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.