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

Sources:
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.




Criticisms:
-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

Monday, January 22, 2018

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

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

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

Sources:
Bowie, Stephen. "An Interview with Harry Landers. The Classic TV History Blog. https://classictvhistory.wordpress.com/2011/05/31/an-interview-with-harry-landers/

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

Friday, December 29, 2017

2017 at a Glance

Dancing Lady, 1933.
With 2018 quickly approaching, I compiled all of my 2017 exploration of Franchot in this link-filled post. I like to see what I've posted each year and revisit articles, quotes, and summaries that I've forgotten. Unfortunately, I didn't post as frequently in 2017 as I did in previous years, but I feel that I truly learned a great deal about Franchot this year—especially in regard to his theater career, his last decade, and his relationship with Barbara Payton.

I also added quite a bit of items to my Franchot memorabilia collection this year. I'm incredibly proud of my collection, but I do feel I got a tad obsessed with owning all the Franchot I could. It was a stressful year for me at times and I comforted myself with Franchot photograph purchases. In the last several months, I've realized that as comforting as a beautiful, original Franchot photograph is to me, I've been neglecting the pure joy that comes from watching his filmed work and having my nose stuck in obscure books searching for references to him. I think I've regained that balance of collecting and researching these past 2 months and plan to maintain it 2018.

I wish you all the best in 2018 and hope you'll continue on this journey of Finding Franchot with me!

Plays
Hope for the Best-1945
The Time of Your Life-1955 and 1958
Mandingo-1961
Beyond Desire-1967

Television
Witchcraft: Doll in Brambles-1950's
Ticket to Tahiti-1958
Bitter Heritage-1958
Alfred Hitchcock Hour-Final Performance-1965

Movies
One New York Night-1935
Three Loves Has Nancy-1938
Star Spangled Rhythm-1942
I Love Trouble-1948

Missed Opportunities
Gone with the Wind-1939
The Country Girl (play)

Personal Life
Reflections from Friendships/Coworkers: Janet Blair, Jean Dalrymple, Arthur Penn
Love Affairs: Barbara Payton: The Beginning, The Altercation, Marriage-Muir-and Malfunction, Franchot on Joan's Beauty and more, Franchot on Joan's Humor and more
Gatineau Treasure
Irving Thalberg's Support
A Theater of His Own
Pamp and the Yearbook

Magazine Articles and Interviews
Franchot Talks to TV Guide
Franchot Talks about Uncle Vanya
A Wealthy, but Sensitive Comrade
Franchot Thaws
Franchot Tells on Himself
The Winning Mr. Tone

Blogathons
I held the first ever Franchot Tone Blogathon in April 2017!
I also participated in the following blogathons:
The John Garfield Blogathon
The Bette Davis Blogathon
The Judy Garland Blogathon

Photos
I did photo posts here here and here.

My Take
Playing Against Type: Discovering Franchot's Characters
"He's No Gable!": Musings on Frequent Internet Mumblings
Reflecting on Franchot this September

Social Media
Don't forget you can also follow along with my Franchot fanaticism on Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest!

Fansite
My Finding Franchot fansite, a companion to this blog, is at www.findingfranchot.com.

Thanks for everything and Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Studio One: Ticket to Tahiti (1958)

Franchot and Kim Hunter in Ticket to Tahiti.
Waiting for the elevator in his office building, Bill Gibson (Franchot Tone) decides to break routine and check out the travel agency on the ground floor. Miss Devereaux (Sheila Bromley) is a peppy, impassioned travel agent who convinces Bill that a trip to Tahiti is just the reward he needs. Bill, a widower, agrees. He's been working his entire life, raising a son who doesn't reciprocate his appreciation, and is ready to get away and have some fun. Bill has almost enough money saved up and, with a smile and excitement in his eyes, assures Miss Devereaux he will return to finalize travel plans soon.

Bill returns to his office and dreams of this chance to escape everyday life and begins recording a message to his boss saying that he will be taking a leave of absence on his dictation machine.  Bill's son Jim appears requesting money from his father. Jim's a young, new father who changes jobs frequently and is behind on all of his bills. Bill is clearly thrilled to see his son, but it's obvious to viewers that Jim is immature and taking advantage of his father on a regular basis. His heart set on an exotic getaway, Bill promises he will consider giving him a loan and let him know the following day.

We also discover that although Bill's message to his boss says that he has no ties to anyone or anything, Bill actually has a girlfriend Maggie (Kim Hunter) who desires to be more committed. Maggie can see that Jim and his new wife Shirley (Olive Sturgess) are using Bill for monetary support while denying him the right to spend time with his new grandchild.


Screenshots from Ticket to Tahiti.
When he makes a surprise visit to Jim and Shirley's home, Bill sees firsthand how irresponsible, disorganized, and childish his son and daughter-in-law are. After Jim disrespects him in a restaurant, Bill has had enough (and calls him a "little punk." I like hearing Franchot call people little punks. Also, I love when Franchot tells someone they are "outta brains" on Bonanza!) Bill devises a special arrangement which will end with payment to his son should his son agree to some pretty strict terms. If Jim doesn't take the deal, Bill will continue on his trip to Tahiti.

Ticket to Tahiti was a Studio One production that originally aired on June 2, 1958. It's a rare episode that occasionally airs on the Decades channel. Kim Hunter is absolutely wonderful as the loving, wise partner to Franchot's character, who hasn't fully committed to her yet. Franchot's character begins the episode exhausted with the daily grind, feeling unappreciated, and not demanding much of anyone. As the show progresses, Franchot's character Bill gains the upperhand and skillfully manages to secure a future of contentment and purpose for himself. I hope you're able to catch this rarity on television at some point, because it is completely worth the watch!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Franchot Talks to TV Guide, 1966

Franchot Tone as Daniel Freeland in Ben Casey, 1965-66.
Source: my collection.
In late 1965, Franchot granted an interview about joining the cast of Ben Casey and it appeared in the January 1, 1966 edition of TV Guide. It is my favorite of his print interviews, because it really shows that wit he possessed that all of his friends talked about in their recollections of him. I've collected some of Franchot's quotes from the interview as well as some of the interviewer's observations about him in this post. After buying a copy on eBay, I read the article and couldn't help but smile at Franchot's responses and feel emotional about his "best to come" response. Everything he says here is just so quotable! I love his reference to theater as the "feed bag" and his jokingly calling himself a "reasonable prima donna." When I read interviews of Franchot's, I always come away thinking "I really like this guy." And I think you will, too. That's why you're here, right?

On joining a television series in his 60's:
Tone flashes a smile familiar to two generations of moviegoers. "What's the use of having all this talent and not using it?" Tone says, and a network of laugh lines crinkle at the corners of his eyes. "Seriously, no plays came along and few pictures for a man my age except the odd cameo bits. I simply wanted to work."

Franchot's personality:

He has the aura of substance, the tenor of actorish dignity. A variety of books and recordings are stacked neatly in the living room, with the emphasis on Shakespeare and Mozart. "A man is happiest when his tastes are eclectic," Tone says. Only one magazine is in view, a copy of Playboy on the coffee table.

When Tone offers suggestions, [costar Vince] Edwards nods agreeably. "Fine, Franchot," Edwards says. "Whatever makes you comfortable." "I'm a very reasonable prima donna," Tone says. Edwards grins.

Both Vince and Franchot have a mutual love of horse racing. Sitting in his dressing room, Tone is usually immersed in a scratch sheet, pencil in hand. When the thoroughbreds are running, Tone and Edwards are at the track, although not together—Tone, the rich man's son, patronizes the $5 window, Edwards the $100 window.

"I'm unlucky in love. I should be lucky at gambling." But he isn't.

Gig Young, who starred with Franchot in "Oh Men! Oh Women!" told TV Guide:
Without being a fool about it, Franchot shared the limelight. He's an unselfish man, and when you say that an actor is unselfish—well, who's ever heard of an unselfish actor?

Another actor who chose to remain anonymous commented:
Tone has so much charm he makes people forget he's as self-centered as anyone in this business. Tone does what is best for Tone.

Franchot's Thoughts on Awards:
They are good for the people who give them and the people who get them and that's what awards are good for. (The interviewer noted Franchot was "properly sardonic" on the subject.)

Franchot's Thoughts on Marriage:
Marriage is very good for the children.

Franchot's Thoughts on Acting:
Everything I know about acting I learned from Lee Strasberg. At the Group, I learned Strasberg's variant on the Stanislavsky System—that's S-y-s-t-e-m, not Method. Method actors lack discipline. System actors are disciplined. I'm a pretty good actor today only because I've always renewed myself at the feedbag—the theater.

His Pride:
I'm proud that I've still got the best to come. I'm proud of "Strange Interlude" and "Uncle Vanya" and "Bicycle Ride to Nevada," which the critics roasted. I'm proud of some of the movies I was in. I'm proud of a half-hour GE Theater on Charles Steinmetz. I'm proud of my Mark Twain on a Playhouse 90. I'm proud of "The Old Cowboy" on The Virginian. And I'm going to be proud of Ben Casey.

Source:
"Who Has Ever Had a Better Time?" TV Guide. January 1, 1966. 12-14.