Saturday, March 25, 2017

Franchot & Bette: 2nd Annual Bette Davis Blogathon

Earlier this week, I shared a conversation on Joan that Franchot had with a reporter in 1933. During the conversation, he praised Joan for her talent, warmth, humor, and power. In that way that Joan Crawford and Bette Davis always seem to be connected to one another in print, film, and new television shows, it happens that In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood's Bette Davis Blogathon falls on this week, too. And as much as he adored Joan, Franchot also happened to admire Bette.

Franchot and Bette only made one film together, 1935's Dangerous. I actually wrote about Dangerous in detail for Crystal's Bette Davis Blogathon last year (read here) as well as their almost-second pairing in Old Acquaintance (post here), so I thought I'd focus on their personal relationship this time around.

Source: Modern Screen, 1937.

Dangerous and the Bette-Franchot Attraction

Source: Hollywood Magazine, 1936.

During the filming of Dangerous, Franchot was seriously dating Joan. Bette was immediately smitten with Franchot upon meeting him and said:
When I was filming Dangerous in 1935, I had a crush on my costar, Franchot Tone. Everything about him reflected his elegance, from his name to his manners. He had a great deal going for him, including Miss Joan Crawford. He was madly in love with her. They met each day for lunch. After lunch, he would return to the set, his face covered with lipstick. He made sure we all knew it was Crawford's lipstick. I was jealous, of course.
Harry Joe Brown claimed that he once walked in on Franchot and Bette in a compromising situation in her dressing room and this act is what many cite as the catalyst for a lifelong Davis-Crawford feud. According to legend, she was so worried that Franchot was falling for Bette that Joan quickly started planning to wed him herself. I don't know how valid any of these statements are, but it's not hard at all for me to believe that Franchot would've been attracted and intrigued by Bette, or acted on these feelings. To me, it's probable that he was and did.  But it is hard for me to believe that Joan would've married Franchot purely out of film set jealousy. After all, Franchot was a frequent costar to another high-profile, glamorous, and intriguing actress, Jean Harlow. If Joan's marital decisions had been ruled by jealousy, she would've been wed to Franchot as early as 1933 or 1934.

Source: Screenland Magazine, 1936.
It's clear that Bette fell for Franchot hard and hoped he felt the same way. Actress Joan Blondell recalled:
I was on the lot doing a picture when Bette came to see me, all soft and dewy-eyed, which was not her usual manner, believe me. She was in love, she told me, with her leading man Franchot Tone. I was amused. I thought she was kidding. After all, she was married to that sweet guy, Ham, the musician. And, furthermore, I didn't think she went in for that sort of thing—for soundstage romances. It's not that she was a Holy Mary; she wasn't. Her career always came first. So I kidded with her, saying that we all get crushes on our leading men from time to time and they passed...Bette got very angry with me. She said, 'Joan! I am not a schoolgirl. I don't get crushes. I am in love with Franchot, and I think he's in love with me.' I said something lame, like 'Give it time, honey,' although I was really thinking, 'Boy! If Joan Crawford gets wind of this, there is going to be war.'
Friends Bette and Joan Blondell with Dick Powell and Arthur Farnsworth in 1941. Source: Hollywood Magazine.

I think that it is telling that a 79-year-old Bette devoted a paragraph to Franchot in her 1987 memoir, This n' That. That memoir was a sparse one, so to take the time to address how she felt about him during that brief time leads me to think that her feelings for Franchot were not briefly felt at all, but perhaps still being felt 50 years later.

I have not watched Feud yet, so I'm curious how the writers of that show incorporate the Franchot link between Joan and Bette, if at all. Often Franchot is cited as the reason Joan and Bette feuded, but there's always more to a complex relationship than one moment in time.

At the end of Dangerous, Joan walked away with Franchot and Bette walked away with a famous little man named Oscar at the 1936 Academy Awards. According to reports, at the ceremony Franchot jumped up out of his seat, applauded loudly and beamed with pride at his former leading lady.

For more great posts on Bette Davis, head over to In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood!

  • Considine, Shaun. Bette and Joan: The Divine Feud. New York: Sphere, 1990.602402
  • Davis, Bette, and Mickey Herskowitz. This 'n That. New York: Putnam's, 1987.


  1. So far on Feud they've only mentioned his name but as of episode 3 the filming of Baby Jane is already over so I don't see him being mentioned again.

    I can totally hear Bette getting mad at Blondell lol.

    Makes you wonder if some of these Hollywood relationships like Tone and Davis would have worked out if a third person wasn't in the picture.

  2. Really interesting post! I find the behind the scenes stories so fascinating. I had no idea that the Bette - Joan feud potentially started from a link to Franchot Tone. Thanks for sharing!!

  3. You know, I always wondered what might have happened between Davis and Tone if he hadn't already been seeing Joan Crawford. Ah well.

    Thanks for a great essay on this relationship. You've made me want to watch "Deception" again.

  4. Great post! Franchot is a new "celebrity crush" of mine.

    I would love for you to add it to the Classic Movie Marathon link party that launched last night.

  5. Wonderful post! Love that quote from Blondell. I find the Bette-Franchot relationship really interesting. This is no knock against Tone, who I adore, but I wouldn't think he would be Bette's type. That's nice to hear about his support for her when she won the Oscar.

  6. Your very nice post convinced me to put This 'N That in my to-read list. I have now no doubt that Bette had feelings for Franchot, but I still don't believe this was the beginning of her Feud with Joan.