Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Franchot Tone Blogathon is Here!

I am excited to announce that the first Franchot Tone Blogathon is here!

Franchot Tone (1905-1968) was an Oscar-nominated actor who starred in over 60 films, 50 television productions, and 25 plays from 1927 until his death in 1968. This month marks the 2 year anniversary of Finding Franchot, this research blog dedicated to Franchot's personal and professional life. 1 year ago, I also created a fansite in his honor at

Over the next few days, we will get to read different takes on Franchot Tone from a group of talented film bloggers. I am so grateful to everyone who has offered to participate and am looking forward to reading all the posts on my favorite actor!

As topics are posted, I will share here. Check back from April 21 to April 23 for different perspectives and explorations of Franchot's films, television work, and life. Thank you all for celebrating Mr. Tone with me!

Classic Movie Treasures: Her Husband's Affairs (1947)

Critica Retro: Dancing Lady (1933)

Mike's Take on the Movies: Spotlighting Franchot Tone on the Small Screen

Old Hollywood Films: Five Graves to Cairo (1943)

Musings of a Classic Film Addict: Phantom Lady (1943)

Charlene's (Mostly) Classic Movie Reviews: Dangerous (1935)

Finding Franchot: Playing Against Type: Discovering Franchot's Characters

Finding Franchot: Three Loves Has Nancy (1938)

Playing Against Type: Discovering Franchot's Characters

Franchot would once protest that he was not "one of those fanatics who is always yelling for a chance to prove his versatility and yapping about being 'typed.'" The truth is that throughout his career Franchot would yearn for and express a desire to play a more wide variety of characters. And rightly so. Early on, Franchot did get put in the category of the glamorous, wealthy man who is in the film mainly to support the leading lady and to this day, many people associate Franchot solely on this character alone. However, there are many unique characters sans top hat and tails hidden in Franchot's filmography and I want to highlight those films and some of Franchot's comments regarding being typecast today.
"Of course, it's fine for those Park Avenue playboys I've done to death. I dislike that kind of part intensely. I've played so many, people actually think I'm that kind of smug chap. I agree with them, and if I weren't so lazy, I'd have done something about it long ago."
The Stranger's Return. Source: original from my collection.
The Stranger's Return (1933)
Franchot is Guy, a well-respected farmer who has given up a promising academic career to tend to the family land. This pre-code drama stars Lionel Barrymore as Guy’s neighbor and Miriam Hopkins as the stranger who comes to town and shakes up Guy’s life.

The World Moves On (1934)
The World Moves On is glamorous and Franchot is well-dressed, but it’s an epic drama directed by John Ford and with Franchot playing two men of different generations. The lengthy film also stars Madeleine Carroll.

Straight is the Way (1934)
Franchot is Benny, a criminal newly out of prison and ready to live a straight-and-narrow life in his Jewish tenament. May Robson is touching as Benny’s long-suffering mother while Gladys George and Karen Morley rival for his affections. The film is at just 59 minutes long, but left a lasting impression on me.
"If I ever had an image, it was the playboy, the white tie and tails, the elegant fellow with the good tailor. That was my image for the mass movie audience. But not for the theater audience. They saw me as an actor. Now my television image is the character actor. And then they see my old movies on the late show and I'm the rich playboy again."

Gentlemen Are Born. Source: original from my collection.

Gentlemen Are Born (1935)
Gentlemen Are Born is refreshing because it places Franchot in an ensemble cast of talented young actors, including Ross Alexander, Dick Foran, and Charles Starrett. They play four recent college graduates who struggle to come to terms with the grim reality of the Depression-era workforce.

Lives of a Bengal Lancer. Source: original from my collection.

The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935)
Nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award, this adventure film features Franchot, Gary Cooper, and Richard Cromwell as British officers who must defend their base in Bengal. Franchot often cited this as one of his favorite films (the other two were Mutiny on the Bounty and Man on the Eiffel Tower) and was known to privately screen it for his own enjoyment throughout the years.

Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
Franchot was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in this Best Picture winner. As midshipman Byam, Franchot must submit to the tyranny of Captain Bligh (Charles Laughton) and accept tough decisions made by Fletcher Christian (Clark Gable) in this classic sea adventure.

They Gave Him a Gun. Source: original from my collection.
They Gave Him a Gun (1937)
Jimmy (Tone) is fearful of his World War I army duty and relies on the encouragement of soldier Fred (Spencer Tracy). After being heralded for his wartime kills, Jimmy’s personality changes and he faces difficulty returning to civilian life.
"Since I've had my own gray hair and wrinkles, producers have been willing to recognize me as a character actor. There was a long spell in Hollywood where I appeared in nothing but bad romantic comedies. They were 'dress suit roles.' Acting talent didn't matter. The important thing was to have a good tailor. That was in the days before a dissatisfied movie star was free to refuse to work at something he didn't like and take a suspension. Maybe it's just as well because I'd have been under suspension more often than not if I had had any option to exercise. I was a leading man making an outrageous salary. But I was jealous of character actors with three-line bit roles. At least, they enjoyed their work."
Three Comrades (1938)
Three soldiers must cope with a changing Germany following World War I. Franchot plays a sensitive mechanic who looks after Robert Taylor and Robert Young with brotherly affection in the original F. Scott Fitzgerald story.
Trail of the Vigilantes. Source: original from my collection.

Trail of the Vigilantes (1940)
A western comedy costarring Warren William and Broderick Crawford, Trail of the Vigilantes gives Franchot the opportunity to ride a horse and face the bad guys, but in a comical manner.

This Woman is Mine (1941)
An 1800's sea adventure about a timid organizer of a fur expedition (Franchot) who falls for a stowaway (Carol Bruce) and gains courage on the voyage.

Five Graves to Cairo. Source: original from my collection.

Five Graves to Cairo (1943)
In this Billy Wilder-directed war drama, Franchot is the only survivor of a tank battle who finds himself assuming the identity of a German spy.
"Wait a 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."-Franchot in response to a reporter who accused him of playing wealthy playboys because it was all he'd known in his real life.

Pilot No. 5 (1943)
Told in a series of flashbacks as he undergoes a vital war mission, a group of pilots (including Van Johnson and Gene Kelly) reflect on the ups and downs in Franchot’s character’s life.

Phantom Lady (1943)
He may be debonair and suited up, but Franchot also happens to be a murderous psychopath in the 1943 noir with Ella Raines.

The Hour Before the Dawn (1944)
A conscientious objector to the war, Franchot is a pacifist professor who must uncover the truth about his mysterious wife, played by Veronica Lake.

The Man on the Eiffel Tower (1949)
In this color noir that he produced, Franchot plays a murderous loner in post-war Paris. This movie was a labor of love for Franchot and costarred two of his best pals, Burgess Meredith (who also directed) and Charles Laughton.
"Most actors pay too much attention to the size of a role anyway. One good, biting scene is worth more than hours of drivel. Well, I got older, and eventually I reached a point where I looked ridiculous bounding through a bay window with a tennis raquet in my hands. I went into television at a time when the industry was hungry for movie names. I could be demanding. For instance, when one video producer offered me the romantic lead in a murder mystery, I held out for the role of the killer—a marvelous psychopathic character—and got it."
Twilight Zone. Source: original from my collection.
Uncle Vanya (1957)
Franchot and the cast of Uncle Vanya both performed the play on stage and recorded it for film. This independent film was produced by Franchot. As the alcoholic, aging doctor, Tone turns in perhaps his most authentic performance. It's definitely the closest we'll ever get to seeing Franchot perform a live play.

Advise and Consent (1962)
Franchot is the ailing president of the United States in this star-packed drama directed by Otto Preminger.

Television (1950-1968)
In my opinion, if you want to see Franchot at his best, most diverse work, you need to see his many television appearances. Television allowed an older Franchot to play every type of character imaginable and he excelled in this new medium! My top recommendations are the following episodes:
The Silence-Twilight Zone
Impossible Dream-Alfred Hitchcock Presents
The Award-Four Star Playhouse
The Little Foxes-Hallmark Hall of Fame
Along About Late in the Afternoon-The Eleventh Hour
Denver McKee-Bonanza
Old Cowboy-The Virginian
Tell It Like It Is-Run for Your Life

For all the great posts on Franchot Tone, check out the roster of participants in the first Franchot Tone Blogathon!

Three Loves Has Nancy (1938)

My film choice for the Franchot Tone Blogathon is the 1938 comedy Three Loves Has Nancy. It's not the best film Franchot ever made. It's not the best performance he ever gave. He doesn't even receive first lead in it.  But it’s a good one and a sentimental favorite of mine and the film that transformed me into a viewer who thought "Oh, Franchot Tone, yeah, I've probably seen him in a few films" to "Who is this Franchot Tone? I must know everything about him and watch everything he's ever done and then blog about it!"

Three Loves Has Nancy stars Robert Montgomery, Janet Gaynor, Franchot, Guy Kibbee, Claire Dodd, Reginald Owen, and Charley Grapewin. Director Robert Thorpe had previously directed two 1937 films featuring Franchot: Man-Proof and Love is a Headache.

Malcolm (Robert Montgomery) is a best-selling author who embarks on a book tour in order to escape the clutches of his girlfriend Vivian (Claire Dodd). Robert (Franchot Tone) is Malcolm's frequently drunken publisher and next-door neighbor who suggests the idea of a tour after watching Malcolm's previous break-up attempts fail to materialize. Waiting in line at one of Malcolm’s rural stops is fresh-faced, innocent, country bumpkin Nancy (Janet Gaynor). When Nancy informs him that it happens to be her wedding day as he’s signing the book, Malcolm thinks (and we hear Montgomery’s voiceover) that Nancy is a devoted fan whose life is so pathetic she will treasure this signed book her entire life. He quickly finds out differently. Nancy gives him a piece of her mind and one thing you’ll discover about this film is that Nancy always seems to be giving someone a piece of her mind. Sheltered? Yes. Shy? No, sir. Nancy confesses that she has no use for the book, doesn’t own the copy he’s signing, has never read it, has never heard of him, and wouldn’t spend a penny on it. Then off Nancy goes to marry George as Malcolm receives word from Robert that his unwanted girlfriend Vivian is preoccupied and it’s safe to return home.
Malcolm is surprised to see a jilted Nancy in the train’s dining car and offended when she doesn’t instantly recognize him and also, when she laughs as passengers assume they are married. Nancy talks nonstop as a bewildered Malcolm looks on. After a purse mishap (a running gag throughout the film), Malcolm and Nancy, there to search for her runaway groom George, end up at a party in his NYC apartment. Nancy decides Malcolm needs home-cooked meals and stays on at his apartment until she finds George. Although her constant meddling frustrates him to no end, Malcolm agrees to the arrangement to keep Vivian away and because he believes Nancy will prove to be good fodder for a new book.
Franchot Tone and Janet Gaynor in Three Loves Has Nancy. Source: original from my collection

As the playful, mostly inebriated publisher-next-door, Franchot’s character Robert provides a lot of laughs. Actually, what’s great about this film is that everyone provides a lot of laughs. There’s not one actor carrying the film’s funny scenes. All three headliners are equally funny in their roles and work very well as a trio. Enjoying the three-square meals a day that Nancy provides, Robert rivals Malcolm for her attention. He starts to fall for Nancy and the steadiness her presence gives his life. Still, Robert has a lot of tricks up his sleeve. In this role, Franchot gets to do a lot of physical comedy (like sleepwalking and trying to catch an imaginary eagle) and as Malcolm’s sarcastic, witty friend, utters lines like, “You know it’s funny. I drink and you’re drunk.”
Three Loves Has Nancy is overflowing with witty one-liners from all of its characters. Malcolm’s rejected girlfriend says at the party, “I had a lovely evening. This wasn’t it.” It’s just an enjoyable comedy all around. When Malcolm takes her to an upscale restaurant, a safety-conscious Nancy puts out the fire that’s grilling the evening’s meal. She publishes a newspaper ad for George and is surprised when scores of men show up at the apartment. Of course, Nancy’s solution is not to turn them away but to feed them all, to which Franchot names her the “Florence Nightingale of the Skillet.”
A favorite scene of mine is when butler William quits after Nancy calls him dishonest. Speaking of this character assassination to his employer Malcolm, you begin to notice all that William is wearing…layers of Malcolm’s clothing which William claims he was taking as “souvenirs.”
It’s clear to the audience that Malcolm is slowly falling for Nancy’s homespun charms, but he is slow to realize the fact himself. Sober since her arrival, Robert proposes immediately, calling Nancy the “first genuine person who’s ever come into my life.”  It takes the jealousy he feels about Robert’s proposal to make Malcolm question his own feelings about Nancy.
Hilarity ensues! Nancy’s backwoods family shows up (with unbeatable performances by Guy Kibbee and Charley Grapewin), Robert’s snooty wealthy parents appear, a psychologist called Pieface throws his expertise in, and then runaway groom George surfaces. You will not be disappointed. The final scenes are laugh-out-loud funny and fitting to the rest of the film.

Franchot and Janet in Three Loves Has Nancy. Source: original photo from my collection.
Now comes a very personal story explaining my particular attachment to the film. Years ago, I first discovered Three Loves Has Nancy on the TCM app on my iPad. I was very ill and struggling to come to terms with a recent diagnosis of Lupus. Especially in those early days when none of my treatment plans were successful, I was bed-ridden a lot of the time. I’d like to go ahead and say here that in the years since, I have found medications that are working for me, keeping me stabilized, and, although I still require a good amount of bedrest when I’m not working, I’m feeling much stronger these days and living a full, happy life! But that particular night years ago, I was truly struggling physically and emotionally. I needed a light comedy to make me laugh and take my mind off myself.

I chose Three Loves Has Nancy because it starred Janet Gaynor, whom I’ve always liked. I watched the movie once, chuckling throughout, and completely forgetting everything else. And although I believe that all three stars are equally matched in it, it was Franchot Tone who grabbed my attention from the very beginning. I remember just being mesmerized by his manner of speaking and rich voice, his physical presence (the cocked eyebrow, slow grin, and comedic movements), and his entire delivery. I was waiting for his scenes and wishing he’d had more. This was not the first time I saw Franchot. I realized later, while frantically scouring the internet for information about him, that I’d watched him in Jean Harlow movies and Joan Crawford movies and Honeymoon with Shirley Temple. But I never actually saw him.  He was there all the time, but for some reason, my eyes were not focused on him until the night I watched Three Loves Has Nancy. After watching it and then researching the film and Mr. Tone for a long while after, I was thinking of all the great lines and cute moments and ended up re-watching the film from start to finish immediately.

Three Loves Has Nancy will always have a special place in my heart. It provided the perfect escape for me on a night when I desperately needed the smiles and laughter it contains. It is the film that forced me to take another look at Franchot Tone. I’ve been madly researching and watching him since that viewing. I would come to find that as much as I loved Three Loves Has Nancy, it was just a hint of what Franchot could do. There were tons of sensitive and nuanced performances waiting for me in Franchot’s film and television work. Three Loves Has Nancy started it all—my appreciation of an under-appreciated actor, my fascination with his life, and my need to dedicate a permanent online space for him.

I hope you enjoy the Franchot Tone Blogathon this weekend!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Gatineau Treasure

Last year, I wrote about Franchot's ties to the Gatineau region of Quebec. Franchot always spoke fondly of his time outdoors fishing on the Thirty-One Mile lakes, hunting in the woods, and relaxing in his cabin there. Franchot escaped his hectic life in Hollywood by returning to this region and shared its beauty with all four wives, spending several of his honeymoons here. It's easily one of my favorite aspects of Franchot's life to research, because it's so in contrast to the gentleman role in which he was often typecast and because it seems like such a joyous place for him. My original detailed post on the Tone family cabin and Franchot's visits can be found here. Franchot's fourth wife Dolores Dorn described her honeymoon there and I wrote about that here.

Recently, multiple 16 mm film of home movies belonging to Franchot's brother, Jerry, were up for auction on eBay. Most of the film was dedicated to Jerry's family with glimpses of Franchot's parents here and there. I didn't see any indication that Franchot would appear in most of the reels. Then, I saw one small preview picture of a 1938 reel from Gatineau and there he was with a huge grin on his face fishing from a boat. There was also a separate film of Gatineau from 1935, but I doubted Franchot would pop up there because '35 was a busy year for him. I bid on both despite the fact that I have no means to play or transfer 16 mm film. My plan was to find a way to transfer the film to digital, so that I could share the videos here. I bid as high as I felt I could, but a more competitive bidder took it home instead. eBay can be quite an emotional roller coaster! Ever since the auction ended, I've gone back and forth between devastation that I didn't bid just a little bit higher and relief that I didn't bid above my means.

Sadly, I didn't win but my hope is that the person who did win was either 1. Franchot's family (and if so, I apologize for the bidding war!) 2. a library or archive or  3. a fan like me who plans to transfer the film for others to enjoy.

I did, however, save the preview shots that were posted on eBay and they give a wonderful view of life at Franchot's family cabin in Canada!

From the 1938 color reel:
Franchot fishing. I love this candid shot!

Franchot with his father Frank J. Tone

Franchot's father Frank J. Tone and brother Jerry
I did not see any indication that Franchot appears in the '35 film, but it still gives a wonderful view of what vacation life was like for the Tones there. From the 1935 black and white reel:

Franchot's father Frank J. Tone with other family members

Don't forget that my Franchot Tone Blogathon happens later this week! Check back this weekend for great entries on Mr. Tone from multiple bloggers.