Monday, January 22, 2018

Joining Ben Casey in 1965 and Harry Landers' Take on Franchot

In December, I shared Franchot's interview with TV Guide (here.) That interview was conducted after Franchot joined the cast of Ben Casey and was published in January 1966. The previous year (on June 23, 1965) Franchot talked to reporter Bob Thomas, for Thomas' Movie-TV Talk column, about accepting the role of Dr. Daniel Freeland. Franchot was visiting his brother Jerry in Florida when he received the call that Bing Crosby Productions wanted him to step in as a new character after veteran actor Sam Jaffe left the show. According to Franchot, Jaffe (who costarred with Franchot in the play The Gentle People decades before) noticed that his option had been picked up days late which freed him of his contractual obligations to the show. Franchot said:
I grew a beard for the play; They'll have to take me and the beard or not at all...I had refused a series for years because I wanted to remain in New York to be near the theater. But lately there haven't been enough plays worth doing. I turned down more guest shots on television than I accepted. Parts in films were few and small in nature—cameo shots, they are called.
I like my profession. Since there is not enough work elsewhere, I can work at it here, where I have a chance to test my abilities. It's better to know that you have a challenge than to sit on your rear and wait.
On returning to California to film the show:
There was a lot of froth in those days or maybe I was frothier then. Anyway, the froth seems to be separating. There are still those who hang out at the Whisky A-Go-Go and the Pink Pussycat. But the real people don't go to those places. There is plenty for them to do in the cultural vein. California is no longer the 'cultural desert' we used to say it was.
Actor Harry Landers died in October of last year. Landers played Dr. Ted Hoffman on Ben Casey from 1961 to 1966 and was also well-known for his film and commercial appearances. In 2010, Stephen Bowie, of the Classic TV History Blog, interviewed Mr. Landers and shared it on that blog in 2011. The interview is in-depth and Landers is very forthcoming. Among other things, he talks about his work on Ben Casey and describes in detail the strengths and weaknesses of his costars—including Ben Casey star Vince Edwards and Franchot Tone.

Landers brings up Franchot before Bowie asks about him and remembers Franchot as "brilliant...amazing....marvelous, compassionate, bright guy" and also a "total alcoholic." Landers talks about how Franchot kept to himself and was at first slow to relate to the cast, handled on-set dalliances, ruined his car, and how his drinking began to affect the staging of the episodes Landers directed. Landers clearly admired and respected Franchot as a man and actor, and was amused by the incidents Franchot's drinking caused. The interview is a must-read so please head over to The Classic TV History Blog and read Mr. Bowie's full interview with Harry Landers (click here.)

Bowie, Stephen. "An Interview with Harry Landers. The Classic TV History Blog.

Thomas, Bob. "Franchot Tone Happy for Chance to be a Regular on 'Ben Casey'." Daytona Beach Morning Journal. June 23, 1966.