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! :)|
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.