Sunday, June 10, 2018

Fansite updates

Hi, everyone! I'm going to be spending some time this week and possibly next week updating my Finding Franchot site at www.findingfranchot.com. It's past time I added some new scans and just did a general checkup over there.

Coming very soon to this blog are posts on Franchot's ties to actress Sylvia Sidney plus Franchot's work in Run For Your Life and the Virginian.

Thanks for reading!
Emily

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Franchot's World War II Draft Card

Today I discovered Franchot's World War II draft card on Fold3. Fold3 is an online database of historical military records that I've used often for my own family history research. Knowing Franchot didn't serve in the war, I hadn't even considered that his draft card would be there. Fold3's basic access is free but some items are limited to those with a paid subscription. Check with your local library to see if it has a subscription for patrons to use—I used my own public library to access Fold3 today! (This post is not an ad for or sponsored by Fold3. I just like to cite my sources.)

Ok, on to the record...


The card is labeled order # 1301 and serial # 272. It is dated October 16, 1940 and Franchot has added his distinctive signature at the bottom. Franchot is 35 years old and employed by Universal Pictures, Inc. at Universal City studios in Los Angeles, California. At the time, Franchot's address is 470 No (I think this stands for # here) Layton Drive in Los Angeles, California. His phone number is GL-3115—don't you wish you could just call him up and have a chat?

When I Google his address, all that gets returned is the alternate address of 470 Layton Way in Los Angeles, a plantation-style mansion designed by architect John Byers for wealthy Phillip Ilsley, who lived in it beginning in 1937. Actor Wayne Morris and his wife Leonora "Bubbles" Hornblow lived there after their marriage in 1939, but divorced soon after in 1940. I don't know how Franchot could've lived in this house at the time, logistically, but with its immaculate landscaping (it included a waterfall, tennis court, and pool) it certainly seems like the type of house Franchot might occupy, short or long term. It is probably that Google is leading me in the wrong direction since a lot of streets change over time. When he registered to vote the same year, Franchot listed his address as 10333 Wilshire Boulevard. 1940 was an interesting year for Franchot. He was fresh from his recent return to the stage and only made one film that year, the western comedy Trail of the Vigilantes. He was single and seen around town with many gorgeous and talented Hollywood ladies (including Carole Landis and Olivia deHavilland) during that time. My point is that he was playing the field in romance and his career at the time, so it is very likely that he was also not settled in one residence or another.

He lists his father as a further contact and places his father at the family home on Buffalo Avenue in Niagara Falls, New York.


On the Registrar's Report side, we get a physical description of Franchot. With mostly black and white photos available, you may have wondered about the color of his eyes...they are hazel, his hair brown, and his complexion light. He's just shy of 6 feet tall and weighs 160 pounds. A kidney scar is listed as another identifying body marker. Franchot seemed to have major kidney issues. I'm not sure if this was a medical issue independent of his drinking habit or due to it. In his book, Elia Kazan makes mention of Franchot having an issue with his kidneys (and with drinking binges) as early as the Group Theatre days of the early 1930's. I am not sure when Franchot acquired the scar, but he had additional medical issues from 1938 to 1941.

Just before his 33rd birthday, in 1938, doctors advised the ailing actor that "rest, strict diet and avoidance of all exercise" were "essential" to recovery of a non-disclosed, serious illness.

On July 24th, 1941, not even a full year after this draft card was completed, Franchot was stricken by extreme pain and had to undergo an immediate "major abdominal operation" at Good Samaritan Hospital. Following the operation, the Los Angeles Times reported that Franchot was "as good as can be expected." If the draft record had been completed in October 1941, the identifying body markings field would indicate an additional scar from that operation.

On September 9, 1941, the Los Angeles Times reported that Franchot had recently recovered and was no longer hospitalized. It said he was set to begin filming of Eadie was a Lady with Rita Hayworth and John Hubbard, a project that did not come to fruition. (Eadie was a Lady would be released in 1945 starring Ann Miller, Joe Besser, and William Wright.)


Despite completing his draft card immediately after the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, Franchot did not serve in World War II. The records do not indicate which draft classification he received, so I am not sure if he was deferred for any reason or why he did not serve.

Franchot—who would marry Jean Wallace in 1941 and start a family—was a prominent war bond seller across the country, served on charitable committees and entertained the troops. I will write about his contributions on the homefront in another post.

Sources:
  • Clippings. The Los Angeles Times. July 5, 1937; February 11, 1938; July 26, 1941; September 9, 1941.
  • Fold3: https://www.fold3.com/title/816/wwii-draft-registration-cards
  • Kazan, Elia. Elia Kazan: A Life. New York: Knopf, 1988.
  • Paradise Leased: https://paradiseleased.wordpress.com/2011/01/03/lost-hollywood-a-swimmingly-grand-estate-in-brentwood-heights/
  • "Tone Undergoes Major Operation." Los Angeles Times. July 25, 1941.




Friday, May 25, 2018

Garry McGarry

Garry McGarry. Source: eBay.
Variety called Franchot a protege of Garry McGarry. Who was Garry McGarry? He was born in Pennsylvania in 1889 and died suddenly of pneumonia at the age of 38 in New York in 1927. He was an actor, director, and leader of a stock company in theater, and a prominent member of the early Vitagraph and Edison picture companies.

As a young man, McGarry was a celebrated leading man in pictures. IMDb lists the following films and film shorts from 1914 to 1921 in Garry's filmography:
The Plaything of Broadway
The False Faces
A Prince in a Pawnshop
The Car and His Majesty
The Scarlet Runner
Mr. Jack Inspects Paris
The Wrong Mr. Wright
By Love Redeemed
Saints and Sinners
Sis
On the Turn of a Card
Brown's Summer Boarders
One Performance Only
Hearts Ablaze
The Tigress
Life's Yesterdays
The Silent W
The Esterbrook Case
Cutey's Sister
The Love Whip
The Return of Maurice Donnelly
The Capitulation of the Major
Lillian's Sweetheart
The Radium Thieves
The Wrong Girl
A Daughter of Israel
A Question of Clothes
The Greater Love
The Athletic Family
The Methods of Margaret
The Peacemaker

At the time of McGarry's sudden death in 1927, Franchot was twenty-two years old and recently graduated from Cornell University. Franchot worked as a stage manager and actor for Garry's stock theater company, Garry McGarry's Players, the summer and early fall after his college graduation. In my last post, Variety had a little note about college senior Franchot being picked to test with a film studio in 1927. I wonder if that arrangement fell through or if Franchot, always a play actor first and a film actor second, chose the theater instead.

After completing his studies, Franchot returned to Buffalo, New York to work with McGarry. Franchot's cousin Pascal Franchot was a major funder of the McGarry Players and that family relation helped Franchot get his foot in the door. According to the Buffalo Historical Society, Pascal Franchot was recognized for his efforts in the first World War and his charitable endeavors at an annual meeting that took place in 1925. At that meeting, McGarry spoke publicly of his appreciation of Pascal Franchot's services. This close friendship between Pascal and Garry certainly paved the way for Franchot to get his first chance at the stage in 1927.

Franchot began to get noticed as a "promising new juvenile" immediately and quickly advanced from the McGarry's company to roles in more prominent theater groups, in plays like The Belt, Centuries, and The International at New Playwrights' Theatre, and The Age of Innocence at the Empire Theatre. It was during Franchot's run in The Belt during November 1927 that he would've learned of his mentor Garry McGarry's death.

As one of Franchot's earliest supporters, McGarry aided Franchot in his discovery of the New York stage and into an acting career that would last for his entire life. Other than cast lists, ads, and his obituary, I have been unable to uncover as much about Garry McGarry as I'd hoped. If I find more and I hope I do, I will come back and add to this post later.


Ad for "The Garden of Aloha". Source:
Variety, September 1917. Media History Digital Library.
Sources:
  • Block, Maxine. Current Biography Yearbook 1940. H.W. Wilson Company, 1940.
  • "Address of the President and Report of the Director Submitted at the Annual Meeting." Buffalo Historical Society. The Society, 1925.
  • Film magazines accessed via the Media History Digital Library at http://mediahistoryproject.org/

Friday, May 18, 2018

Pre-Hollywood Variety Mentions

Franchot first gained notice with filmgoers in 1933, but he was creating a buzz in Variety magazine as early as 1927. I've gathered a timeline of those Variety mentions.

May 4, 1927:
First National Pictures searched college campuses for future cinema talent and spotted ten talented actors at Cornell University. "The lucky ten at Cornell included Franchot Tone, president of the Cornell Dramatic Club.

January 18, 1928:
Starring as David Fitch in "The International", which Variety noted was "anything but not original in creation and presentation. So hectic and cacaphonous is its production that the play might well be styled a true exponent of a new school of vo-do-de-o drama."

October 23, 1929:
Franchot is busy rehearsing "Cross Roads" with Sylvia Sidney and others.

November 20, 1929:
Performing as Duke in "Cross Roads", Franchot is called "capable" in this "truthful, sympathetic picture of youth wrecked by the standards of modern society."

May 7, 1930:
"Franchot Tone, Niagara Falls boy, and protege of the late Garry McGarry, has signed with the New York Theatre Guild."

My note: I'm currently working on an individual post on Garry McGarry that I'll be posting within the next two days. I feel he deserves his own post, not a mere mention in this little Variety timeline.

September 1930:
Franchot is busy rehearsing Uncle Vanya, his first of several associations with this play.

October 6, 1931:

Performing as Will Connelly in The House of Connelly. "First nighters were impressed with this carefully prepared, serious drama"

December 5, 1931:
Performing as Adam in the play "1931". "A graphic picture of unemployment among the city's laboring class, strikingly scened but a depressing play."

March 15, 1932:
Performing as Federico in "Night Over Taos". "The Group Theatre which had the aid of the Theatre Guild but claimed now to be on its own offers a third production this season. 'Night Over Taos' is as good a production as 'House of Connelly' if not more skillful and certainly more striking. The mistake called '1931' has been forgotten."

May 3, 1932:
For his work in "A Thousand Summers", Variety writes, "Franchot Tone is especially good as the boy, presenting him sincerely and with great earnestness."

June 28, 1932:
Franchot leaves "A Thousand Summers" on June 25 and is replaced by actor Johnny Griggs.

October 4, 1932:
Performing as Raymond Merritt in "Success Story". "Franchot Tone, one of the Group's most promising players, does well but is third to the Adlers [Luther and Stella]."

October 25, 1932:
"Franchot Tone goes Metro on a six months' contract, plus a similar option, booked by Mike Connolly of the Jenie Jacobs office. He leaves 'Success Story', current New York play, and goes to the Coast next week. First assignment is 'Nora' opposite Jean Harlow."

November 8, 1932:
"Franchot Tone arrived Saturday (6) from New York, to start his Metro contract."

Source:
Variety Publishing Company. Accessed via Media History Digital Library

Friday, May 11, 2018

Charles Brackett's Take on Five Graves to Cairo

Oscar-winning writer and producer Charles Brackett kept a diary throughout his career and it was published in Anthony Slide's 2014 book It's the Pictures that Got Small. I only read the parts concerning Five Graves to Cairo, but plan to go back and read the book in its entirety. It's a fascinating book, but it's also amusing—most entries concern Brackett complaining about something or someone on set and declarations that he cannot wait for it to be over. It struck me as funny because it reads much like the diary of any one of us who might talk about our job at the end of the day over dinner or keep a diary about all of our coworkers. You're grouped with people of all different personalities and egos and you're forced to problem solve and reach an ultimate goal together. It's bound to be mostly negative complaints, right?  Guess it's no different for Hollywood producers!

The diary entries serve as a wonderful timeline of the film with Brackett's thoughts on the director and cast.

In July and August 1942, the film is referred to as "Imperial Hotel" and "Imperial Palace" until on August 11, Brackett writes:
Settled on the title, Five Graves to Cairo, told it to Bill Dozier at the table and word-gamed successfully. In the afternoon, we were summoned to Buddy De Sylva with Bill Dozier, told Buddy the title. He didn't like it. The word "graves" would keep people away from the theatre. Before we left he had accepted it...no one but ourselves to know anything about the picture...
Their publicity plan was also mapped out during the meeting over the title.
As early as August 2, Brackett was struggling with collaborator and friend Billy Wilder, writing that their ideas were "miles apart" and wondering whether "our successful collaborative partnership is over."

Casting was discussed on August 6. Buddy De Sylva wanted Paulette Goddard or maybe Zorina for the role that eventually went to Anne Baxter, but Brackett's top pick was Simone Simon. Simone and Franchot tested as early as September 29. There seems to have been no debate over Franchot in the lead. After seeing the tests, Brackett realized that Simone was not a good fit after all. He writes:
As it was, she was only a good spare, comfortable to know we could fall back on in case we got stuck. She wanted to see the tests, made a scene over the telephone. It is fantastic how she alienated every human being from the hair-dresser to the cutter during the test itself. As a result, the atmosphere in the projection room where the test was shown was distinctly unfriendly...
In October, Wilder and Brackett met with a British captain for technical advice on the picture, but Brackett writes that he was "not impressed."

In November, Brackett is utterly frustrated with Wilder, writing that Billy related their story of Five Graves to Cairo "quite badly" to David Selznick, that he, himself, is "unenthusiastic" about Wilder's desire to have Anne Baxter ("as dreary a little piece as I ever saw") in the female lead, and that Wilder's confidence in the film is so badly "shaken" that he makes their session together "absolute hell." By the end of the month, before the film has even been fully cast, Brackett writes:
Tonight I am playing with the thought, ecstatically, of casting off the utterly foolish pretense that I am producing Five Graves to Cairo...
December is no better. Brackett writes of more "hell," calls Anne Baxter "as plain as a pikestaff but nice," and questions Wilder's mental state writing:
There are times when I look at Billy, the best dramatic mind with which I ever came in contact, with the appalling feeling this his mind is dropping apart before my eyes—its brilliant decisiveness crumbling to utterly foolish indecisions.
Franchot, who apparently had a large appetite that day, is filming the scene in which he runs into the town by January 4, 1943. Brackett observes:
Then the sun rose and the excess water dried and the shooting began. Franchot [Tone], running towards the town, Franchot seeing the town, rising to his feet, starting his run, Franchot addressing the imaginary sentry...The time for shooting was brief, due to the direction of the hotel, which has the sun on its face for three brief hours. Lunched at the commissary, the point of interest being F.T.'s appetite, which is prodigious...wandered on the set to see Franchot do his crawl to the road, his eerie laugh as he saw the town.
Later that week, Franchot's buddy Buzz (actor Burgess Meredith) visited the set and Brackett enjoyed talking with them before they left. By January 12, Brackett is growing frustrated with Franchot:
In the afternoon Franchot Tone resumed his curious, quiet, automatic argument over every comma of the script. It's not that he really objects to the stuff, he just argues—uninterestingly, seemingly for the sake of conversation. I offered to give him a lecture on the subject but Billy said not yet, "But it is going to get on my nerves"...
Two weeks later, Franchot objected to the line "Like kind Uncle 'Erbert on Christmas Eve." Brackett:
Listened to his argument that he, as an American playing an Englishman, didn't want to have to play an Englishman imitating a Cockney. Suggested some lines, heard his objections, and had one of my old-fashioned ground-fits, from sheer boredeom—which scared the hell out of Tone and should prove valuable to Billy in future.
Actor Erich von Stroheim requested changes to his dialogue as well and Brackett calls the changes "absurd" and describes Von Stroheim as elderly, writing of his "slowness, lack of sureness, inability to remember his lines."

Brackett thought the January rushes he viewed were good but by February was concerned that the new rushes were only "fair" and called them "slightly ridiculous." By February 21, he was savoring the "unspeakable rapture of not having to work on Five Graves to Cairo." By March 2, they had a rough cut of the entire film and the first week of April, Wilder and Brackett had written the introductory title for the film though Brackett wrote "we're no good together any longer. There's so stimulation in the relationship."

At the final preview of the film in early April, Brackett wrote:
The picture played infinitely better without the omitted music, save for the sun-struck scene which seemed to need it. The ending was truncated and awful. The audience was completely absorbed in the story, and the picture isn't a great success. It has no real warmth, partly due to Tone. It is taut and contrived. Wish to hell we'd made anything but a war picture.
Although Brackett and Wilder didn't see eye to eye on Five Graves to Cairo, they would actually go on to collaborate through the end of 1948, completing 12 films together before going their separate ways.

Now that we've read Brackett's complaints, I have one of  my own—the design of most of the promotional posters and the DVD cover. Franchot is the male lead and the focal character throughout the entire film, but he is non-existent on the most widely distributed film poster.

And look how tiny little crawling Franchot is on the modern DVD cover.


Production-wise and story-wise, Five Graves to Cairo stands as one of Franchot's finest films. If you are a fan of Mutiny on the Bounty and The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, you'll appreciate Five Graves to Cairo—strangely, I've never written film summaries with screen captures for any of those three here! I guess I assumed a lot of people have seen those and started with some of the more rare films first. They are on the to-do list.

There's a wonderful behind-the-scenes photo album on TCM's website: http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/75054/Five-Graves-to-Cairo/#tcmarcp-500479-500481

Source:
Slide, Anthony. "It's the Pictures That Got Small": Charles Brackett on Billy Wilder and Hollywood's Golden Age. Columbia University Press, Nov 25, 2014.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Henry Hathaway on Franchot Tone

Autographed photo (to Eleanor) of Franchot
Tone on the set of The Lives of a Bengal Lancer.
Source: my collection
In a series of interviews with Polly Platt, director Henry Hathaway discussed the initial difficulty of getting Franchot secured for the role of Lieutenant John Forysthe and why he thought Franchot was perfect for it. Hathaway explained:
Well, the part had to be a man in balance. I considered this a love story between two guys; I don't mean a love story about homosexuals. Great affection and great love. And respect. When they gave me [Henry] Wilcoxon, I went in and protested. I said, "This man can be a first mate on a ship or a tough sergeant 'cause he's got a tough look about him. But he could not be a gentleman from the Blues." And it's much better to have a gentlemen instead of an Englishman. For balance. I said I wanted Franchot Tone and they said he was at M-G-M and he wasn't an Englishman and I had to use Wilcoxon...I started to work and I tried to get the balance in this stuff and I worked like hell with Wilcoxon, trying to get him a little softer, a little more gentle, more affable, tried to get him to be a gentleman...
About a month into filming the picture, Hathaway knew that Wilcoxon was the wrong fit. He went to Manny Cohen and said that if Wilcoxon wasn't out, then Henry himself would quit the picture. Hathaway felt his future career as a director hinged on this moment and he was willing to abandon the project if his wishes were not met. He told Cohen that he wanted Franchot Tone for the part. A meeting was held with the studio's lawyers, Cohen, and Hathaway. Hathaway requested Franchot Tone. The studio said no and offered Cary Grant and then Ray Milland. Hathaway recalls he demanded:
"Why don't you get me the man I want? Get me Tone." They said, "He's in a picture." "I don't believe it. Call Metro." They called Metro and they said they'd talk to Tone about it. I said to send Tone over to talk to us. He came over and I talked to him about the whole thing and he said, "Fine, I'll do it." So I went back to work with Tone. You know that the picture would not have been the same without Tone. Would it?
At this point, interviewer Polly Platt agrees and adds that "Tone is more interesting I think than Cooper." Hathaway responds, "And the fun he had with the Cooper character because he wasn't as classy as he was."

Platt then praises Hathaway for how the characters were set up and interacted with one another "and Tone does this wonderful look. Who could get away with that? Any other man?"

Hathaway responds, "If it was Wilcoxon, you'd have hated Wilcoxon. He's like the heavy."

Of course, Henry Wilcoxon starred in many of Cecil B. DeMille's films and went on to become a television actor and producer. We're fortunate that Hathaway pressed for Tone's involvement and that Franchot returned the interest despite M-G-M's leanings against it. Hathaway's insistence provided Franchot with one of the finest performances and films of his career. It was a role Franchot took pride in and would screen at home for his own enjoyment.

Source:
Hathaway, Henry and Polly Platt. Henry Hathaway. Scarecrow Press, 2001.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Disappearing Act

I just realized my recent post on the play Bicycle Ride to Nevada has disappeared from my blog! I'm trying to figure out what happened to my post and my drafts of it online and can hopefully repost it in its entirety. If not, I'll write about it again shortly.

Exploration of Five Graves to Cairo coming this weekend!

Update: I think I definitely deleted the BRtN post by accident before backing it up. What a bummer! Will recreate it from my notes soon. Five Graves still coming!