Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Winning Mr. Tone: Vintage Magazine Articles

I've transcribed one of my favorite articles on/interviews with Franchot that was conducted by Edmund Douglas for Silver Screen Magazine in May 1935. In it, Franchot discusses his struggles with his public image and film career.

The Winning Mr. Tone
by Edmund Douglas
Silver Screen-May 1935

The whole trouble with most stories about Franchot Tone is that they never give him a chance. He is not an easy person to interview—or to know—and most of the stories about him have unconsciously, I am sure, made him out as pretty dull. He isn't dull. He has a quiet rippling humor, as I discovered to my cost.

Not long ago I visited a set where he was working. In reporting the activities on the set, I wrote "I can never quite figure Franchot out. He always speaks civilly, sometimes even pleasantly—and that is all. You never know whether he likes you or whether he doesn't and the idea of just sitting down for a chat with Franchot would never occur to you. Or, at least, not to me."

A few weeks later, I encountered him at our tailor's. "Hello," he grinned. "Sit down and have a chat!"

I think I was the first writer to meet him on his arrival in Hollywood. A mutual friend took me to his beach home one day. He was a swell fellow then. Today, two and a half years later, he is still a swell fellow.

Conversation revealed that his real love was the theatre. "I've been in a number of plays in New York," he confessed, "but I've never been in a hit. I want to be in a successful stage play."

"Why did you come out here then?" I inquired.

"The money mostly. At any rate, I have a clause in my contract which gives me an option at the end of a year, too. The studio, of course, can let me go at the end of the year if they don't want me. But on the other hand, if I don't like pictures I can let them go. I can't go to work for another studio but I can go back to the stage. I figure in pictures I'll either be a quick flop or a sudden star. A year should be long enough to tell the story."

Today he is neither a quick flop nor a star. And he is still in pictures. "How come?" I asked.

Franchot grinned. "Oh shucks, Ed. When the year was up I didn't want to leave Hollywood. I had friends here."

"Do you feel you're any nearer stardom now?" I persisted.

He smiled ruefully. "Look, what's happened to me: when I first came out here I had about six stories in the motion picture magazines. You did one that I liked. That was done out of friendship. The other five were written because I was a newcomer—as one would write about a newly discovered freak.

Then I met Joan Crawford and immediately there was another cycle of stories—this time about 'Joan and Franchot.' I hated that. I feel flattered, of course, when I see my name linked with hers. Who wouldn't? But I don't think those stories were fair to her—or to me. Joan has worked like the devil to attain the position she has. I think it's a cheap way to gain publicity to try to do it on the strength of a friendship with someone who happens to have a big name. Her fans resent it. As far as I'm concerned, I feel a little ashamed every time I see an interview purporting to be about myself but which is, in reality, about my friendship with her, because I know down in my heart that if it hadn't been for that friendship the story would never have been written."
"Why did you give out those interviews?" I asked bluntly.
"I didn't. At least, when the appointments were arranged nothing was intimated about the writers wanting to talk to me about Joan. The first time or two they asked what I thought of her and I suppose I let my enthusiasm run away with my tongue. I didn't know they intended using that stuff. I hadn't had a great many interviews and up to that time all they had used was chiefly biographical data. but after a couple of those stories broke I got wise and refused to talk about her. If you've noticed, the subsequent stories had darned few quotes in them. They were mostly written about us and consisted chiefly of speculation on the part of the writers.
People have intimated that I'm riding the crest on the strength of my friendship with her and its attendant publicity. That hurts. I don't think Fox borrowed me for the lead in The World Moves On or Warner Brothers for Gentlemen Are Born or Twentieth Century for Moulin Rouge or Paramount for Lives of a Bengal Lancer because I happen to be friendly with her.
I don't want to succeed whether in pictures or in magazines as a freak (which the first cycle of stories made me out to be) or in someone else's reflected limelight (as the second cycle implied.)
This may sound conceited but I don't intend it that way. I'm discussing myself as though I were a barrel of apples I was trying to sell the public. I feel that I have something to offer the screen. If I can ever develop a personality in which I feel thoroughly at ease I believe the public will accept me in it and that I can make it fit almost any part in which they cast me.

So far, I haven't been able to find that personality and I don't believe it is to be found among the rich young men in dress shirts I have so far been required to play."
"Why not?" I demanded. "Don't interesting things ever happen to rich young men in dress shirts and pants? Anyhow, it's the kind of life with which you're most thoroughly acquainted and you're not guessing what you're doing."
"Wait a minute," Franchot protested. "Answering your last remark first, it isn't the only kind of life with which I'm acquainted. I can't remember the time, before I came out here, that I didn't spend the summer months in the woods, hobnobbing with wood-cutters, Indians, and Canadian guides, etc. I know as much about those phases of life as I do about drawing rooms. The biggest personal success I had in New York was as a cowboy in 'Green Grow the Lilacs.' Stage producers never felt that I was the ideal type for the man-about-town.
Now, coming to your first question, 'Don't interesting things happen to rich young men'I suppose they do. But I think in any situation involving a rich young man there is almost certain to be some other character involved in the same situation who is more interesting."
"Suppose the whole play involves only rich people?" I went on obstinately.
"There are only thirty-six dramatic situations," Franchot explained patiently. "It is quite possible that a rich young man might be interesting in one or several of those situations but if characters from some other walk of life were dumped into the same situations I think they would be infinitely more interesting.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not one of those fanatics who is always yelling for a chance to prove his versatility and yapping about being 'typed.' I lay no claims to being versatile. All I want is to find that personality I spoke about and I'll be perfectly contented to go on playing it to the end of the chapter."
"You said you haven't been able to find it so far," I observed. "Have you made any progress in your search for it?"
"I don't know," he admitted. "I've never liked myself in anything I've seen myself do on the screen. That goes without exception, up to the time of "Lives of a Bengal Lancer.' I saw the preview of the picture and, at least, I didn't have to cringe.
There has been a lot of talk and a lot written about my not wanting to do that part. It's true, I didn't. But I had good reasons. Originally it was written for a Ronald Colman type. Then it was changed to fit Henry Wilcoxin. When the studio decided not to have him do it, it was rewritten as a silly-ass Englishman. I'm not a silly-ass Englishman and I said I couldn't play the part that way. One of the executives at Paramount assured me it would be rewritten—but it never was. We changed it on the set as we went along, trying to revamp the dialogue so I could speak the lines as if I meant them.
And let me tell you here and now that I have never worked with a finer director than Henry Hathaway, who did that picture. The picture is finished and released, he is on one lot and I'm on another so it isn't a question of trying to curry favor. I think he is one of the few really fine directors the screen has and he should be among the top few.

But I'm getting pretty far afield. I was supposed to be talking about my publicity—the first cycle and the second cycle of stories. Lately the stories about Joan and me have died down. I hope the subject has been exhausted. I haven't had more than one or two stories in the past six months. I hope when, or rather if, the next cycle starts there will be some interest in me as an actor and a personality."

Franchot's hopes are going to bear fruit. In "Lives of a Bengal Lancer" you see what he can do with a good part when he gets one. And it's plenty. I do not know whether that is the personality he has been seeking—in fact, I doubt it—but it is one that is going to establish him on the screen as a definite entity about whom the public will want to know more, rather than as a newcomer or a satellite.

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