Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Happy Birthday, Franchot!

Today marks the 113th anniversary of Franchot's birth and I thought it would be fun to celebrate Franchot's birthday this year by looking back at ways he celebrated in the past.

In 1937, Franchot celebrated his 32nd birthday on the set of They Gave Him a Gun. Costars Spencer Tracy, Gladys George, and Woody Van Dyke surprised him with a cake covered in candles imbedded in revolver cartridges (keeping with the theme of the film) and a birthday note written in pink icing across the top. Franchot was reportedly very happy with the surprise and ordered ice cream to go along with it.

In 1938, Joan Crawford threw a surprise party for Franchot at the Trocadero. Ethel Merman, Norma Shearer, Cesar Romero, David Niven, and George Murphy attended.

In 1941, Franchot shared a birthday party with Joan Bennett, his co-star in She Knew All the Answers and later The Wife Takes a Flyer. Joan requested that a cake be arranged for Franchot as a surprise. Little did she know that Franchot had approached the movie's prop man for the very same arrangement for Joan. On the day of their shared birthday, Franchot and Joan arrived on set to discover one table with two surprise cakes.

Joan B. and Franchot enjoyed a joint birthday celebration so much that the following year they threw a massive birthday party for servicemen who were also born on February 27th. Attendees (reported at between 25 and 30 total) played games, ate a buffet, and danced with "a throng of screen actresses, were presented with surprise birthday gifts and carved a huge birthday cake topped by 27 candles."

Happy Birthday, Franchot! The world was made better because you existed in it.

"Birthday Epidemic." Los Angeles Times. March 9, 1941.
"Birthday Party Cake Provides Arsenal." Los Angeles Times. March 14, 1937.
"Film Stars Fete Service Men with Same Birthday." Los Angeles Times. February 28, 1942.
"Franchot Tone Tendered Surprise." Los Angeles Times. March 6, 1938.
*gifs above are from Sadie McKee and The King Steps Out.

Friday, February 23, 2018

The Gambler and His Face: Franchot Tone on his Plastic Surgery

In May 1952, Franchot was asked how he felt about his "new face." I wrote about the complicated 1951 Neal-Tone altercation that caused the need for Franchot's plastic surgery and impaired his voice last year (click here), but this is the first time I've run across Franchot making a statement about the plastic surgery to the press:
They say it's better than ever, but I liked the old one better. I'm a gambler, and gamblers sometimes lose. A man's got to live. I've had a full life, with no regrets. There was so much bad publicity, I couldn't defend it; so I've never had my day in court. I think I'll just pass it up. People all over the country tell me they're on my side. I'll settle for that. Well, you can't kill a guy for falling in love, and I've always let them make an honest man of me.
The change in his nose is very apparent in these side-by-side shots.
"The New Tone." Los Angeles Times. May 24, 1952. page 10.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Electric Eartha Kitt and Jolly's Progress

On May 16th, 1952, a new play "New Faces of 1952" had a reading at the Metropolitan Opera House Lounge. The play starred Eartha Kitt and Ronny Graham and received positive reviews. Franchot Tone attended a party that was given in honor of the play. He was photographed sharing the good reviews with Eartha and Ronny on the steps of the opera house. Everyone gravitated toward Eartha that night, including Franchot, who called her "the most electric personality I've ever seen" and, according to Jet Magazine, blushed when a photographer asked to take their photo.

Seven years later, Franchot was set to costar with Eartha in "Jolly's Progress." In September 1959, Jet published that Eartha was resting briefly before going into rehearsals with Franchot, but by September 18th, the New York Times revealed that Franchot had already dropped out of the play. There seems to be some debate as to why he dropped out. Franchot told reporters that he had an additional work commitment that he couldn't discuss at the time. The word around town, though, was that Franchot left the play because he wasn't pleased with the way Coleman's dramatization had turned out. Franchot had liked Coleman's book, but felt the characterization was lacking in the play's script. Columnist Dorothy Kilgallen hinted that Eartha, having gone through the deterioration of several romantic relationships in previous months, was having "temperamental outbursts" throughout the process of casting and rehearsals. It was also rumored that Franchot left due to a billing dispute.

Perhaps, it's a good thing that Franchot dropped out. Reviewer Peter Dee, in his 1959 Second Balcony column suggested that the playwright "thought that if he combined ideas from 'Pygmalion' and 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' he'd have a great play. He doesn't, but surely has an arresting one." Dee would go on to say that Eartha's "electric histrionics cannot hide the fact that this play needs such judicious fixing-up..." Wendell Corey took Franchot's place in the play, which ran for 9 performances from December 5th through December 9th on Broadway.

Getty has an even better photo of Franchot and Eartha here: Getty Images

Dee, Peter. "Second Balcony: Jolly's Progress." The Heights. November 13, 1959.
"Eartha Kitt, Franchot Tone to Costar in Play." Jet Magazine. September 10, 1959.
Internet Broadway Database: https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-production/jollys-progress-2803
"Round Up." Jet Magazine. September 17, 1959.
"Star is Acclaimed by Celebrities." Jet Magazine. July 31, 1952.
"Tone Withdraws from Role Opposite Eartha Kitt." Jet Magazine. October 1, 1959.
Zolotow, Sam. "Corey May Take Role Tone Quit." The New York Times. September 18, 1959.

Friday, February 16, 2018

That Night With You (1945)

That Night with You is a 1945 romantic comedy with some dream fantasy thrown in for good measure. The film stars Franchot Tone, Susanna Foster, Louise Allbritton, David Bruce, and Jacqueline de Wit. It also includes an odd, too-brief part played by Buster Keaton.

I've not watched That Night With You nearly as much as other Franchot films. To be honest, the first time I saw it I thought it was not a strong performance of Franchot's and didn't really go for all the dream sequences. I recently rewatched it and realize I've missed the mark in a lot of ways. Franchot's performance is a bit hammy (the first time I watched it I felt he overplayed it), but it's actually quite in line with the character he plays. As Paul Renoit, he winks and smirks and flirts his way through the picture. But Paul's a self-described cad who promises women stage parts in exchange for romantic interludes, cares only about himself, and thinks he's God's gift to women. The way Franchot plays it absolutely makes sense and is, frankly, a pretty adorable performance. He's lovely to look at and more goofy than debonair throughout the film.  I found myself giggling at him by the end of each scene.

Penny (Susanna Foster) dreams (literally) of becoming a singing sensation for Paul Renoit. When she sleeps, she finds herself on expansive musical stages headlining a Renoit production. Penny is certain these dreams will become reality and doesn't hesitate to forge her own path to Paul's stage door. Penny's boyfriend Johnny (David Bruce) owns the diner where Penny works (and where Buster Keaton serves customers from behind the counter) and thinks Penny's dreams are just wishful thinking and aims to make Penny a housewife and mother.

Sneaking into the theater, Penny witnesses star Clarissa quit the show on opening night—just as her dream had foretold. We learn that Clarissa gave up a big Hollywood contract in order to be Mrs. Paul Renoit, but Paul has been stringing her along. A well-meaning wardrobe mistress advises Penny to stay as far away from Paul as possible. He's a serial womanizer. He even abandoned a wife, annulling the marriage as a very young man. Penny realizes she's young enough to convince Paul that a daughter was born following the brief marriage and that she is said daughter.

Paul's wise-cracking, Eve Arden-type secretary Prudence (Louise Allbritton, a comedic revelation to me) is on to Penny's scheme at once. Paul is, too, but decides to play along. But when his friends begin to joke that Penny really does favor Paul quite a bit in bone structure, Paul begins to worry that he is a father after all. And when his long-forgotten first wife Blossom (Jacqueline de Wit) reappears and vouches for Penny's story, every character becomes confused until the truth finally reveals itself. The film is hard-to-find, but is an engaging, cute story showing Franchot's knack for romantic comedy.

-Although Franchot is the lead, there are a lot of musical numbers that he's not involved in, so he's not given as much screentime as he could've handled.
-Susanna Foster is lovely and an amazing singer, but I couldn't help but wish Deanna Durbin (her studio-imposed rival at Universal, apparently) was in the role instead. I'm crazy about Durbin-Tone pairings and would've liked to see them in this film together.
-I wish this film had been shot in Technicolor. It would've lent a more magical quality to the dream sequences.

Bosley Crowther (never much of a fan of Franchot's) reviewed the film for the New York Times dated November 9, 1945 and called it a "mild musical" and "romantic nonsense of an innocent and thoroughly foolish sort." He said, "Mr. Tone's coyness as a foster father is not precisely on the scintillating side."  I, however, think the innocence and foolishness of the romance is what makes this movie so delightful.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Happy February!

I've been delving into the LA Times archive and am having a great time researching there but am not quite finished with a new blog post yet. Also, I've been without home internet which has really hindered my blog time. It should be restored next week! In the meantime, I thought I'd share some where-to-watch Franchot announcements.

Franchot on Amazon Prime
Right now there are two Franchot movies you can stream for free if you are an Amazon Prime member. Film noir Jigsaw stars Franchot as a district attorney who attempts to uncover the organization behind a recent murder. Each dangerous encounter leads to another in this low-budget but well-plotted noir and Franchot gives a great performance. This film is also notable because it features Franchot's wife Jean Wallace and some great cameos by John Garfield, Marlene Dietrich, Henry Fonda, and more.

Watch here. (It's also on Youtube if you don't have Prime.)

I'm very excited that Dark Waters has also made it to Amazon Prime. This is a rare gothic noir starring Franchot and Merle Oberon. I think there are some flaws here and there, but I love this film! It's an unusual, moody and romantic little gem (and Franchot is. I wrote about my love for this film in an earlier post that you can read here. It's one of my favorite Franchot films to watch and rarely found online, so enjoy!

Watch here.

Upcoming Franchot on TCM (Turner Classic Movies)
February 25 at 8 p.m.: Mutiny on the Bounty
February 26 at 10 a.m.: The Lives of a Bengal Lancer