Friday, October 6, 2017

The Time of Your Life (1955 and 1958)

1955 production
Although disappointed that an agreement to play Mister Roberts dissolved after director's Josh Logan's protests (I wrote about that here), Franchot signed on to play Joe in William Saroyan's The Time of Your Life in its place. (In my research of The Time of Your Life, I actually came across a January 3rd notice in Theatre Arts magazine that states that Franchot will headline Mister Roberts through January 16.) When asked if he'd be interested, Franchot's response to Jean Dalrymple was ""Joe! The Time of Your Life! Wonderful! I'd love to do it!" The Time of Your Life resulted in a major success for Franchot.  The play ran as part of New York City Center's season for 15 performances between January 19th and January 30th, 1955.

Franchot in The Time of Your Life, 1955.

William Saroyan wrote on January 16th that the two-week revival of his play
represents the only play by me to be professionally produced on Broadway in more than ten years. I have every hope and very nearly every reason to believe the play will be effectively performed by an excellent cast...
Saroyan's wish for the play to be well-received came true. Brooks Atkinson reviewed Franchot's performance:
The acting is out of the top drawer. As the central character, Mr.Tone plays with a dry detached geniality that establishes the right relationship between the environment and himself, and that admirably avoids sentimentality...It belongs on the stage where it is alive, unique and delightful.
Maurice Zolotow called it a "beautiful play whose lines are filled with a tender and warm feeling for language, whose people are real and moving." Zolotow praised the acting of cast members John Carradine, Wolfe Barzell, Myron McCormick, Fred Kareman, and Paula Lawrence. You'll notice an important name missing from that list. Zolotow confessed:
Every human being has one blind spot, and I confess mine is Franchot Tone, the Joe of this revival. I have seen him in many roles and I know it is irrational to say this, but he has never convinced me he is the person he is playing. 
The play was such a success that Playhouse owner Ben Marden wanted to transfer the City Center production to Broadway once its two weeks were up. Louis Calta also publicly lamented that such a play could not be moved to a longer Broadway engagement. Actors who performed in City Center productions did so because they believed in the mission of the center and to hone their craft. All those involved in City Center productions, including Franchot, generously worked for minimum salaries so that they could keep ticket prices low and the Center's vision pure.

Franchot Tone and Gloria Vanderbilt

During the run of the play, Franchot's romance with heiress Gloria Vanderbilt added extra publicity for the production. Vanderbilt's small role in the play was being highly publicized during the time and she and Franchot engaged in what she termed a "transient" relationship. You can read her thoughts on Franchot here.

During the run of the play, Franchot and Gloria made a special television appearance on The Colgate Comedy Hour on January 23, 1955. I've not seen this appearance but their scene was summarized as "Franchot Tone and Gloria Vanderbilt in "In the French Style." The episode was hosted by Gordon MacRae. Other guests on the show that evening were Paul Winchell, Ronny Graham, Joyce Bryant, the DeMarco Sisters and the Mayo Brothers.

1958 production
Although The Time of Your Life never did a full Broadway run, fans had another opportunity to see Franchot in the role of Joe. Three years after the first production, Jean Dalrymple secured Franchot Tone and actress Susan Strasberg for a weeklong engagement of The Time of Your Life at the Brussels World's Fair in Belgium. Also in this production were Dan Dailey and Ann Sheridan.

The play opened to an audience of 1,150 socially prominent citizens (attendees were listed as commissioners and ambassadors) at the United States Pavilion Theatre on October 8, 1958. Belgian reviewers gave the performance high praise and the cast received eight curtain calls on opening night.

Franchot Tone and Susan Strasberg
This special event led to the play being filmed for television in Britain. The production aired as a presentation of Armchair Theatre on October 19,1958. I'd love to see this. I feel like it would be equivalent to seeing Franchot in the filmed version of Uncle Vanya. Viewing Franchot in his element as Astroff in Uncle Vanya is a serious and emotional experience for me and I think that seeing his performance of Joe would have the same effect. I don't know if a recording even exists of The Time of Your Life, but I hope if there is, it'll be released someday.
Franchot in the Armchair Theatre production, 1958.
British TV Times promoting The Time of Your Life, 1958.

Atkinson, Brooks. "Time of Your Life: Saroyan in Top Form in an Excellent Revival for the City Center Series." The New York Times. January 30, 1955.
Calta, Louis. "Center Play Eyed as Broadway Item." The New York Times. January 25, 1955.
Funke, Lewis. "News and Gossip of the Rialto." The New York Times. May 11, 1958.
Saroyan, William. "Saroyan on Saroyan: Pulitzer-Prize Playwright Investigates His Record." The New York Times. January 16, 1955.
"U.S. Play Opens at Fair." The New York Times. October 9, 1955.
Zolotow, Maurice. "The Season On and Off Broadway." Theatre Arts. April 1955.

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