in a blogathon (always a fun way to discover classic film enthusiasts and their blogs) this September.

I'm currently working on a post for later this week, but wanted to go ahead and share something today. Enjoy this assortment of clipping candids and check back this weekend for a real post!

Franchot with the Stooges

Backstage on the set of The Gentle People

With Joan

Franchot and Deanna on the set of Nice Girl

Franchot dining with Virginia Bruce
Franchot with Jean Wallace

With Martha Raye

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Franchot: A Wealthy, but Sensitive Comrade

Three Comrades. Source:
Sonia Lee, in a July 1938 piece on the stars of Three Comrades for Hollywood Magazine, was impressed at how well Franchot Tone, Robert Taylor, and Robert Young created "the illusion of being products of the same world, the same thought, and the same troubled times" when they all had come from such different backgrounds and represented such different types in Hollywood. These distinct types Lee described as follows:

Franchot—the idealist, the man with the philosophical turn of mind; the cultured product of New England, whose reserve and balance has not been lessened by fame and fortune.
Robert Taylor—the Horatio Alger hero, if there ever was one. A youngster who achieved world adulation overnight, became king of a million feminine hearts, but still retained the liking and respect of the men who know him.
Robert Young—the enthusiastic lad to whom fame came slowly; who worked for what he has achieved over a period of years, who is similar in many respects to ambitious men his age in every walk of life.
If you have not yet watched Three Comrades, you must find it. I agree with Lee when she writes that Tone, Taylor, and Young play their scenes with "tenderness and integrity. They make the story unfold vividly and brilliantly. They make of friendship a tangible thing." I enjoy Franchot's films so much that I don't know that I will ever be able to definitively state which one contains his best performance. I find that I toss up Lives of a Bengal Lancer, Uncle Vanya, Mutiny on the Bounty, Man on the Eiffel Tower, The Bride Wore Red, Advise and Consent, Gentlemen are Born, The Stranger's Return, and Three Comrades as the many contenders for Franchot's best performance as an actor. Each time I watch Three Comrades, I find myself ready to announce it as THE finest performance of his career. The part of the sensitive mechanic who feels a brotherly need to take care of those around him is the perfect role to highlight Franchot's strengths as an actor. I wrote a film summary with screen captures back in 2015 which you can find here.

Franchot in a rare color portrait. Scanned from my collection.

In her examination of the film's male stars, Lee shares this personality sketch of Franchot:
By the very nature of his character, Hollywood knows Franchot least of these three. He is sensitive and intuitive. He is not one of those hale and hearty individuals who slaps a person on the back on short acquaintance, tells the story of his life, or reveals his cherished thoughts at the drop of a hat. As a matter of fact, his sole complaint about the business of being an actor is that the private affairs of a player become the property of the world at large. The one thing which made his courtship of Joan Crawford less than ideal was the minute report of its progress in the public press.
His circle of intimates is small. Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck are frequently on the guest list of those attending the charming dinners given by Mr. and Mrs. Franchot Tone, when they entertain a famous musician, a world-renowned savant, or others who have distinction outside the Hollywood world.With the exception of the reception Joan and Franchot gave for Leopold Stokowski, they have never entertained on  a large scale. That is in keeping with the graceful, gracious background of Franchot's. Son of an important figure in America's business world, his childhood was serene, his education comprehensive.
He attended private schools here and abroad. He had tutors during the time when family travels made school attendance impossible. He is a graduate of Cornell University. He has been awarded the Phi Beta Kappa key—the mark of scholastic excellence. Franchot Tone is serious and studious—with deep, untapped wells of reserve. He makes friendships slowly, but once his allegiance is given, it is lasting and loyal.
Few know him, for he is not an easy person to know well. But his brilliant mind, his deep understanding of human nature, his fine artistry as an actor have achieved for him a deep respect in Hollywood, which is unmixed by envy or resentment. His interests are wide. Books, the progress of the theatre, music, new trends in thoughts and world events, engage his attention. He takes his life and his work seriously, but not himself.
Lee's assessment of Franchot rehashes the same "wealthy son with an impressive education and cultured background" story that we read time and time again, and it's true, of course. But I love the description of his personality as being sensitive and guarded and how he accrued respect among his peers in Hollywood. These are facts about Franchot that many of his colleagues have shared about him as well. My favorite part of the article is that last sentence, "He takes his life and his work seriously, but not himself." What a perfect way to describe Franchot's attitude in 11 words! In my research, I've seen evidence of this many times. Franchot cared about his career (even if his career choices did seem inconsistent to others and at times, even to me) but seemed to remain this down-to-earth guy who never boasted about his talents—he actually comes across as quite self-deprecating in interviews—and had strong beliefs about human rights and political matters and stuck to his convictions, and who—apart from his out-of-character publicity whirlwind with Barbara Payton—maintained his private life, a life he lived and enjoyed to the fullest.

Lee, Sonia."Three Comrades—On the Screen and Off." Hollywood. July 1938.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Hope for the Best (1945)

Hope for the Best ran for 117 performances between February 7, 1945 and May 19, 1945. Produced by Jean Dalrymple and Marc Connelly, the play was first housed at the Fulton Theatre and then in late April, moved to the Royal Theatre. Writer William McCleery's plot revolved around a newspaper writer who is dissatisfied with only covering gossip and is encouraged by a young woman to pursue more groundbreaking territory. Although his fiancée prefers him not to "rock the boat," the main character attempts to investigate and report on American politics.

Franchot Tone starred as the writer and was supported by a cast of Leo Bulgakov, Jane Wyatt, Jack Hartley, Doro Merande, Joan Wetmore, and Paul Potter.

Hope for the Best. Source: scan from my collection.

Theatre Arts Monthly reviewed the play in April 1945. Rosamond Gilder wrote:
In Franchot Tone, the producers, Jean Dalrymple and Marc Connelly—and Mr. Connelly as director— have found a convincing as well as a winning interpreter of the leading role. Mr Tone, last seen as a ‘round actor’ in Ernest Hemingway’s The Fifth Column, proves that he is still a skillful craftsman in the theatre in spite of his protracted dallying with the screen. He has balance and proportion in his acting, precise timing, a nice sense of humor. One of the hilarious moments in the play is the scene in which the columnist, about to launch forth on the new type of writing he is so eager to undertake, bogs down under the subtle discouragements administered by his dark angel. Mr. Tone sits alone on the stage in front of his typewriter; absorbed, intent, concentrated. His fingers dash over the keys, the little bell rings a cheerful note, he slams the carrier back with a masterful flip. Then doubt creeps into his mind. He stops, re-reads the paragraph, types on, tears the sheet out of the machine, puts a new one in, starts again. The tapping goes more and more slowly, becomes uneven, hesitant. The jubilant song of the keys has turned into a disheartened pecking; Mr. Tone’s very spine wilts, his hair stands on end, his face seems drained of vitality. The curtain goes down on a dogged pounding of keys that presages no good.
The New York Times was not as glowing in their review of Mr. Tone's performance. In his February 8th review, Lewis Nichols wondered if Franchot was the best actor for the part. Nichols' wrote:
He is easy and likable, of course, and he manages a vague, shy quality which is all right part of the time. several scenes, he is shy to the point of cuteness.
Hope for the Best. Source: scan from my collection.

Hope for the Best: Source: New York Times clipping

Gilder, Rosamond. "Foxhole Critics. Broadway in Review." Theatre Arts. April 1945. 
Internet Broadway Database:
Nichols, Lewis. "The Play." The New York Times. February 8, 1945.
Playbill Vault:

Friday, June 16, 2017

Thousands Cheer vs. Star Spangled Rhythm: The Judy Garland Blogathon

In celebration of Judy Garland’s birthday and Crystal’s blogathon in tribute to her, I am comparing two early 1940’s films, Star Spangled Rhythm and Thousands Cheer. Both films were intended as World War II morale boosters and are packed with celebrities. I had never seen the entirety of either film and watched them back to back last weekend.

Thousands Cheer

Plot: Kathryn Grayson is a young soprano star who gives up her performances with the orchestra to follow her father (John Boles) to his army camp. Wanting to keep their spirits up, Kathryn socializes with all of the young soldiers. She doesn’t understand why her mother (Mary Astor) left her father and is sure she can get them back together if her mother feels Kathryn is in trouble. Eddie March is just the trouble Kathryn needs. Kathryn writes to her mother that she is in love with a soldier, knowing that Mary Astor will come immediately to intervene. Likewise, Eddie March, hating the army and desiring to move to the Air Corps, realizes that romancing the captain’s daughter may get him transferred. Of course, Kathryn and Eddie truly do fall in love in the process and Eddie’s opinion of the army changes.
Main story cast: Kathryn Grayson, Gene Kelly, John Boles, and Mary Astor
Special appearance cast: Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Red Skelton, Eleanor Powell, Ann Sothern, Lucille Ball, Lena Horne, Frank Morgan, Marsha Hunt, Donna Reed, June Allyson, Margaret O’Brien, Virginia O’Brien.
Studio: MGM
Year: 1943
Judy’s scene: Judy is one of the star performances saved for the end of the film. She sings “The Joint is Really Jumpin’ Down at Carnegie Hall” as pianist/conductor Jose Iturbi accompanies her on piano. Judy is absolutely effervescent in her performance. With her hair worn loose and bouncy and dressed in a tan skirt, blouse, and crocheted vest, Judy looks stunning. She starts her performance behind the piano and quickly moves to the front, playing off Iturbi’s reactions as she sings. It’s a fun, light number and Judy completely owns it. You can watch it here:

Star Spangled Rhythm

Plot: Johnny (Eddie Bracken) uses time on leave from the Navy to show off his studio executive father (Victor Moore) to his sailor buddies. Johnny doesn’t realize that his father “Pop”, a former western star, has lied to him and is actually in the lowly position of studio gateman. When Johnny’s girl Polly (Betty Hutton) realizes the predicament, she helps Pop pull off the ruse of being head of the studio. They take over an office and Polly makes sure to distract the sailors with visits to the projection room and various sets. This leads to them watching Mary Martin and Dick Powell sing to one another on the screen and to the lot cameos of Preston Sturges and Cecil B. DeMille, among others. Johnny promises that his father will deliver a star-studded benefit on his base, and Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, friends of Pop’s, make sure the event happens. This camp show is what leads to multiple skits and musical numbers by celebrities.
Main story cast: Eddie Bracken, Betty Hutton, Victor Moore, Walter Abel
Special appearance cast: Cecil B. DeMille, Preston Sturges, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Fred MacMurray, Franchot Tone, Ray Milland, Lynne Overman, Dorothy Lamour, Paulette Goddard, Veronica Lake, Dick Powell, Alan Ladd, Mary Martin, Susan Hayward.
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Year: 1942
Black and White
Franchot’s scene: Franchot teams up with Fred MacMurray, Ray Milland, and Lynne Overman for a comedy skit. In “If Men Played Cards as Women Do," John (Franchot) invites his pals Joe (Ray), Frank (Fred), and Mark (Lynne) over for a card game. Mimicking how they feel women behave, Joe and John try on a hat, Frank bemoans a run in his sock and an aching body from all-day shopping, Joe criticizes the help, and they all inspect Lynne’s new suit (which they deem snug in the hips), and all gossip about Joe’s “mess” of a house. Once the card game starts, Frank distracts himself with grooming while they all get confused about how many cards to deal, what the cards are, and how much money to bet. In the end, a mouse appears and the four men, squealing, jump up into their chairs. It's quite a funny skit and the four actors work well together.

Here's how the two films measure up:

Thousands Cheer
-more vibrant and lively with Technicolor
-strong core cast of Kathryn Grayson, Gene Kelly, Mary Astor, and John Boles with a better standalone story than that of Betty Hutton, Eddie Bracken, and Victor Moore in Star Spangled Rhythm.
-production numbers are more lavish and for a lack of better adjective, M-G-Mish

Star Spangled Rhythm
-With more comedy and slapstick routines including but not limited to those of Bob Hope (the shower scene cracked me up!) and Bing Crosby, Star Spangled Rhythm was just plain funnier than Thousands Cheer. It seemed to take itself less seriously than Thousands Cheer and was more light-hearted about it all. There were some hilarious quips thrown in about studio execs, Veronica Lake’s hairstyle, and the film colony.
-Bob Hope serves as a much better emcee than Mickey Rooney does in Thousands Cheer.

I enjoyed both films and feel they are both excellent examples of the morale boosting G.I. films that were so popular during this era. If you prefer big production numbers, colorful costumes and set design, and big-name musical talent, you’ll want to watch Thousands Cheer. If you’re more into the Hope-Crosby comedies and want to see what well-known dramatic actors can do with playful skits, then Star Spangled Rhythm is for you.

This is an incredibly late post for Crystal's blogathon, but I hope you'll head over to In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood for more great entries on the incomparable Judy Garland.

*Due to a busy professional schedule in June-August, this will be my last participation in blogathons for a few months. I'll still be posting on Mr. Tone regularly here, but am going to take a little break from blogathons until my schedule becomes more manageable. Thanks!*

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Janet Blair on Franchot Tone

In 1948, actress Janet Blair discussed working with Franchot Tone. Blair said:

Yes, when Franchot and I started to work together in I Love Trouble, it was really meeting up with a Dream Prince. I discovered his brilliant mind, his sharp wit. Here is a great talent and frankly, I’m plain irritated that he doesn’t do more with it. After working with him, I’d class him as one of the greatest technicians in our business. He’s so greatly gifted it’s a shame he has a lazy streak. I’d like to see him pitching on many more productions a year than he does, and brother, how we can use his talent in building up theater here—and radio too, and television. But, as I say, the guy’s lazy. He says he wants to enjoy life a little.
Working with Franchot is a great challenge. You have to step it up in all departments. Consequently, you do a better job than you think you are capable of doing. An actress learns something from every person she works with in this business, good and bad. Without qualification I say I learned the most to the good from Franchot. I had such respect for him, a respect he rates for his great knowledge and for the sure instinct he has for imparting it to associates. It was absolutely impossible to read a line badly in a scene with him. There’s a lot of the little boy in him. It’s that and his irresistible crooked grin that captures and holds his feminine fans. So I’m corny? Okay! It’s the way I feel-having been a fan, and after being a coworker.
And there’s his sportsmanship. Once, on a different scene, I wrestled with my lines until it was embarrassing. Franchot dispelled the tension which he knew my fluffs were making for me. How? By deliberately lousing up his own lines. Him—when he could have read perfectly with a mouthful of grapefruits!
Once, I was catching it from the director for failing to come through perfectly on a piece of business he especially wanted. Chivalrous Tone stepped in between the fine line of my determination and hysteria and said softly to our director, “Now, you leave her alone, you big bully-she’s doing okay.” And grinned at both of us.
I Love Trouble and I-love-working-with-Tone are synonymous in my mind. It was hard work, and swell fun, and plenty educational. He stacks up 100 percent with me, and if he decides to take over in the directing department I want to be the first in line flagging down a role in his picture for Janet Blair.

"Franchot's Femmes: Four Women in His Life Tell All, About the Suave and Elegant Mr. Tone." Screenland. July 1948. Vol 52, No.9.Page 42-43, 64-65.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

"He's No Gable!": Musings on Frequent Internet Mumblings

I was thinking of the most frequent comments I read about Franchot online that fall on the unfair, silly, misconstrued, or just plain untrue side. Below are my responses to four phrases that I read time and time again.

Oft-heard phrase: "He's no Gable!"

I'm a member of multiple classic Hollywood groups online. These groups encourage posts about classic film actors, so naturally, I've uploaded photos of Franchot to commemorate his birthday and other special occasions. Every single time I've done this, I receive several negative comments in addition to several positive comments. These negative comments are always "He's no Clark Gable! He doesn't belong here." or something of that nature. There is always some mention of Gable in them. It's so odd and always frustrates me. Clearly, Franchot is not Clark and Clark is not Franchot. They were very different men and very different actors. My celebration of Franchot Tone (who by the way, is incredibly deserving of it) is in no way a remark about Clark Gable one way or the other. Here are the similarities of Franchot and Clark:
1. They both loved Joan Crawford.
2. They costarred in three films and seemed to get along just fine.
3. They both earned Oscar nominations for their portrayals in Mutiny on the Bounty.
4. They both deserve to be included in classic film history and those groups/sites that appreciate them.

There should never be any comments that Franchot was "no Gable" because Franchot never tried to be Gable. Franchot was Franchot and didn't seem to be concerned with the fact that he never attained the movie legend status of Clark. He was busy with his own life and enjoying his own career that included different goals, so all this "no Gable" business irks me. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Hollywood was a big enough town for a Clark Gable and a Franchot Tone. And classic film historians should be big enough to appreciate and celebrate Franchot's own unique acting talents. I feel like fans are so quick to tear down one performer in order to build up another. We all have our favorite film stars, but that doesn't lessen the quality of those that don't make our top 5 list.

Oft-heard phrase: "He looks like a turtle, thumb, [insert other random item here]"

In my search for Franchot stuff online, I come across lots of opinions of him on various blogs and social media accounts. The ones that are always amusing are the physical appearance ones. I've seen people compare his face to a turtle, a thumb, and lots of other things. I think Franchot was a very handsome actor and I don't think I'm alone in that opinion. But I don't believe Franchot always photographed as well as he looked in films. In some publicity photos, he sticks his neck out too far, squints his eyes a little too much, or grins like a schoolboy in what is meant to be a serious pose. My theory is that Franchot wasn't very comfortable having his photograph taken for publicity and that's why sometimes he looks a bit awkward. In multiple interviews, Franchot discussed how uncomfortable he felt with publicity photos and so it's only natural that he might look a little uncomfortable, too.
He looks like he's about to fall asleep here.

Physical attraction is a personal thing so you can't fault someone for having a negative reaction to your favorite actor's face. But, I dare you to take a look at this photo and deny his attractiveness.

How can you deny it? This is a gorgeous creature! :)
Still not convinced? Watch The Bride Wore Red, Gentlemen Are Born, or Between Two Women. There's a beautiful man starring in those three films. Seriously though, my favorite photos of Franchot are usually the screen captures I take while watching his films, because he is so animated.

One of the funniest things about seeing others compare Franchot to a turtle is that Franchot himself thought he looked like a turtle! In Picture Play Magazine in 1935, Franchot said:
The first thing that hits my eye when I see myself on the screen is my big Adam's apple. Can you imagine a surprised-looking turtle with a huge lump in its throat? Well, that's exactly the way I look to myself.
It's okay if you don't think Franchot's attractive. There's something seriously wrong with you, but...Just kidding! Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Let's move on to less amusing, more damaging comments...

Oft-heard phrase: "He's the guy whose faced was smashed in by Tom Neal."

True statement, but does it have to be the only fact we know about and attribute to Franchot? I addressed this in my posts on the Payton affair and Neal fight, but Franchot was so much more than this one incident and he rose above it. The Neal fight was a huge scandal and it has to be included in biographical facts about Tone, but there are so many more accomplishments and interesting facets in his life story. That's all I want to say.

Oft-heard phrase: "He was dying, destitute and alone, until Joan stepped in and took care of him."

This is rehashed over and over in message boards and Crawford groups and in published books, but it is not completely accurate. Joan did care for him when he was ill with cancer. Not because Franchot was desperate and pathetic. But because Franchot obviously wanted Joan around and Joan wanted to be there for him. It was very kind of Joan to care for Franchot, but it was done out of life-long friendship not because Franchot would be on the street without her. In the years leading up to and at the time of his death, Franchot had an active career, busy social life, friends, family and plenty of money. I think it's important to note that Joan was there for Franchot, because it highlights the strength of their bond and the love and tenderness that always existed between them. But in building up a deserving Joan, this comment is damaging to Franchot. Many times I've seen this story get embellished with details (for example, that Joan had to change his adult diapers) that only serve to make Franchot look more pitiful and dependent. So yes, Franchot was dying of lung cancer and yes, Joan was there to care for him, but he was still a thriving man, both personally and professionally. When interviewed for Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye: The Barbara Payton Story, Tone biographer Lisa Burks, who had access to Franchot's family and all of his personal papers, squashed rumors of Franchot's bleak final years. At the time of his death, Franchot left an estate of 500,000 dollars (equal to 3.5 million dollars today) to his sons and left large monetary gifts to employees. Burks said, "Contrary to what has been written in the past, Franchot died in the same comfortable fashion in which he had always lived."

Asher, Jerry. "Franchot Tells on Himself." Picture Play Magazine. 1935.
O'Dowd, John. Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye: The Barbara Payton Story. Bear Manor Media, 2006.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Final Performance (1965)

Franchot starred in Final Performance, episode 14 of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour's third season, in 1965. The episode aired on January 18th and costarred Sharon Farrell and Roger Perry. Although the show doesn't get as much airtime as Franchot's Twilight Zone and Hitchcock Presents episodes, you may still be lucky enough to catch this one on television. (For example, I know that the American broadcast station Me-TV airs Alfred Hitchcock Hour weeknights at 1 a.m. at the moment.)

Cliff (Roger Perry) is a film writer on his way to Hollywood, but is pulled over by a policeman after he is seen speeding through a small town and picking up a teen girl named Rosie (Sharon Farrell). Although Rosie was hitchhiking, she lies and says that Cliff forced her into the car.

Rudy (Franchot Tone) is spinning bowls at the diner when Cliff comes in. This is a small town and Rudy says that no one ever stops at his diner and cabins unless their car breaks down. It’s no time at all before Rudy begins telling the out-of-towner that he was once Rudolph the Great and knew all the big stars. He has even named his cabins after stars and assigns Cliff to the Al Jolson cabin.

Cliff is surprised when Rosie comes out of the backroom to lead him to his cabin. When they are alone, Rosie apologizes for lying to the cop, but said she didn’t want to get into trouble because Rudy “looks after” her. A suspecting Rudy comes looking for Rosie, and from his cabin, Cliff witnesses Rudy possessively grab her wrist and lead her back to the diner.

Concerned, Cliff follows and Rudy is quick to entertain him with vaudeville stories, even showing Cliff his own cabin full of photos of Rudy with bygone celebrities. Franchot fans will notice that the photo of Rudy as a cowboy is a publicity photo for Franchot’s 1940 film Trail of the Vigilantes. The conversation about his past as an entertainer causes Rudy to explain that he arrived in this small town and owned the diner after his traveling fair ended here. Rudy was once married to another performer Maggie, but she has since passed away. Together, they raised Rosie after Rosie’s own parents perished in a fire.

It’s apparent (and quite disturbingly so) that Rudy views Rosie as a replacement for his wife and is grooming her for marriage. Indeed, when Rosie comes into the room, Rudy announces that she’ll be his bride as soon as she’s 18. Understandably, Rosie is uncomfortable around him and tries to squirm out of Rudy’s grip and out of his line of sight at every possible chance. Cliff, too, is visibly uncomfortable around Rudy and disapproving of his interest in Rosie. As the creepy older man eager to make a young girl he raised into a wife and living a life far removed from the present, Franchot turns in a performance that will make your skin crawl. He gets it just right: the desperation to be a star, frustration with the new generation, and utter psychotic obsession with a young woman. As Rudy, Franchot is slimy and pathetic and cruel and pitiful.

In another scene, Rudy asks Cliff if he thinks that a woman who flirts with other men deserves punishment:
Don’t ya think she deserves some kind of punishment?...Opportunity comes at the strangest time so you wait and you wait and you practice and you’re ready for it. You don’t run around like a chicken with its head off just to satisfy some anxious woman. No. You wait. You work in a diner like this even, if necessary, and you get ready for it. And if you can’t wait, and you can’t sit still, and they can’t stop playing around with other men, you don’t deserve what ya got, do ya? Well, do ya?
No, no. No, sir, Mr. Allen, because if you don’t appreciate what ya got, ya don’t deserve any of it. I tried to tell that to Maggie. I tried to tell her…I got my Rosie now. She’s gonna wait. She’s gonna wear this dress…My Rosie’s very pretty, isn’t she?...How pretty?....Pretty enough for you?...And spoken for, too!

If you've not seen much of Franchot's later work, you may be surprised at his appearance. Franchot looks much older than his years here and in most of his 60's work. This difference in appearance (and his voice, for that matter) can be attributed to a combination of heavy smoking, heavy drinking, and his facial reconstruction surgery from the Payton affair. I'm not sure of the exact year that he was diagnosed with lung cancer. I've heard varying accounts, but it may also be that he was already showing the signs of the cancer that would take his life three years later.

Throughout the show, Rudy teases that he has a speciality act that will blow Cliff away. We hear about it throughout the episode, but Rudy always stops short of performing it saying that he wants to practice and get it just right.

Rosie’s dying to get out of town before the marriage. She hates when Rudy touches her. When he tries to kiss her, she runs to Cliff causing more jealousy on Rudy’s part.

Cliff walks in on Rudy and Rosie doing an old-fashioned vaudeville routine in their “theatre”, an empty barn/tent. The policeman is there as their only audience member. After a dance number, Cliff painfully watches them perform an outdated comedy routine. Proud and in his element, Rudy is clearly delusional to think that this form of entertainment will draw in modern audiences.

After the show, Rudy threateningly tells Cliff that he should leave soon and warns him to keep away from Rosie. But in an odd change of heart, Rudy later asks Cliff to stay and write a new routine for him.When Cliff declines the offer, Rudy is enraged and spouts off a hateful speech about the new generation and their lack of appreciation for the old way of doing things. When Cliff returns to his room, a terrified Rosie, living in a world of male dominance and unable to save herself, is there waiting.
Cliff, I’m afraid. I’m afraid every time I’m near him!

Later, when he goes to leave and sees how depressed and miserable Rosie is, Cliff decides to secretly take her away from Rudy. When he returns to pick her up, Cliff is greeted by Rudy alone and Rudy is finally ready to perform his specialty act for him.

The long-awaited performance is eerie and shuddersome, and an ending that will remain with you long after it is finished.