Friday, November 8, 2019

Franchot's Association with the Group Theatre, Part 1

Theater director Harold Clurman invited Franchot to join the Group Theatre after seeing him in the 1928 play The International.

Although Franchot and actor Morris Carnovsky were already both on contract with the guild, they were allowed to participate in the Group Theatre's intensive project to create a community of actors that tackled social justice and the world within its plays. In his book The Fervent Years, Clurman explained the group's goal: go away to some country place with twenty-eight actors and rehearse two plays till they were ready for production in New York. We would pay no salaries, but we would provide meals, living quarters, laundry expense.
We had chosen our actors before we knew what play we would do. They were our actors, and they would have to suit our plays. That is what we directors were there for. Nor did we have any money to finance our ambitious plan. We only had the will to carry it out. When the Guild agreed to let us have The House of Connelly and a thousand dollars, they were our only concrete assets.
Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library.
"Margaret Barker and Franchot Tone in the stage production The House of Connelly."
The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1931.

On the morning of June 8, 1931, a group of over 30 people (including actors, spouses, children, directors, friends) traveled to Connecticut to begin working. On moving in day, Franchot started a baseball game “to overcome the natural self-consciousness of the occasion.” Clurman also noticed that Stella Adler looked sadly on her fellow actors, as it looked more like a “camp for overgrown high-school kids.”

The actors rehearsed morning, noon, and night, and in between rehearsals played piano, cards, and debated. During the card games, Franchot led the others in pranking a young member of the group. They would deal him unbeatable hands until he gained confidence in betting and then deal him terrible hands. Lee and Harold observed this one night and found it “very funny, particularly since the hoax was executed with consummate sangfroid and deftness by Franchot Tone.”

Although Franchot was a respected man and actor within the group and had helped to make the group feel comfortable, there came a time when "some of the actors began to be troubled by Franchot Tone’s attitude." Clurman went on:
He was, of course, one of the original 1928 group. Since then he had had the opportunity to feel his oats. He had played leading parts on Broadway, he was in demand, and the other actors sensed in him a general resistance that at times manifested itself toward the directors and at other times toward the influences prevailing among the group. Actually he was suffering from a variety of growing-pains, but our work as such was not in question.
He was lonely. Though he had been raised in easy circumstances, and had been popular at college, he was not a good mixer. He was shy, with a tendency toward suspiciousness when ill at ease. He particularly suspected that he was not liked because, being more privileged than others, he was regarded as somewhat inferior in character. There was perhaps a mite of truth in his suspicions, but, for my part, I believed they lay chiefly in his distrust of himself. The tension that gripped him made him rude, almost insolent. He was unconsciously revenging himself on us, testing both himself and us. Thus he demonstrated little courtesy to Strasberg, although he had real admiration for him.
Franchot, intelligent and sometimes psychologically keen, said to me, 'In the old days we talked only when we didn’t work. Now we work only when we don’t talk!' I was somewhat taken aback by the remark and repeated it to Strasberg. He agreed at once: Yes, we talk a lot because we are not simply rehearsing a play; we are laying the foundation for a theatre. Our theatre is more than just a matter of getting one or two plays produced.
The actors, I repeat, watched Franchot with increasing misgivings. Why was he allowed to get away with little breaches of politeness and discipline? He rarely came to the afternoon talks. He lumbered into rehearsals, sat aloof, whittled away at the side of the barn as he rehearsed. No one reprimanded him. Was he a favored child among the directors? Was he to be treated as a star? Was Lee afraid of him? These disturbing questions were never openly put because the actors had an abiding confidence in the directors’ good sense in handling the problem⁠—if it was a problem.
Despite Franchot's turn to loneliness and rebelliousness, Clurman refers to him at this time as "the finest young actor of recent arrival." Franchot continuously contributed his own money to help fund the group's endeavors, often giving $1,000 or more for each play. With the Group, Franchot starred in 1931, House of Connelly, Night over Taos, Red Rust, and Success Story.

Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library.
"Rose McClendon, Fanny de Knight, Franchot Tone, and Margaret Barker
 in the stage production The House of Connelly." The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Beginning in 1932, Clurman noticed that the group began "turning in on itself." Actors became more confrontational and suspicious of one another's motives. The bubble started to burst. Clurman recalled the changes in Franchot at this time:
In Franchot’s case the matter was special. The girl Franchot was attached to at the time, the one who worked with us in the old Riverside Drive days, visited him one weekend. Somehow we didn’t think she was Group material. Franchot’s life with the Group would have been much easier if she had spent more time with us, but Franchot was too proud to say so, and we were too one-tracked in our thinking to notice it. The girl felt separated from Franchot by us and would have been pleased if we had asked her to remain and work with us, even as an apprentice. We disregarded her very existence, and Franchot was irritated by our tactlessness.
Franchot was very emotionally attached to the Group and, in spite of or perhaps witnessed in his rebellious nature, was desperate for the Group's leaders to care about him, to show him that he was needed, that he mattered. The more I read about Franchot from those who knew him personally, the more I see that he had this dichotomy about his personality. On one hand, he was a confident, private individual who seemed to live and love easily. On the other hand, he felt a great deal of melancholy, of not fitting in, and wishing for more approval and assurance from those in his circle and the public at large. In his book, Clurman devoted a lot of time to the complicated personality of Franchot. Clurman said:
Franchot’s problem, however, was deeper than this. In Boston, when I finally got around to talking to him about his refractoriness, he asked me questions relating to my estimate of him as an actor. By my lights, how good would he become? In answering him I dwelt on his need to stick by what was strongest and most alive in himself. Tears came to his eyes. He confessed later that when I left he had actually sobbed, but he added with a sly grin: 'It didn’t do much good. The feeling didn’t last.'
Franchot loved us out of a great need, a feeling that we were good people who were bringing him just that supply of his sound work and clear faith that despite the advantages of his background, he had missed all his life. But he was very much part of the world that had provided him with these advantages, and he could not, would not, turn his back on it; it was the big world, the substantial world, in which all of us, willy-nilly, were living.
Of course, even in his attachment to the big world there was a contradiction. Franchot’s father, though associated with business, was basically a scientist; and Franchot’s mother was as much of an aristocrat as we ever get in America. Both of them were glad that Franchot preferred the Group to the ordinary commercial thatre. But the entertainment channels of the big world lie in the commercial theatre. We have no national theatre for our “best people.” We have Broadway, and Broadway has Hollywood. The cradle of opinion with theatre folk was not some Mermaid Tavern of intellectuals or artists, but the speakeasies of Fifty-second Street.
There they laughed at Franchot’s devotion to the Group. Franchot probably thought Lilyan Tashman and her crowd who came to see him in Taos lacked taste, but he did not, for all that, feel particularly comfortable at their seeing him in a flop that had been preceded by another, whose most enthusiastic audience sat in the balcony uttering strange cries of approval. Franchot was torn between the Group of tactless people, led chiefly by two exasperated hotheads who offered a way of life that was personally real and perhaps part of the mainstream of the time, and a Broadway plus Hollywood which, though he knew it to be shoddy, actually possessed the only power and glory the world could offer today.
Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library.
"Luther Adler, Stella Adler, Franchot Tone, and Dorothy Patten in the stage production Success Story"
The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1932.

Franchot seemed to behave more strangely during the final summer with the Group. (In all fairness, if you read Wendy Smith's book Real Life Drama, it seems a lot of the members were acting strangely during this time.) Clurman remembered:
Franchot behaved more peculiarly this summer than the last. He was remarkably fine at rehearsals of Success Story, but he was rather antisocial in other ways. He drank stiffly, and carried off some other pretty good bottlemen to drink with him almost every night after rehearsals. When he came back he sometimes took delight in driving his car over the main lawn and crashing all the garden furniture left there during the day. He grew a beard, walked about in a loincloth, went shooting fairly close to the rehearsal grounds. He shied away from most of us, alternating between a distant courtesy that implied an insult, and the manner of a cagey maniac.
With all this, Franchot was always shrewd and observant. He saw what was going on. What was going on was a subtle transformation with the Group as a whole. The very air was fermenting with something that blew from we know not where, but which roused everyone to doubts, questions, wonder, eagerness, dispute. ….
The day came when Strasberg was no longer able to tolerate the disruptive ambiguity of Franchot’s behavior. He decided to have the showdown I had recommended the year before, and both us now confronted Franchot with ultimatum written on our faces. Franchot admitted at once that he had decided to quit the Group, that he was going into pictures. I do not know whether he had already made arrangements or whether our severity at this meeting finally decided him. I am inclined to believe that some of his mischievous conduct arose from an anger with himself, and some was designed to provoke us to such a discussion as we were having. Perhaps, however, he expected a gentler approach, for people like Franchot, always want evidence that they are loved. Strasberg, hurt himself, lashed forth a white-hot 'We don’t care' when Franchot disclosed his intentions. 'I know you don’t care,' Franchot answered quietly but painfully, as if to say: 'That is exactly why I wish to go.'
That day the bad news of Franchot’s resignation was announced to the Group at a special meeting addressed by Strasberg. It was the first resignation of any importance from our organization. The actors were shocked, for they appreciated Franchot’s value. Strasberg’s talk was calculated to affirm the strength and integrity of the Group, which could ill afford to keep a member whose spirit had turned against it. When the day came for Franchot to leave, he told me he was going to try Hollywood. At Tony’s, on West Fifty-second Street, he wept over his drink. …
I find it interesting that, according to Clurman, Franchot was pushed out of the Group for "disruptive ambiguity" much like he was pushed out of The Hill School as a teen for "subtle influence for disorder." And both of these punishments only led to more success for Franchot—leaving The Hill School led to success at Cornell University while leaving the Group led to success in films.

Clurman goes on to address the difficulty the Group had replacing Franchot in their plays. I think it's telling that despite his causing trouble, the other actors always appreciated Franchot's value and that Clurman was able to see that some of his rebelliousness was due to Franchot's schrewd observation of the inner shifting of the group.

Although he'd worked himself into a corner with Strasberg and Clurman, Franchot was definitely torn in leaving the Group for Hollywood and would never be able to definitely choose one over the other for the rest of his career. Actress Ruth Nelson shared in the documentary Broadway Dreamers:
I remember the night, his last Saturday night with Success Story. He came to me to say goodbye. He leaned over, kissed me, and had tears in his eyes. I said, 'Franchot, if that's the way you feel, why are you leaving?' And he said, 'Well, Ruthie, I just have to find out what it's [Hollywood] all about.'
Actors Sandy Meisner and Robert Lewis went with Franchot to Grand Central Station. As they said their goodbyes, an emotional Franchot:
...stood on the steps of the famous Twentieth Century Limited club car, teary-eyed, and as the train started to pull out of the station, he called to us, 'Keep your line.'
Walking across Forty-second Street, I turned to Sandy and observed, 'Did you hear what he said? Here we are, going back to our struggling new Group while he's off to Hollywood to make a movie with Lilyan Tashman and he tells us to keep our line.'
Said Sandy, 'He meant keep it for him.'
I think Clurman's belief that Franchot "expected a gentler approach, for people like Franchot, always want evidence that they are loved" is valid and that his statements about the emotional contrasts in Franchot's character echo those of Gloria Vanderbilt and Clifford Odets and Christopher Plummer.

Franchot, of course, would maintain an association with the Group Theatre, both publicly as an actor and privately as a benefactor. Much more on the post-1933 involvement with the Group coming soon!

  • Clurman, Harold. The Fervent Years: The Story of the Group Theatre and the Thirties. Knopf, 1950.
  • Kramer, Joan, David Heeley, Joanne Woodward, Steve Lawson, Stella Adler, Harold Clurmaan, Cheryl Crawford, and Lee Strasberg. Broadway's Dreamers: The Legacy of the Group Theatre. New York, N.Y: PDR Productions, 1994.
  • Lewis, Robert. Slings and Arrows: Theater in My Life. Stein and Day, 1984.
  • Smith, Wendy. Real Life Drama: The Group Theatre and America, 1931-1940. Knopf, 1990.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Childhood Photos and Memories

Tiny Franchot Tone. Source: Photoplay, May 1937.
In May 1937, Walter Ramsey published his authorized biography of Franchot within the pages of Photoplay Magazine. The May issue focused on Franchot's childhood through his high school years. The second volume detailed Franchot's collegiate years and entry into an acting career. Franchot provided some of his favorite memories as well as a joyful abundance of childhood photographs. In the lengthy articles, Franchot recalled a happy, close family life, a home in which he was encouraged to have interests and embrace adventures and causes. His father became more successful with each year. Franchot said:
We started out modestly enough but each time Father was promoted, we moved up the street a notch. We approached the Falls as father approached the presidency of his Carborundum Company of America.
I've noticed these changes in addresses, from 328 Buffalo Avenue to 131 Buffalo Avenue, on census reports and always wondered about that, so now it makes sense!

Franchot was the youngest child of Frank and Gertrude. When Franchot was born, older brother Jerry said the baby's squealing was "something terrible. Bet my cat's caught his tail under the pantry door again."
Tiny Franchot in the snow. Source: Photoplay, May 1937.
Franchot's first taste of being a star came at the age of three. Although Jerry had been practicing a Christmas poem for weeks, he forgot the lines when it came time to recite them at a Christmas party. Franchot, having listened to his brother's practice, recited all the lines by heart for the family and friends gathered there.
Tiny Franchot among the trees. Source: Photoplay, May 1937.
Franchot was a thin, small child with a penchant for mischief. After fishing in the family's goldfish bowl, Franchot received a spanking from his mother. Franchot remembered thinking this punishment was ridiculous and irrational. He's successfully caught a goldfish so why all the fuss?

When Franchot's dad traveled to observe factories in Europe, the whole family went along. Franchot lived in Paris, Cannes, and on the Riviera. It was in France that little Franchot saw his first film, a "flickering, green sort of affair" about cowboys, playing in the hotel lobby and viewed by a little boy peeking from the banister.

Jerry Tone (left) and Franchot Tone (right) with their burro in Arizona.
Source: Photoplay, May 1937.
When Frank came down with a serious illness, the family moved to a more restorative climate in Tucson, Arizona. In Arizona, Jerry and Franchot had a burro, pictured above with Franchot on top and Jerry on the stairs. Franchot shared:
We were never off his back for a moment and the neighborhood kids joined in the fun, too...And I recall this vivid reaction—that while it didn't bother me to ride the burro to death in the daytime, I'd cry about him at night because of the awful way he was treated.
Franchot (left) and Jerry (right).
Franchot has this exact same stance
later in so many film scenes!
Source: Photoplay, May 1937.

When living in Arizona didn't appear to make any changes to Frank's health, the family returned to New York—first to Saranac Lake and then to Franchot's birthplace of Niagara Falls. Eventually, Frank regained his health fully.

Franchot swimming as a child. Source:

Franchot loved wandering off and seeking adventure. Except for writing poems, Franchot didn't care for school very much. Here is one of his childhood compositions:

It reads:

I was going to a schol my 
mother siad I cood not go for 
she siad you wood see there 
something that wood make 
you crie and crie until thie 
one eyess wood be out of 
thie one hed which ye 
see in your one vishuns 
in the night.
O human best, O giv me bak
my hart O didst yee now
yee hast my hart? O giv
me bak my hart; I will neverey be
cinde to yee inlest yee giv
me bak my hart.
-By S.P. Franchot Tone.

Upon return to Niagara Falls, Franchot went to a private school with Miss Otis. Still not much for school, Franchot would lead the rest of the kids down Buffalo Avenue to the Shredded Wheat factory where they would join the groups of tourists that were allowed to sample biscuits with fruit and cream. 

Franchot remembered that his first love was named Alice and he kissed her on the porch when tourists goaded him into it one day. He liked movies, banana splits, Charlie Chaplin, Pearl White, eating, fighting with another gang of kids, and being in charge.

Franchot. Source: Photoplay, May 1937.
When Franchot entered The Hill School (in Pottstown, Pennsylvania) in 1919, he worked on the newspaper and managed the football team. His family moved into a nicer house at 131 Buffalo Avenue and when he came home for the holidays, Franchot liked to cruise around Niagara Falls with a pretty girl by his side in the family Buick. Just as he'd fallen for Alice as a kid, teenaged Franchot now set his eyes on a local girl named Caroline. 

As a teen, Franchot contracted scarlet fever and spent eight weeks in the school infirmary before being sent to specialists in Atlantic City and Philadelphia. It was a long, slow time of recuperation and Franchot felt he was missing out on all the fun. He later reflected:
I was alone so much that I really think that period was a big turning point in my life. I started to read good books. I got a chance to rearrange my outlook on life and people and transpose or change many former ideas and ideals. Where before, I had merely accepted—I began to question everything and find new answers. Many of the ideals I formed at that time are still working for me, unchanged.
Then, in December 1923, Franchot received a letter dismissing him from The Hill School for being a "subtle influence for disorder":
I think I shall never forget that phrase: subtle influence for disorder. I didn't know that the real reason had been a senior class rebellion after I had left for the holiday and that the professors had traced the spirit of the rebellion to me. At that moment, as I read those words, it seemed as though the whole four years of my life at The Hill were passing in review on that small piece of white paper. As though it were unwinding on a motion picture screen, I could see myself waging campaigns for more self government among the students (this was the reason)...agitation for more senior class head bowed deeply as I stood outside the church on Sunday awaiting the more devout students with whom I would argue religion vs. agnosticism for hours, later...the long summer twilights and the rendezvous with the 'Town Girls' who would wander out to the edge of town to meet the upperclassmen...those nonchalant affairs somehow became terribly important in retrospect...quick mental flashes of my contempt for rules and the secret satisfaction I got out of shooting-a-smoke in the basement of the professors' building on the very morning the treasurer of the school was showing the insurance salesman how little fire hazard there was about such a building...the happy hours I had spent at the editor's desk of the newspaper and the literary desk of the school magazine...
No, there was nothing they could pin on me definitely—I'd seen to it that I was never caught infringing any rule. But there was my notice. I was fired! There it was on cold, white paper and I had to show it to father. Just before my graduation, too. I remember walking into my father's study, handing him the paper, and walking slowly upstairs to my room. 
Franchot at 20. Source: Cornell University Yearbook.

Franchot's older brother Jerry had the idea for Franchot to take this opportunity to test and enter Cornell University early. (Jerry was already a student at Cornell.) Franchot passed all his exams. Soon, Franchot was an active member (and later president) of Cornell's dramatic club. Three students joined Franchot in renting a house that they named "The Little Gray Home in the West." Franchot said:
If that paints a quiet, sentimental picture, it's a false one. If The Little Gray House could talk, it would certainly have tales to tell of Saturday night beer busts, of dishes that were never washed, floors that were left unswept and of a big, blazing fireplace that soon became the focal point of every mentally undigested idea or notion in the clan. We had grand times, great talks and sometimes a heavy beer hang-over. The four of us did almost everything—including joining the Book & Bowl Club and acquring a model T Ford. When a fire broke out in The Little Gray Home, we spent three winter weeks with nothing but a canvas flap over the burned-away front door. And I'll never forget the night my Ford went "nuts" and chased the night watchman all over the campus—well, no one knows the truth of that little incident but the model T and myself.
Franchot at 22. Source: Cornell University Yearbook.

Several years into his Cornell education, Franchot enrolled in a French school and spent weekends with a Yvonne whom he described as a "cute little girl at Zelli's in Montmartre. There, at a small table in a far and dimly-lighted corner, we'd sit over a bottle of wine and she would speak to me in French. I learned a lot from her—about French, I mean—and I grew rather fond of her in the bargain."

You can read more about Franchot's childhood and school years in these earlier posts:

~I think this definitely wins Most Adorable Post in this blog's 4.5 year history for all these childhood Franchot pics. What a cutie! I squeaked when I saw the first photo while swiping through the online Photoplay archives. I'm so glad Franchot shared these photos and stories with Walter Ramsey! ~

Ramsey, Walter. "The Intimate Life of a Gentleman Rebel." Photoplay. May 1937.
Ramsey, Walter. "The Intimate Life of a Gentleman Rebel." Photoplay. June 1937.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Here Comes the Groom (1951)

Directed by Frank Capra, Here Comes the Groom is a 1951 musical romantic comedy starring Bing Crosby, Jane Wyman, and Franchot Tone. It is a fun romp about two men competing over a woman with some great Bing tunes thrown in for good measure. Be forewarned that you'll be singing and dancing around your house to "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening" for days after you watch it.

Franchot in Here Comes the Groom, 1951. Scan from my collection.

The Film

Peter Garvey (Bing Crosby) is a news reporter stationed in a Parisian orphanage. He is fond of all the children there and takes pride in placing them in perfect homes, but itching for a new traveling assignment. In a neat little special effects scene, his abandoned fiancée Emmadel Jones (Jane Wyman) comes to him in the form of a hologram atop a spinning record. Emmadel lets him know that she is sick of waiting for him after three long years. She is ready for marriage and motherhood and realizes that Pete will never give up his traveling assignments for her.

Not wanting to lose Emmadel, Pete writes to her immediately, decides to adopt orphans Bobby and Suzi and fly back to America. Documentation issues delay the trip and Emmadel gives up on Pete altogether. (Louis Armstrong, Dorothy Lamour, Phil Harris, and Cass Daley make cameo appearances during the flight's musical number.)

Pete arrives in his hometown, but must marry and find permanent residence immediately in order to maintain guardianship of the children. He assumes he will sweep Emmadel right off her feet, but she reveals that she is engaged to be married to the wealthy Wilbur Stanley (Franchot Tone).

We learn that Pete and Emmadel grew up with similar modest backgrounds and have always known how to enjoy life without money and status. Pete plays up that angle as he tries to convince Emmadel that marriage to a wealthy man is all wrong for her. Pete assumes Wilbur Stanley is an elderly, unattractive man who has nothing to offer but a life of comfort. This vision of Wilbur (whom we've not seen yet in the film) is supported by Emmadel's father's comment that Wilbur is "not even a man. He's a tradition. He's a mummy."

Franchot in Here Comes the Groom, 1951. Scan from my collection.
During the "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening" scene, Pete and Emmadel dance around the Stanley building and are clearly a good match for each other. Knowing he has to get permanent residence to keep Bobby and Suzi, Pete changes a housing file (owned by Wilbur's company) from rented to vacant.

When Pete and the true renter fight over the house, Wilbur Stanley arrives on the scene. This bad publicity could potentially ruin his reputation, but a younger, more handsome, more generous Wilbur than Pete expected takes it all in stride. Wilbur agrees to let Pete and the children stay in his gatehouse. I uploaded my favorite scene from the movie to Youtube. Franchot and Bing's characters face off in the car and agree to let the best man win. If you cannot see the embedded video below, click here.


Once he settles in the gatehouse, Pete Garvey does everything he can to prevent Wilbur's wedding to Emmadel.

Franchot is delightful as the charming Wilbur Stanley and turns in a solid performance. His delivery of the final line is fabulous. Alexis Smith plays Wilbur's distant cousin Winifred Stanley (and does so perfectly!) and there are some hilarious scenes between her and Bing and her and Jane. If you like  romantic musical comedies, Here Comes the Groom is a must-see. It has a strong director and cast as well as an enjoyable story and pleasant songs.

The Backstory

Here Comes the Groom had its big premiere in Elko, Nevada with festivities being held July 29-31, 1951. The cast traveled to Elko (a place with close ties for Bing. Read more here) to introduce the film and entertain citizens. Franchot was not part of the festivities as he had business obligations in New York.

By the time the film had its New York premiere on September 20th, Franchot was recuperating from plastic surgery to fix the shattered cheekbone, fractured upper jaw, and broken nose he had sustained in the September 13th fight with Tom Neal, lover of his fiancée Barbara Payton. This high-profile incident would lead to a reckless year of marriage, separation, and divorce with Payton, lawsuits, and bad publicity (details here.)

Sadly, audiences wouldn't see Franchot in a film again for six years, when he adapted the stage play Uncle Vanya for the screen in 1957. He wasn't to be seen in another major motion picture until 1962 when he starred as the president in Otto Preminger's Advise and Consent. Of course, Franchot continued to work diligently and prosperously in theater and television productions while working to regain his privacy during this time.

You can watch the Franchot-less footage of the Elko visit (from the Bing Crosby Archives and originally posted by on Youtube) here:

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Franchot in North Carolina

Last month, I was searching digital archives in California and New York and coming up with the same articles and photos I've seen time and again. I took a chance and searched my home state of North Carolina's digital archives, which I've never thought to do for Franchot before. And...
Franchot visiting Pat on campus.
Source: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Photographic Laboratory Collection #P0031,
North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

I was finding Franchot all over again! I knew that Franchot's oldest son Pat attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, but never even considered Franchot was sitting right in their archives.

Franchot visited Pat on campus in April 1964 and, fortunately for us, photos were taken of father and son and Franchot was interviewed by the local paper.

Franchot said:
Well, I just couldn't resist an opportunity to come down to Chapel Hill and spend a pleasant week with my son, Pat. Of course, since I've been here, I've been wearing out the pavement between the Carolina Inn and Swain Hall, and the only chance I've had to see Pat is during meals.
When asked about his acting career, Franchot said:
 ...just one of those things that happened. I was exposed to the old silent movies and I also had the opportunity of seeing a number of stage plays. After I would see a picture or a play, I used to go home and stand in front of a mirror and act out scenes for myself...Nowadays, an actor works in all the media. There are differences, of course. The stage actor must act with his whole body because the audience always sees him that way. In films and, to a large extent in television, the acting is in his eyes.
And what did Franchot think of Pat, who had been in several university plays, becoming an actor? Franchot smiled:
Who knows? He seems to have the bug, but he may come to his senses.
The reporter summarized his meeting with Franchot by writing:
By his own admission, he has found a full and complete life in acting, and he went out for the final rehearsal with an air of confidence and satisfaction which indicated he was doing the thing he loved best.
Franchot visiting Pat on campus. 
Source: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Photographic Laboratory Collection #P0031, 
North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
In a separate article, the Daily Tar Heel examined how the son of a movie star came to study in North Carolina. Bob Quincy reported that sophomore Pat Tone was making a name for himself with a javelin at UNC-Chapel Hill. The coach commented that Pat was "strong and works hard."

Quincy noted:
Pat and his actor dad spent several weeks together here recently...He and his son are quite close and spent many hours enjoying the good life. The Tones have a track background, and it began at the same institution. Both attended the Hill School in New Jersey*. Papa Franchot was a manager of the track team in his time. Pat excelled in weights and dashes.
*My note: The Hill School was actually in Pennsylvania. 

The javelin caught Pat's eye after watching UCLA athletes when visiting his mother Jean Wallace and he chose to move to North Carolina because a lot of his peers were moving south to attend school. Franchot must've approved this choice, because Pat notes:
Dad had gone to Cornell. But he is a very good friend of Paul Green, the playwright, who lives near the Carolina campus. They have worked together on many projects.

Shakespeare: A Portrait

I was already thrilled to my core to find these two articles and two photographs, but there's more! While he was in town, Franchot appeared in the university's 90-minute television show commemorating William Shakepeare's 400th birthday anniversary. The show was entitled Shakespeare: A Portrait and aired on the local WUNC-TV on April 23, 1964. It seems that the Chairman of the Department of Radio, Television and Motion Pictures requested Franchot's participation and Franchot accepted. Franchot praised the students and crew that worked with him on the project. I was unaware of this production and am now digging into whether or not a recording or photographs of it still exist in the university or WUNC-TV archives.

Digital NC:
Digital Public Library of America:
Hardy, William M. "Tone Kills 2 Birds with 1 Stone." The Daily Tar Heel. April 19, 1964.
Quincy, Bob. "Former Actor's Son Goes Own Way with NC Javelin." The Daily Tar Heel. April 18, 1964.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

An Ernest Hemingway Hero

I recently came across Time is Ripe: The 1940 Journals of Clifford Odets on my local library's shelves. Franchot is mentioned a handful of times in Odets' daily diary. Unlike the brief "Franchot Tone was also there at the Mocambo" diary entries I stumble across from others in the business at that time, Odets' delves into Franchot's complicated character and Odets' own mixture of interest and frustration with Franchot.

Franchot in Dark Waters, 1944.
Scan from my collection.

On Valentine's Day 1940, Franchot and the rest of the cast from The Fifth Column stopped by to see Odets' matinee showing. Three days later, Franchot joined everyone at a "certain bad restaurant" the actors dined in every night. Odets writes:
He was ill-at-ease, tense, and obviously very lonely or he wouldn't have joined us. All of us tried to put him at ease, but he is poor table company. He wanted to go out whoring and drinking at a speakeasy (liquor after 1:00 a.m.), but was unable to find a companion. Franchot, with all his fame, money, and position, is still afraid of rejection and repudiation. He is blustery and pushing, anxious and uneasy, just like Steve Takis*, but slightly more adult; in short, he is an Ernest Hemingway hero, and that is saying the whole thing.
*Steve Takis was the main character of Odets' play Night Music, which would begin official performances shortly after this diary entry.

On March 16, 1940, Odets writes that he had just finished Stefan Zweig's essay on Casanova the night before and that it "gave me several good ideas, particularly for a play about a modern sort of Casanova to be played by a fellow like Franchot Tone. It is not the great lover element which interests me at all; the element of adventurer, swindler, fake prince among American aristocracy, etc. is where the play lies."

June 8, 1940:
At ten we [Odets, Sid Benson, Geebee] rode uptown, we three, ate a light supper at Schrafft's, saw a newsreel and two films, or part of them. One with Heifetz fiddling...the other an old film, the first F. Tone made when he went to the coast in 1932*. Very instructive. We move so fast in this country that the film, the acting style, the lighting and settings, the clothes—all are already old-fashioned. Franchot was not bored then, not blasé, but fresh and impulsive.
*I assume Odets is referring to Franchot's first film The Wiser Sex which starred Claudette Colbert, Lilyan Tashman, and Melvyn Douglas. This is the only Franchot film I have never seen. It has been preserved by AFI's National Center for Film and Video Preservation at the Library of Congress Motion Picture Conservation Center and it was shown at a film festival several years back. Unfortunately, it's not on physical media or shown on television.

On July 7th, Odets dines at the Stork Club:
There I met Burgess Meredith, Franchot Tone, and John O'Hara, and a brother-in-law together at one table. Meredith was leaving for a Western ranch vacation the next day, so they were celebrating together by getting drunk and more morose each minute. They were in moods of careful (or cautious) self-abnegation, admitting carefully that their lives were useless, that, as Franchot put it while discussing Maxie Baer, the fighter, "the thing is to look good even while you're going down." Franchot, whom I like, still a very unusual talent in the theatre, always brings out in me a certain caginess and over consideration, a real and acute discomfort.
September 29, 1940:
Every time I see Franchot Tone around town, something stirs in me. He is one of that fraternity equally at home here or in the East, drinking, sleeping around, trying to suck the marrow out of a bony friend or two who has no marrow, making a movie, looking for a play—he is too good for this sort of life; that is what touches me about him.
That September entry is the last time that Odets mentions Franchot in his 1940 journal. Odets had known Franchot since the very early days of the Group Theatre and in a later interview would remark on Franchot's talent:
Toward the end of the summer, Franchot Tone, after being quite erratic in his relationship to the company—he was a spoiled boy in many ways—decided to leave the Group, and everyone was sick. He was very gifted. The two most talented young actors I have known in the American theater in my time have been Franchot Tone and Marlon Brando, and I think Franchot was the more talented. And when he lost what he did, I think a very valuable gift was lost to the American theater. He was our leading man. It was like a beehive had lost its queen. 
Odets, Clifford. Time Is Ripe: the 1940 Journal of Clifford Odets. Grove, 1989.
Hethmon, Robert. Days with the Group Theatre: An Interview with Clifford Odets. Michigan Quarterly Review. Volume XLI, Issue 2, Spring 2002

Monday, July 29, 2019

Playhouse 90: The Thundering Wave

The Thundering Wave is a 1957 Playhouse 90 production starring Franchot, Joan Bennett, and James Mason. I wrote a little bit about its origin in my post on Sylvia Sidney (here). The Thundering Wave is only available for viewing in-house at The Paley Center for Media. Sadly, I've not been able to make the trip to see it and the many other Franchot television works that are housed at the Paley. Lucky for us, Kayla (a.k.a. Joan Bennett aficionado and awesome lady behind the Appreciating Joan Bennett website) did get to make the trip earlier this year and wrote a wonderful post (with some great pictures!) about the show that you can read by clicking here.

You can follow Kayla's JB accounts here:

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

An Interesting Independence Day Display

Both Harold Clurman, in his book The Fervent Years, and Robert Lewis, in his book Slings and Arrows, recounted Franchot defiantly celebrating the 4th of July alone while he was a member of the Group Theatre in the early 1930's. Both refer to this display as being attached to Franchot's frustration with the constant "plethora of intellectual talk and classic music", but that reason seems so in contrast with everything else I've learned about him. Franchot was a fond participator in deep discussion and I can't tell you how much I've read about his enthusiasm for classical music, especially Mozart.

But Franchot's time with the Group Theatre seemed to be a complicated mixture of joyful success and feelings of alienation and I have much more to share about that subject in a future post. Perhaps Franchot was just letting off steam or drunk. Perhaps even the most devoted Mozart fan can grow weary of endless playback.  Or, perhaps, Franchot was just very enthusiastic about Independence Day. Here's what Clurman said:
On the Fourth of July, Franchot alone had decided to celebrate by shooting off fireworks. He began rather early in the day. Perhaps this was his childhood custom, perhaps it released his tension, perhaps it was his protest against what seemed to be the indifference of the others to the proprieties of this holiday. Solitary, with darkened brow, he went from place to place over the grounds and set off his firecrackers. Carnovsky and others were fond of music and played recordings of Mozart at every opportunity (except one man who played Caruso records, and Puccini). Carnovsky, no longer able to tolerate Franchot's acoustic vandalism, came out on the porch and cried: "Franchot, for God's sake, I can't stand the noise." Franchot turned and yelled: "And I can't stand your  noise"—referring to Mozart and the rest. He stamped off yelling: "I am an American." 
I have written a little bit about the Group Theatre (click here), but have some more detailed stories of Franchot's time with the Group coming soon.

Happy Independence Day! Set off some fireworks for loin-clothed Franchot the American!
Photo Source: Slings and Arrows, 1996.


Clurman, Harold. The Fervent Years. Harcourt. 1945.
Lewis, Robert. Slings and Arrows: Theatre in My Life. 1996.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Franchot Talks to Picturegoers Magazine

In 1935, Franchot talked to Picturegoers Magazine while on the set of No More Ladies:

My opinion as to why the fifteenth screen test resulted in a film contract is that in the space of those four years in New York the manufacturers of motion picture negatives had improved their product to such an extent that almost anyone could be photographed satisfactorily. In pictures, the first thing they want to do is make a person a hero. You know, broad shoulders, wavy hair and that sort of thing. I have no illusions about myself. I’m not a hero, and I can’t see what I should be made what I’m not. The other day I read a story about myself that made me human. I like that kind of stuff, because it’s sincere.There’s nothing unusual about me—I’m just an ordinary, and, I hope, normal individual.
In the film colony there is little to do besides work. People in pictures don’t relax socially to any extent. Thy work like the devil to finish one picture so they can go into another. I would like actually to work about thirty-six weeks out of the year. The remainder of the time I would rest, study, and travel. Then I would have an opportunity to enjoy life. 
Picture making is not easy—it requires a terrific amount of concentration. It requires more from a person than does working on the stage. To be a success on the screen a person must have a lot of force and drive, like Joan Crawford…I definitely intend to return to the stage, not permanently, however, I would enjoy dividing my time between the stage and screen. 

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Straight is the Way (1934)

With a runtime of just one hour, Straight is the Way packs a lot of Franchot into a very short amount of time. I have always had a soft spot for this film, but most reviewers have not held the same opinion as me. I should admit that Franchot is in nearly every scene of this film, plus he is young and quite beautiful in it, and I know that those factors play a part in my positive assessment. Franchot didn't get to carry many films during this time period. He was typically cast as the love interest with a small story who supports the main actress (Joan Crawford, Jean Harlow, Bette Davis) with a big story during his early years in Hollywood. It's nice to watch a film whose plot revolves completely around Tone's character. The plot may be a bit flimsy, but I think it's a nice story with a solid cast, nevertheless.

Straight is the Way is a remake of the 1928 film Four Walls which starred John Gilbert and a young Joan Crawford—what a neat coincidence! Sadly, I believe that original film, which was based on a George Abbott play of the same name, is now lost.

First, let's look at the film itself, then we will get to the reviews.

Straight is the Way opens with Momma Horowitz (May Robson) anxiously awaiting the arrival of her son. She is so overwhelmed by her emotions that she can barely keep her eyes from tearing up and her hands from shaking. Bertha (Karen Morley) cannot contain her excitement either because her childhood friend Benny Horowitz (Franchot Tone) is coming home after a five-year stint in prison. Benny returns and shares that although he disliked being locked up, he survived by realizing "you stand anything if you have get to feeling you wanna smash the walls down and then after awhile you begin to realize it's not the walls. It's something inside that holds you prisoner. It wasn't so bad. I got along fine. I was president of the welfare league."

Benny promises his mother that he has no plans to ever return to jail again, but she's devastated and terrified when Benny immediately goes out to the street to say hello to former friends who are on the wrong side of the law. Benny learns that while he was in prison his buddy Monk (Jack La Rue) took Benny's old girlfriend Shirley (Gladys George) and became the leader of a criminal organization he's named the East Side Political and Social Club.

When Shirley comes around ready to rekindle a love affair, Benny rejects her:
Well, you're all wrong, Shirley. You can go back to Monk. I don't want ya. You don't mean nothin' to me. Listen, I'm free now and I'm going to stay free—all of me, inside and out. Nothing's ever gonna get hold of me again, ya got it?

Throughout the film, there is much emphasis placed on the fact that Benny is a Jewish man and that this is a Jewish neighborhood. There is a great deal of celebration surrounding the Sabbath in its scenes. Franchot received criticism for playing a Jewish man. A Silver Screen reviewer remarked, 'If Franchot looks like a Horowitz, then I look like an Adonis." In a separate review within the pages of Silver Screen, readers read, "You'll die laughing when we tell you who plays the nice Jewish boy who calls his Mater "Momma"—that elegant gentleman Franchot Tone."

Benny struggles to re-enter the workforce and grows weary of being treated like a criminal in his hometown. Every one is trying to match him with Bertha, but he feels she is too good and pure for him. He's desperate to relocate to the west and start fresh, but he's offered a mechanic job in his old neighborhood. Thrilled to be clocking in and out and bringing home an honest living, Benny defends his employer and makes an enemy of the mob when he stands up to Monk and his gang, who have been intimidating and stealing from his employer.

Benny resists temptation when he turns down an offer to take over Monk's position, but continues to struggle where Shirley is concerned. Will he return to the life that landed him in jail in the first place? Or will he continue on the straight path to moral and physical freedom?

On-set Stories

Cal York noted that Jack LaRue was originally cast in the part of Monk in the stage production, but it was decided he looked too young and Paul Muni was cast instead.

Silver Screen included this on set story:


Silver Screen said the film was simply not hot. It gave the film a cool rating of 35 degrees and wondered, "Why?...Why a studio ever saw fit to produce it in the first place is something that we can't understand..." Silver Screen felt that Franchot and Karen Morley were miscast and that the only actor who managed to "get by" was May Robson.

Photoplay was kinder in their assessment. The magazine called it a "powerfully constructed drama" and urged "All you doubters, come and see Franchot Tone give a performance, because he can and does!" Photoplay Magazine (December 1934) included this sweet photo of May Robson holding her great grandaughter.

Motion Picture Reviews only rated it fair, but praised Robson, writing that she "provides a very human and sympathetic appeal as the mother and does much toward making the action vivid though the tempo is often slow." Motion Picture Reviews summed up with a statement that the "value of the picture as entertainment depends on taste."

Based on that statement, I might have bad taste, but I enjoy this film. It's quick, it's simple, it's not going to win any awards—but I really, really like it.

Straight is the Way has not been released on DVD, but it does occasionally pop up on Turner Classic Movies and online video sites.

"Cal York's Monthly Broadcast from Hollywood." Photoplay. 1934.
"Straight is the Way." Silver Screen. October 1934.
"Straight is the Way." Photoplay. October 1934.
"Straight is the Way." Motion Picture Reviews. 1934.

Friday, April 26, 2019

The Strasbergs Remember Franchot

A friend of Lee and Paula Strasberg, Franchot also created lasting friendships with their children, Susan and John. Both went on to relate the details of Franchot's influence in their books.

Susan Strasberg on Franchot Tone
In her memoir Bittersweet, Susan recalled that her very first memories were being a toddler crawling around famous feet under the dining table. Those guests included Luise Rainier, John Garfield, Tallulah Bankhead, and Franchot Tone (whom she lovingly referred to as "Uncle".) Uncle Franchot was a "tender, aesthetic, scholarly gentleman" who often held young Susan, and Susan found it hard to reconcile his naturally kind, quiet nature with the version he presented one night when he arrived "drunk and bloody from a battle over some woman."

A close friend of the family, Franchot often visited the house to consult with Lee Strasberg—who was at times very tender (embracing Franchot with a heartfelt hug) yet frequently standoffish (blaring music and not making eye contact with Franchot despite his patiently waiting.)

Franchot and Susan read reviews of "The Diary of Anne Frank."
Source: Bittersweet

Franchot was present for many celebrations. When Susan performed in "The Diary of Anne Frank", Franchot (along with Marilyn Monroe and Joshua Logan) was waiting to congratulate her in the dressing room. At a party at Sardi's following her performance, Franchot "raised his glass. 'Little Susan, you have been launched on a long and glittering career. I drink to you.' As they waited for the reviews, everyone ate and drank champagne. Franchot ordered pizza—for inquiring minds, Franchot once told a reporter that his favorite pizza topping was "plain mozzarella."

Franchot with Burton, Fonda, and Ustinov at Susan's surprise party.
Source: scan from my collection

Franchot was also on hand for Susan's surprise 20th birthday party. The party was inside a dark theater and also present were Henry Fonda, Peter Ustinov, Laurence Olivier, Lena Horne, Julie Harris, Tony Perkins, and Richard Burton (whom Susan was dating at the time.) In her book, Susan also recalls attending Franchot's own small parties hosted at Don the Beachcomber's, and counts him as a person she "cared about and respected" when she saw him at a 1960's New Year's Eve party.
Franchot and Susan in rehearsal for The Time of Your Life, 1958.
Source: scan from my collection
Franchot and Susan had the pleasure to act together on several projects. They both appeared in a 1956 television production of J.M. Barrie's play "Dear Brutus" on Omnibus, an educational television program that aired on CBS. In 1958, they traveled—and actually financed the entire trip on their own dime after funding fell through— to the Brussels World's Fair to perform "The Time of Your Life." You can read more about that production here. In 1959, they toured together for the play "Caesar and Cleopatra." Getty Images has a great photo of them in costume for that production, which you can view here.

Franchot and Susan in a publicity photo for Caesar and Cleopatra in 1959.
Source: scan from my collection.
When Franchot realized Susan was struggling with her role as Camille in Franco Zeffirelli's "The Lady of the Camellias" in 1963, he came to her aid. "He described his mother, who had died of tuberculosis, Camille's disease, detailing for me her flushes, her fevers, and high gaiety followed by her complete collapses..."

John Strasberg on Franchot Tone
Susan's brother John also devoted space to Franchot in his own memoir. He wrote:
I don't remember feeling any peace or harmony from the moment we moved back to New York in 1947 until I began spending summers in Canada with Franchot Tone when I was twelve. We hunted and fished, camping in Quebec's wilderness country.
Franchot's wealthy industrialist family owned three houses that sat on a ridge of land between two lakes that were part of the Gatineau Fish and Game Club, near Gracefield, Quebec. We portaged deep into land that he owned, smearing honey under the canoes of poachers so that the bears would destroy them. Franchot became one of my heroes, once I realized that heroes could be human...Normally quiet and reflective, he could be very temperamental. He was a movie star, but to me, above all, he was a Renaissance man. He thought about more than just the theater. He gave me books he loved, like the writings of the Comte de Rochechouart and Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, and a Marlin .22 lever action rifle, the gift of which startled my parents and endeared Franchot to me even more.
He exposed me to a world that I loved and felt at home in, and that my parents knew nothing about. He loved women, smoked two packs of unfiltered Camel cigarettes a day, and drank double vodkas. So did I, but some years later. He was definitely more of what I wanted to be than was my own father, and I often wonder what kind of father he was to his own children. Franchot's humanity touched me deeply. It was due in part to his influence that I learned to define success on my own terms. Above all, he taught me that work is part of one's natural respect and love of human life, but it is not a way to ignore or dominate it.

  • Roach, Janet. "Perfectionist Franchot Tone 'Sacrifices' Own Shirt for Play." The Day. New London, Connecticut. August 5, 1966. Page 12. 
  • Strasberg, John. Accidentally on Purpose: Reflections on Life, Acting, and the Nine Natural Laws of Creativity. New York: Applause, 1996. Print. 8-9.
  • Strasberg, Susan. Bittersweet. New York:, Putnam, 1980. Print.

Monday, April 8, 2019

"Pandemonium" at 470 Layton Drive

When I was browsing fan magazine articles about Franchot and Carole Landis' relationship earlier this year, I stumbled upon this article about Franchot living at the Layton Drive address with photographs! This is the home listed on Franchot's World War II draft card (here) that I did a brief post on last year (here.) When Bubbles Schinasi and actor Wayne Morris called it quits leaving their home vacant and open to tenants, Franchot and his pal Burgess Meredith ("as gay a brace of bachelors as ever haunted the sleep of the countless impressionable co-eds throughout our wonderful democracy") moved in. Hollywood was surprised that two bachelors would take on a large, elegant property. Jimmy Durante even asked, "Those guys and that house—what have they got in common?"

How did they end up living in such style? Burgess settled into the extra room at Jimmy Stewart's Santa Monica house when he arrived in Hollywood for film work. Soon, photographer John Swope became Jimmy and Burgess' housemate as well. All men enjoying and being popular with the ladies, the house grew crowded fast. Buzz (as Burgess was known to friends) found a beach house in need of repairs to reside in, but Jimmy and John didn't want to break up the gang. It was decided that the beach house would just be for Buzz to sleep in, but the guys would all hang out at Jimmy's house during waking hours.

Then, Franchot arrived from New York and needed a place to stay. Franchot and Buzz were roommates in New York shortly after Franchot's divorce from Joan Crawford and remained lifelong friends. Both Franchot and Buzz were acting in plays at the time and found they shared equal passion for acting and being fixtures at the hottest nightspots. Buzz and Franchot decided to lease the Morrises' chateau, now nicknamed Pandemonium. Their neighbors included Nelson Eddy, Anna Sten, and Frank Capra. Franchot felt the place was perfect for his return to Hollywood as a bachelor.

Franchot and Buzz threw a cocktail party after getting settled in and locating domestic servants. In the article, the descriptions of the rooms are pretty exaggerated in comparison to the photographs. Yes, they are beautiful, large nice rooms, but Screenland refers to their living room as "Dali-esque." Their living room was described as a "surrealistic masterpiece...The walls were a pale blue set off by a gray carpet. Two disconsolate love seats done in yellow leather hugged the fireplace, over which a mural by Lee Blair (a South American cockfight framed in blue mirror) looked down..."
The living room.

Buzz's room was decorated in red and white walls ("calculated to woo sleep"), a sea green carpeted floor, and "flaming" draperies.
The bedroom of Burgess Meredith.

Franchot shared his room with a Great Dane named Bad Boy (pictured with Buzz and Franchot in the top photo), who used the former outdoor tennis court as his play area. Franchot's room would "stand up as the most sexy and glamorous bedroom in houses the biggest bed in California—a little number measuring exactly ten feet long, ensconced on a pale grey rug and sporting a half-canopy of coral fish net...the walls are pale blue...the lights are soft and harem-like."
The bedroom of Franchot Tone.

Burgess would recall in his biography and he and Franchot "shared many a bottle and many a girl, both in New York and Hollywood, in our bachelor days. There were also some quiet times in Canada at his hunting lodge...But he enjoyed life to the end, loving and being loved by an army of fans and friends..."

Franchey, John R. Hollywood's Gayest Bachelors! Screenland. May 1941. p. 28-29, 88. 
Meredith, Burgess. So Far, so Good: A Memoir. Boston: Little, Brown, 1994. 72-76.