Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Franchot: A Wealthy, but Sensitive Comrade

Three Comrades. Source:
Sonia Lee, in a July 1938 piece on the stars of Three Comrades for Hollywood Magazine, was impressed at how well Franchot Tone, Robert Taylor, and Robert Young created "the illusion of being products of the same world, the same thought, and the same troubled times" when they all had come from such different backgrounds and represented such different types in Hollywood. These distinct types Lee described as follows:

Franchot—the idealist, the man with the philosophical turn of mind; the cultured product of New England, whose reserve and balance has not been lessened by fame and fortune.
Robert Taylor—the Horatio Alger hero, if there ever was one. A youngster who achieved world adulation overnight, became king of a million feminine hearts, but still retained the liking and respect of the men who know him.
Robert Young—the enthusiastic lad to whom fame came slowly; who worked for what he has achieved over a period of years, who is similar in many respects to ambitious men his age in every walk of life.
If you have not yet watched Three Comrades, you must find it. I agree with Lee when she writes that Tone, Taylor, and Young play their scenes with "tenderness and integrity. They make the story unfold vividly and brilliantly. They make of friendship a tangible thing." I enjoy Franchot's films so much that I don't know that I will ever be able to definitively state which one contains his best performance. I find that I toss up Lives of a Bengal Lancer, Uncle Vanya, Mutiny on the Bounty, Man on the Eiffel Tower, The Bride Wore Red, Advise and Consent, Gentlemen are Born, The Stranger's Return, and Three Comrades as the many contenders for Franchot's best performance as an actor. Each time I watch Three Comrades, I find myself ready to announce it as THE finest performance of his career. The part of the sensitive mechanic who feels a brotherly need to take care of those around him is the perfect role to highlight Franchot's strengths as an actor. I wrote a film summary with screen captures back in 2015 which you can find here.

Franchot in a rare color portrait. Scanned from my collection.

In her examination of the film's male stars, Lee shares this personality sketch of Franchot:
By the very nature of his character, Hollywood knows Franchot least of these three. He is sensitive and intuitive. He is not one of those hale and hearty individuals who slaps a person on the back on short acquaintance, tells the story of his life, or reveals his cherished thoughts at the drop of a hat. As a matter of fact, his sole complaint about the business of being an actor is that the private affairs of a player become the property of the world at large. The one thing which made his courtship of Joan Crawford less than ideal was the minute report of its progress in the public press.
His circle of intimates is small. Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck are frequently on the guest list of those attending the charming dinners given by Mr. and Mrs. Franchot Tone, when they entertain a famous musician, a world-renowned savant, or others who have distinction outside the Hollywood world.With the exception of the reception Joan and Franchot gave for Leopold Stokowski, they have never entertained on  a large scale. That is in keeping with the graceful, gracious background of Franchot's. Son of an important figure in America's business world, his childhood was serene, his education comprehensive.
He attended private schools here and abroad. He had tutors during the time when family travels made school attendance impossible. He is a graduate of Cornell University. He has been awarded the Phi Beta Kappa key—the mark of scholastic excellence. Franchot Tone is serious and studious—with deep, untapped wells of reserve. He makes friendships slowly, but once his allegiance is given, it is lasting and loyal.
Few know him, for he is not an easy person to know well. But his brilliant mind, his deep understanding of human nature, his fine artistry as an actor have achieved for him a deep respect in Hollywood, which is unmixed by envy or resentment. His interests are wide. Books, the progress of the theatre, music, new trends in thoughts and world events, engage his attention. He takes his life and his work seriously, but not himself.
Lee's assessment of Franchot rehashes the same "wealthy son with an impressive education and cultured background" story that we read time and time again, and it's true, of course. But I love the description of his personality as being sensitive and guarded and how he accrued respect among his peers in Hollywood. These are facts about Franchot that many of his colleagues have shared about him as well. My favorite part of the article is that last sentence, "He takes his life and his work seriously, but not himself." What a perfect way to describe Franchot's attitude in 11 words! In my research, I've seen evidence of this many times. Franchot cared about his career (even if his career choices did seem inconsistent to others and at times, even to me) but seemed to remain this down-to-earth guy who never boasted about his talents—he actually comes across as quite self-deprecating in interviews—and had strong beliefs about human rights and political matters and stuck to his convictions, and who—apart from his out-of-character publicity whirlwind with Barbara Payton—maintained his private life, a life he lived and enjoyed to the fullest.

Lee, Sonia."Three Comrades—On the Screen and Off." Hollywood. July 1938.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Hope for the Best (1945)

Hope for the Best ran for 117 performances between February 7, 1945 and May 19, 1945. Produced by Jean Dalrymple and Marc Connelly, the play was first housed at the Fulton Theatre and then in late April, moved to the Royal Theatre. Writer William McCleery's plot revolved around a newspaper writer who is dissatisfied with only covering gossip and is encouraged by a young woman to pursue more groundbreaking territory. Although his fiancée prefers him not to "rock the boat," the main character attempts to investigate and report on American politics.

Franchot Tone starred as the writer and was supported by a cast of Leo Bulgakov, Jane Wyatt, Jack Hartley, Doro Merande, Joan Wetmore, and Paul Potter.

Hope for the Best. Source: scan from my collection.

Theatre Arts Monthly reviewed the play in April 1945. Rosamond Gilder wrote:
In Franchot Tone, the producers, Jean Dalrymple and Marc Connelly—and Mr. Connelly as director— have found a convincing as well as a winning interpreter of the leading role. Mr Tone, last seen as a ‘round actor’ in Ernest Hemingway’s The Fifth Column, proves that he is still a skillful craftsman in the theatre in spite of his protracted dallying with the screen. He has balance and proportion in his acting, precise timing, a nice sense of humor. One of the hilarious moments in the play is the scene in which the columnist, about to launch forth on the new type of writing he is so eager to undertake, bogs down under the subtle discouragements administered by his dark angel. Mr. Tone sits alone on the stage in front of his typewriter; absorbed, intent, concentrated. His fingers dash over the keys, the little bell rings a cheerful note, he slams the carrier back with a masterful flip. Then doubt creeps into his mind. He stops, re-reads the paragraph, types on, tears the sheet out of the machine, puts a new one in, starts again. The tapping goes more and more slowly, becomes uneven, hesitant. The jubilant song of the keys has turned into a disheartened pecking; Mr. Tone’s very spine wilts, his hair stands on end, his face seems drained of vitality. The curtain goes down on a dogged pounding of keys that presages no good.
The New York Times was not as glowing in their review of Mr. Tone's performance. In his February 8th review, Lewis Nichols wondered if Franchot was the best actor for the part. Nichols' wrote:
He is easy and likable, of course, and he manages a vague, shy quality which is all right part of the time. several scenes, he is shy to the point of cuteness.
Hope for the Best. Source: scan from my collection.

Hope for the Best: Source: New York Times clipping

Gilder, Rosamond. "Foxhole Critics. Broadway in Review." Theatre Arts. April 1945. 
Internet Broadway Database:
Nichols, Lewis. "The Play." The New York Times. February 8, 1945.
Playbill Vault:

Friday, June 16, 2017

Thousands Cheer vs. Star Spangled Rhythm: The Judy Garland Blogathon

In celebration of Judy Garland’s birthday and Crystal’s blogathon in tribute to her, I am comparing two early 1940’s films, Star Spangled Rhythm and Thousands Cheer. Both films were intended as World War II morale boosters and are packed with celebrities. I had never seen the entirety of either film and watched them back to back last weekend.

Thousands Cheer

Plot: Kathryn Grayson is a young soprano star who gives up her performances with the orchestra to follow her father (John Boles) to his army camp. Wanting to keep their spirits up, Kathryn socializes with all of the young soldiers. She doesn’t understand why her mother (Mary Astor) left her father and is sure she can get them back together if her mother feels Kathryn is in trouble. Eddie March is just the trouble Kathryn needs. Kathryn writes to her mother that she is in love with a soldier, knowing that Mary Astor will come immediately to intervene. Likewise, Eddie March, hating the army and desiring to move to the Air Corps, realizes that romancing the captain’s daughter may get him transferred. Of course, Kathryn and Eddie truly do fall in love in the process and Eddie’s opinion of the army changes.
Main story cast: Kathryn Grayson, Gene Kelly, John Boles, and Mary Astor
Special appearance cast: Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Red Skelton, Eleanor Powell, Ann Sothern, Lucille Ball, Lena Horne, Frank Morgan, Marsha Hunt, Donna Reed, June Allyson, Margaret O’Brien, Virginia O’Brien.
Studio: MGM
Year: 1943
Judy’s scene: Judy is one of the star performances saved for the end of the film. She sings “The Joint is Really Jumpin’ Down at Carnegie Hall” as pianist/conductor Jose Iturbi accompanies her on piano. Judy is absolutely effervescent in her performance. With her hair worn loose and bouncy and dressed in a tan skirt, blouse, and crocheted vest, Judy looks stunning. She starts her performance behind the piano and quickly moves to the front, playing off Iturbi’s reactions as she sings. It’s a fun, light number and Judy completely owns it. You can watch it here:

Star Spangled Rhythm

Plot: Johnny (Eddie Bracken) uses time on leave from the Navy to show off his studio executive father (Victor Moore) to his sailor buddies. Johnny doesn’t realize that his father “Pop”, a former western star, has lied to him and is actually in the lowly position of studio gateman. When Johnny’s girl Polly (Betty Hutton) realizes the predicament, she helps Pop pull off the ruse of being head of the studio. They take over an office and Polly makes sure to distract the sailors with visits to the projection room and various sets. This leads to them watching Mary Martin and Dick Powell sing to one another on the screen and to the lot cameos of Preston Sturges and Cecil B. DeMille, among others. Johnny promises that his father will deliver a star-studded benefit on his base, and Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, friends of Pop’s, make sure the event happens. This camp show is what leads to multiple skits and musical numbers by celebrities.
Main story cast: Eddie Bracken, Betty Hutton, Victor Moore, Walter Abel
Special appearance cast: Cecil B. DeMille, Preston Sturges, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Fred MacMurray, Franchot Tone, Ray Milland, Lynne Overman, Dorothy Lamour, Paulette Goddard, Veronica Lake, Dick Powell, Alan Ladd, Mary Martin, Susan Hayward.
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Year: 1942
Black and White
Franchot’s scene: Franchot teams up with Fred MacMurray, Ray Milland, and Lynne Overman for a comedy skit. In “If Men Played Cards as Women Do," John (Franchot) invites his pals Joe (Ray), Frank (Fred), and Mark (Lynne) over for a card game. Mimicking how they feel women behave, Joe and John try on a hat, Frank bemoans a run in his sock and an aching body from all-day shopping, Joe criticizes the help, and they all inspect Lynne’s new suit (which they deem snug in the hips), and all gossip about Joe’s “mess” of a house. Once the card game starts, Frank distracts himself with grooming while they all get confused about how many cards to deal, what the cards are, and how much money to bet. In the end, a mouse appears and the four men, squealing, jump up into their chairs. It's quite a funny skit and the four actors work well together.

Here's how the two films measure up:

Thousands Cheer
-more vibrant and lively with Technicolor
-strong core cast of Kathryn Grayson, Gene Kelly, Mary Astor, and John Boles with a better standalone story than that of Betty Hutton, Eddie Bracken, and Victor Moore in Star Spangled Rhythm.
-production numbers are more lavish and for a lack of better adjective, M-G-Mish

Star Spangled Rhythm
-With more comedy and slapstick routines including but not limited to those of Bob Hope (the shower scene cracked me up!) and Bing Crosby, Star Spangled Rhythm was just plain funnier than Thousands Cheer. It seemed to take itself less seriously than Thousands Cheer and was more light-hearted about it all. There were some hilarious quips thrown in about studio execs, Veronica Lake’s hairstyle, and the film colony.
-Bob Hope serves as a much better emcee than Mickey Rooney does in Thousands Cheer.

I enjoyed both films and feel they are both excellent examples of the morale boosting G.I. films that were so popular during this era. If you prefer big production numbers, colorful costumes and set design, and big-name musical talent, you’ll want to watch Thousands Cheer. If you’re more into the Hope-Crosby comedies and want to see what well-known dramatic actors can do with playful skits, then Star Spangled Rhythm is for you.

This is an incredibly late post for Crystal's blogathon, but I hope you'll head over to In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood for more great entries on the incomparable Judy Garland.

*Due to a busy professional schedule in June-August, this will be my last participation in blogathons for a few months. I'll still be posting on Mr. Tone regularly here, but am going to take a little break from blogathons until my schedule becomes more manageable. Thanks!*

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Janet Blair on Franchot Tone

In 1948, actress Janet Blair discussed working with Franchot Tone. Blair said:

Yes, when Franchot and I started to work together in I Love Trouble, it was really meeting up with a Dream Prince. I discovered his brilliant mind, his sharp wit. Here is a great talent and frankly, I’m plain irritated that he doesn’t do more with it. After working with him, I’d class him as one of the greatest technicians in our business. He’s so greatly gifted it’s a shame he has a lazy streak. I’d like to see him pitching on many more productions a year than he does, and brother, how we can use his talent in building up theater here—and radio too, and television. But, as I say, the guy’s lazy. He says he wants to enjoy life a little.
Working with Franchot is a great challenge. You have to step it up in all departments. Consequently, you do a better job than you think you are capable of doing. An actress learns something from every person she works with in this business, good and bad. Without qualification I say I learned the most to the good from Franchot. I had such respect for him, a respect he rates for his great knowledge and for the sure instinct he has for imparting it to associates. It was absolutely impossible to read a line badly in a scene with him. There’s a lot of the little boy in him. It’s that and his irresistible crooked grin that captures and holds his feminine fans. So I’m corny? Okay! It’s the way I feel-having been a fan, and after being a coworker.
And there’s his sportsmanship. Once, on a different scene, I wrestled with my lines until it was embarrassing. Franchot dispelled the tension which he knew my fluffs were making for me. How? By deliberately lousing up his own lines. Him—when he could have read perfectly with a mouthful of grapefruits!
Once, I was catching it from the director for failing to come through perfectly on a piece of business he especially wanted. Chivalrous Tone stepped in between the fine line of my determination and hysteria and said softly to our director, “Now, you leave her alone, you big bully-she’s doing okay.” And grinned at both of us.
I Love Trouble and I-love-working-with-Tone are synonymous in my mind. It was hard work, and swell fun, and plenty educational. He stacks up 100 percent with me, and if he decides to take over in the directing department I want to be the first in line flagging down a role in his picture for Janet Blair.

"Franchot's Femmes: Four Women in His Life Tell All, About the Suave and Elegant Mr. Tone." Screenland. July 1948. Vol 52, No.9.Page 42-43, 64-65.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

"He's No Gable!": Musings on Frequent Internet Mumblings

I was thinking of the most frequent comments I read about Franchot online that fall on the unfair, silly, misconstrued, or just plain untrue side. Below are my responses to four phrases that I read time and time again.

Oft-heard phrase: "He's no Gable!"

I'm a member of multiple classic Hollywood groups online. These groups encourage posts about classic film actors, so naturally, I've uploaded photos of Franchot to commemorate his birthday and other special occasions. Every single time I've done this, I receive several negative comments in addition to several positive comments. These negative comments are always "He's no Clark Gable! He doesn't belong here." or something of that nature. There is always some mention of Gable in them. It's so odd and always frustrates me. Clearly, Franchot is not Clark and Clark is not Franchot. They were very different men and very different actors. My celebration of Franchot Tone (who by the way, is incredibly deserving of it) is in no way a remark about Clark Gable one way or the other. Here are the similarities of Franchot and Clark:
1. They both loved Joan Crawford.
2. They costarred in three films and seemed to get along just fine.
3. They both earned Oscar nominations for their portrayals in Mutiny on the Bounty.
4. They both deserve to be included in classic film history and those groups/sites that appreciate them.

There should never be any comments that Franchot was "no Gable" because Franchot never tried to be Gable. Franchot was Franchot and didn't seem to be concerned with the fact that he never attained the movie legend status of Clark. He was busy with his own life and enjoying his own career that included different goals, so all this "no Gable" business irks me. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Hollywood was a big enough town for a Clark Gable and a Franchot Tone. And classic film historians should be big enough to appreciate and celebrate Franchot's own unique acting talents. I feel like fans are so quick to tear down one performer in order to build up another. We all have our favorite film stars, but that doesn't lessen the quality of those that don't make our top 5 list.

Oft-heard phrase: "He looks like a turtle, thumb, [insert other random item here]"

In my search for Franchot stuff online, I come across lots of opinions of him on various blogs and social media accounts. The ones that are always amusing are the physical appearance ones. I've seen people compare his face to a turtle, a thumb, and lots of other things. I think Franchot was a very handsome actor and I don't think I'm alone in that opinion. But I don't believe Franchot always photographed as well as he looked in films. In some publicity photos, he sticks his neck out too far, squints his eyes a little too much, or grins like a schoolboy in what is meant to be a serious pose. My theory is that Franchot wasn't very comfortable having his photograph taken for publicity and that's why sometimes he looks a bit awkward. In multiple interviews, Franchot discussed how uncomfortable he felt with publicity photos and so it's only natural that he might look a little uncomfortable, too.
He looks like he's about to fall asleep here.

Physical attraction is a personal thing so you can't fault someone for having a negative reaction to your favorite actor's face. But, I dare you to take a look at this photo and deny his attractiveness.

How can you deny it? This is a gorgeous creature! :)
Still not convinced? Watch The Bride Wore Red, Gentlemen Are Born, or Between Two Women. There's a beautiful man starring in those three films. Seriously though, my favorite photos of Franchot are usually the screen captures I take while watching his films, because he is so animated.

One of the funniest things about seeing others compare Franchot to a turtle is that Franchot himself thought he looked like a turtle! In Picture Play Magazine in 1935, Franchot said:
The first thing that hits my eye when I see myself on the screen is my big Adam's apple. Can you imagine a surprised-looking turtle with a huge lump in its throat? Well, that's exactly the way I look to myself.
It's okay if you don't think Franchot's attractive. There's something seriously wrong with you, but...Just kidding! Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Let's move on to less amusing, more damaging comments...

Oft-heard phrase: "He's the guy whose faced was smashed in by Tom Neal."

True statement, but does it have to be the only fact we know about and attribute to Franchot? I addressed this in my posts on the Payton affair and Neal fight, but Franchot was so much more than this one incident and he rose above it. The Neal fight was a huge scandal and it has to be included in biographical facts about Tone, but there are so many more accomplishments and interesting facets in his life story. That's all I want to say.

Oft-heard phrase: "He was dying, destitute and alone, until Joan stepped in and took care of him."

This is rehashed over and over in message boards and Crawford groups and in published books, but it is not completely accurate. Joan did care for him when he was ill with cancer. Not because Franchot was desperate and pathetic. But because Franchot obviously wanted Joan around and Joan wanted to be there for him. It was very kind of Joan to care for Franchot, but it was done out of life-long friendship not because Franchot would be on the street without her. In the years leading up to and at the time of his death, Franchot had an active career, busy social life, friends, family and plenty of money. I think it's important to note that Joan was there for Franchot, because it highlights the strength of their bond and the love and tenderness that always existed between them. But in building up a deserving Joan, this comment is damaging to Franchot. Many times I've seen this story get embellished with details (for example, that Joan had to change his adult diapers) that only serve to make Franchot look more pitiful and dependent. So yes, Franchot was dying of lung cancer and yes, Joan was there to care for him, but he was still a thriving man, both personally and professionally. When interviewed for Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye: The Barbara Payton Story, Tone biographer Lisa Burks, who had access to Franchot's family and all of his personal papers, squashed rumors of Franchot's bleak final years. At the time of his death, Franchot left an estate of 500,000 dollars (equal to 3.5 million dollars today) to his sons and left large monetary gifts to employees. Burks said, "Contrary to what has been written in the past, Franchot died in the same comfortable fashion in which he had always lived."

Asher, Jerry. "Franchot Tells on Himself." Picture Play Magazine. 1935.
O'Dowd, John. Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye: The Barbara Payton Story. Bear Manor Media, 2006.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Final Performance (1965)

Franchot starred in Final Performance, episode 14 of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour's third season, in 1965. The episode aired on January 18th and costarred Sharon Farrell and Roger Perry. Although the show doesn't get as much airtime as Franchot's Twilight Zone and Hitchcock Presents episodes, you may still be lucky enough to catch this one on television. (For example, I know that the American broadcast station Me-TV airs Alfred Hitchcock Hour weeknights at 1 a.m. at the moment.)

Cliff (Roger Perry) is a film writer on his way to Hollywood, but is pulled over by a policeman after he is seen speeding through a small town and picking up a teen girl named Rosie (Sharon Farrell). Although Rosie was hitchhiking, she lies and says that Cliff forced her into the car.

Rudy (Franchot Tone) is spinning bowls at the diner when Cliff comes in. This is a small town and Rudy says that no one ever stops at his diner and cabins unless their car breaks down. It’s no time at all before Rudy begins telling the out-of-towner that he was once Rudolph the Great and knew all the big stars. He has even named his cabins after stars and assigns Cliff to the Al Jolson cabin.

Cliff is surprised when Rosie comes out of the backroom to lead him to his cabin. When they are alone, Rosie apologizes for lying to the cop, but said she didn’t want to get into trouble because Rudy “looks after” her. A suspecting Rudy comes looking for Rosie, and from his cabin, Cliff witnesses Rudy possessively grab her wrist and lead her back to the diner.

Concerned, Cliff follows and Rudy is quick to entertain him with vaudeville stories, even showing Cliff his own cabin full of photos of Rudy with bygone celebrities. Franchot fans will notice that the photo of Rudy as a cowboy is a publicity photo for Franchot’s 1940 film Trail of the Vigilantes. The conversation about his past as an entertainer causes Rudy to explain that he arrived in this small town and owned the diner after his traveling fair ended here. Rudy was once married to another performer Maggie, but she has since passed away. Together, they raised Rosie after Rosie’s own parents perished in a fire.

It’s apparent (and quite disturbingly so) that Rudy views Rosie as a replacement for his wife and is grooming her for marriage. Indeed, when Rosie comes into the room, Rudy announces that she’ll be his bride as soon as she’s 18. Understandably, Rosie is uncomfortable around him and tries to squirm out of Rudy’s grip and out of his line of sight at every possible chance. Cliff, too, is visibly uncomfortable around Rudy and disapproving of his interest in Rosie. As the creepy older man eager to make a young girl he raised into a wife and living a life far removed from the present, Franchot turns in a performance that will make your skin crawl. He gets it just right: the desperation to be a star, frustration with the new generation, and utter psychotic obsession with a young woman. As Rudy, Franchot is slimy and pathetic and cruel and pitiful.

In another scene, Rudy asks Cliff if he thinks that a woman who flirts with other men deserves punishment:
Don’t ya think she deserves some kind of punishment?...Opportunity comes at the strangest time so you wait and you wait and you practice and you’re ready for it. You don’t run around like a chicken with its head off just to satisfy some anxious woman. No. You wait. You work in a diner like this even, if necessary, and you get ready for it. And if you can’t wait, and you can’t sit still, and they can’t stop playing around with other men, you don’t deserve what ya got, do ya? Well, do ya?
No, no. No, sir, Mr. Allen, because if you don’t appreciate what ya got, ya don’t deserve any of it. I tried to tell that to Maggie. I tried to tell her…I got my Rosie now. She’s gonna wait. She’s gonna wear this dress…My Rosie’s very pretty, isn’t she?...How pretty?....Pretty enough for you?...And spoken for, too!

If you've not seen much of Franchot's later work, you may be surprised at his appearance. Franchot looks much older than his years here and in most of his 60's work. This difference in appearance (and his voice, for that matter) can be attributed to a combination of heavy smoking, heavy drinking, and his facial reconstruction surgery from the Payton affair. I'm not sure of the exact year that he was diagnosed with lung cancer. I've heard varying accounts, but it may also be that he was already showing the signs of the cancer that would take his life three years later.

Throughout the show, Rudy teases that he has a speciality act that will blow Cliff away. We hear about it throughout the episode, but Rudy always stops short of performing it saying that he wants to practice and get it just right.

Rosie’s dying to get out of town before the marriage. She hates when Rudy touches her. When he tries to kiss her, she runs to Cliff causing more jealousy on Rudy’s part.

Cliff walks in on Rudy and Rosie doing an old-fashioned vaudeville routine in their “theatre”, an empty barn/tent. The policeman is there as their only audience member. After a dance number, Cliff painfully watches them perform an outdated comedy routine. Proud and in his element, Rudy is clearly delusional to think that this form of entertainment will draw in modern audiences.

After the show, Rudy threateningly tells Cliff that he should leave soon and warns him to keep away from Rosie. But in an odd change of heart, Rudy later asks Cliff to stay and write a new routine for him.When Cliff declines the offer, Rudy is enraged and spouts off a hateful speech about the new generation and their lack of appreciation for the old way of doing things. When Cliff returns to his room, a terrified Rosie, living in a world of male dominance and unable to save herself, is there waiting.
Cliff, I’m afraid. I’m afraid every time I’m near him!

Later, when he goes to leave and sees how depressed and miserable Rosie is, Cliff decides to secretly take her away from Rudy. When he returns to pick her up, Cliff is greeted by Rudy alone and Rudy is finally ready to perform his specialty act for him.

The long-awaited performance is eerie and shuddersome, and an ending that will remain with you long after it is finished.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Franchot Tone Blogathon is Here!

I am excited to announce that the first Franchot Tone Blogathon is here!

Franchot Tone (1905-1968) was an Oscar-nominated actor who starred in over 60 films, 50 television productions, and 25 plays from 1927 until his death in 1968. This month marks the 2 year anniversary of Finding Franchot, this research blog dedicated to Franchot's personal and professional life. 1 year ago, I also created a fansite in his honor at

Over the next few days, we will get to read different takes on Franchot Tone from a group of talented film bloggers. I am so grateful to everyone who has offered to participate and am looking forward to reading all the posts on my favorite actor!

As topics are posted, I will share here. Check back from April 21 to April 23 for different perspectives and explorations of Franchot's films, television work, and life. Thank you all for celebrating Mr. Tone with me!

Classic Movie Treasures: Her Husband's Affairs (1947)

Critica Retro: Dancing Lady (1933)

Mike's Take on the Movies: Spotlighting Franchot Tone on the Small Screen

Old Hollywood Films: Five Graves to Cairo (1943)

Musings of a Classic Film Addict: Phantom Lady (1943)

Charlene's (Mostly) Classic Movie Reviews: Dangerous (1935)

Finding Franchot: Playing Against Type: Discovering Franchot's Characters

Finding Franchot: Three Loves Has Nancy (1938)

Playing Against Type: Discovering Franchot's Characters

Franchot would once protest that he was not "one of those fanatics who is always yelling for a chance to prove his versatility and yapping about being 'typed.'" The truth is that throughout his career Franchot would yearn for and express a desire to play a more wide variety of characters. And rightly so. Early on, Franchot did get put in the category of the glamorous, wealthy man who is in the film mainly to support the leading lady and to this day, many people associate Franchot solely on this character alone. However, there are many unique characters sans top hat and tails hidden in Franchot's filmography and I want to highlight those films and some of Franchot's comments regarding being typecast today.
"Of course, it's fine for those Park Avenue playboys I've done to death. I dislike that kind of part intensely. I've played so many, people actually think I'm that kind of smug chap. I agree with them, and if I weren't so lazy, I'd have done something about it long ago."
The Stranger's Return. Source: original from my collection.
The Stranger's Return (1933)
Franchot is Guy, a well-respected farmer who has given up a promising academic career to tend to the family land. This pre-code drama stars Lionel Barrymore as Guy’s neighbor and Miriam Hopkins as the stranger who comes to town and shakes up Guy’s life.

The World Moves On (1934)
The World Moves On is glamorous and Franchot is well-dressed, but it’s an epic drama directed by John Ford and with Franchot playing two men of different generations. The lengthy film also stars Madeleine Carroll.

Straight is the Way (1934)
Franchot is Benny, a criminal newly out of prison and ready to live a straight-and-narrow life in his Jewish tenament. May Robson is touching as Benny’s long-suffering mother while Gladys George and Karen Morley rival for his affections. The film is at just 59 minutes long, but left a lasting impression on me.
"If I ever had an image, it was the playboy, the white tie and tails, the elegant fellow with the good tailor. That was my image for the mass movie audience. But not for the theater audience. They saw me as an actor. Now my television image is the character actor. And then they see my old movies on the late show and I'm the rich playboy again."

Gentlemen Are Born. Source: original from my collection.

Gentlemen Are Born (1935)
Gentlemen Are Born is refreshing because it places Franchot in an ensemble cast of talented young actors, including Ross Alexander, Dick Foran, and Charles Starrett. They play four recent college graduates who struggle to come to terms with the grim reality of the Depression-era workforce.

Lives of a Bengal Lancer. Source: original from my collection.

The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935)
Nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award, this adventure film features Franchot, Gary Cooper, and Richard Cromwell as British officers who must defend their base in Bengal. Franchot often cited this as one of his favorite films (the other two were Mutiny on the Bounty and Man on the Eiffel Tower) and was known to privately screen it for his own enjoyment throughout the years.

Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
Franchot was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in this Best Picture winner. As midshipman Byam, Franchot must submit to the tyranny of Captain Bligh (Charles Laughton) and accept tough decisions made by Fletcher Christian (Clark Gable) in this classic sea adventure.

They Gave Him a Gun. Source: original from my collection.
They Gave Him a Gun (1937)
Jimmy (Tone) is fearful of his World War I army duty and relies on the encouragement of soldier Fred (Spencer Tracy). After being heralded for his wartime kills, Jimmy’s personality changes and he faces difficulty returning to civilian life.
"Since I've had my own gray hair and wrinkles, producers have been willing to recognize me as a character actor. There was a long spell in Hollywood where I appeared in nothing but bad romantic comedies. They were 'dress suit roles.' Acting talent didn't matter. The important thing was to have a good tailor. That was in the days before a dissatisfied movie star was free to refuse to work at something he didn't like and take a suspension. Maybe it's just as well because I'd have been under suspension more often than not if I had had any option to exercise. I was a leading man making an outrageous salary. But I was jealous of character actors with three-line bit roles. At least, they enjoyed their work."
Three Comrades (1938)
Three soldiers must cope with a changing Germany following World War I. Franchot plays a sensitive mechanic who looks after Robert Taylor and Robert Young with brotherly affection in the original F. Scott Fitzgerald story.
Trail of the Vigilantes. Source: original from my collection.

Trail of the Vigilantes (1940)
A western comedy costarring Warren William and Broderick Crawford, Trail of the Vigilantes gives Franchot the opportunity to ride a horse and face the bad guys, but in a comical manner.

This Woman is Mine (1941)
An 1800's sea adventure about a timid organizer of a fur expedition (Franchot) who falls for a stowaway (Carol Bruce) and gains courage on the voyage.

Five Graves to Cairo. Source: original from my collection.

Five Graves to Cairo (1943)
In this Billy Wilder-directed war drama, Franchot is the only survivor of a tank battle who finds himself assuming the identity of a German spy.
"Wait a isn't the only kind of life with which I'm acquainted. I can't remember the time, before I came out here, that I didn't spend the summer months in the woods, hobnobbing with wood-cutters, Indians, and Canadian guides, etc. I know as much about those phases of life as I do about drawing rooms. The biggest personal success I had in New York was as a cowboy in 'Green Grow the Lilacs.' Stage producers never felt that I was the ideal type for the man-about-town."-Franchot in response to a reporter who accused him of playing wealthy playboys because it was all he'd known in his real life.

Pilot No. 5 (1943)
Told in a series of flashbacks as he undergoes a vital war mission, a group of pilots (including Van Johnson and Gene Kelly) reflect on the ups and downs in Franchot’s character’s life.

Phantom Lady (1943)
He may be debonair and suited up, but Franchot also happens to be a murderous psychopath in the 1943 noir with Ella Raines.

The Hour Before the Dawn (1944)
A conscientious objector to the war, Franchot is a pacifist professor who must uncover the truth about his mysterious wife, played by Veronica Lake.

The Man on the Eiffel Tower (1949)
In this color noir that he produced, Franchot plays a murderous loner in post-war Paris. This movie was a labor of love for Franchot and costarred two of his best pals, Burgess Meredith (who also directed) and Charles Laughton.
"Most actors pay too much attention to the size of a role anyway. One good, biting scene is worth more than hours of drivel. Well, I got older, and eventually I reached a point where I looked ridiculous bounding through a bay window with a tennis raquet in my hands. I went into television at a time when the industry was hungry for movie names. I could be demanding. For instance, when one video producer offered me the romantic lead in a murder mystery, I held out for the role of the killer—a marvelous psychopathic character—and got it."
Twilight Zone. Source: original from my collection.
Uncle Vanya (1957)
Franchot and the cast of Uncle Vanya both performed the play on stage and recorded it for film. This independent film was produced by Franchot. As the alcoholic, aging doctor, Tone turns in perhaps his most authentic performance. It's definitely the closest we'll ever get to seeing Franchot perform a live play.

Advise and Consent (1962)
Franchot is the ailing president of the United States in this star-packed drama directed by Otto Preminger.

Television (1950-1968)
In my opinion, if you want to see Franchot at his best, most diverse work, you need to see his many television appearances. Television allowed an older Franchot to play every type of character imaginable and he excelled in this new medium! My top recommendations are the following episodes:
The Silence-Twilight Zone
Impossible Dream-Alfred Hitchcock Presents
The Award-Four Star Playhouse
The Little Foxes-Hallmark Hall of Fame
Along About Late in the Afternoon-The Eleventh Hour
Denver McKee-Bonanza
Old Cowboy-The Virginian
Tell It Like It Is-Run for Your Life

For all the great posts on Franchot Tone, check out the roster of participants in the first Franchot Tone Blogathon!

Three Loves Has Nancy (1938)

My film choice for the Franchot Tone Blogathon is the 1938 comedy Three Loves Has Nancy. It's not the best film Franchot ever made. It's not the best performance he ever gave. He doesn't even receive first lead in it.  But it’s a good one and a sentimental favorite of mine and the film that transformed me into a viewer who thought "Oh, Franchot Tone, yeah, I've probably seen him in a few films" to "Who is this Franchot Tone? I must know everything about him and watch everything he's ever done and then blog about it!"

Three Loves Has Nancy stars Robert Montgomery, Janet Gaynor, Franchot, Guy Kibbee, Claire Dodd, Reginald Owen, and Charley Grapewin. Director Robert Thorpe had previously directed two 1937 films featuring Franchot: Man-Proof and Love is a Headache.

Malcolm (Robert Montgomery) is a best-selling author who embarks on a book tour in order to escape the clutches of his girlfriend Vivian (Claire Dodd). Robert (Franchot Tone) is Malcolm's frequently drunken publisher and next-door neighbor who suggests the idea of a tour after watching Malcolm's previous break-up attempts fail to materialize. Waiting in line at one of Malcolm’s rural stops is fresh-faced, innocent, country bumpkin Nancy (Janet Gaynor). When Nancy informs him that it happens to be her wedding day as he’s signing the book, Malcolm thinks (and we hear Montgomery’s voiceover) that Nancy is a devoted fan whose life is so pathetic she will treasure this signed book her entire life. He quickly finds out differently. Nancy gives him a piece of her mind and one thing you’ll discover about this film is that Nancy always seems to be giving someone a piece of her mind. Sheltered? Yes. Shy? No, sir. Nancy confesses that she has no use for the book, doesn’t own the copy he’s signing, has never read it, has never heard of him, and wouldn’t spend a penny on it. Then off Nancy goes to marry George as Malcolm receives word from Robert that his unwanted girlfriend Vivian is preoccupied and it’s safe to return home.
Malcolm is surprised to see a jilted Nancy in the train’s dining car and offended when she doesn’t instantly recognize him and also, when she laughs as passengers assume they are married. Nancy talks nonstop as a bewildered Malcolm looks on. After a purse mishap (a running gag throughout the film), Malcolm and Nancy, there to search for her runaway groom George, end up at a party in his NYC apartment. Nancy decides Malcolm needs home-cooked meals and stays on at his apartment until she finds George. Although her constant meddling frustrates him to no end, Malcolm agrees to the arrangement to keep Vivian away and because he believes Nancy will prove to be good fodder for a new book.
Franchot Tone and Janet Gaynor in Three Loves Has Nancy. Source: original from my collection

As the playful, mostly inebriated publisher-next-door, Franchot’s character Robert provides a lot of laughs. Actually, what’s great about this film is that everyone provides a lot of laughs. There’s not one actor carrying the film’s funny scenes. All three headliners are equally funny in their roles and work very well as a trio. Enjoying the three-square meals a day that Nancy provides, Robert rivals Malcolm for her attention. He starts to fall for Nancy and the steadiness her presence gives his life. Still, Robert has a lot of tricks up his sleeve. In this role, Franchot gets to do a lot of physical comedy (like sleepwalking and trying to catch an imaginary eagle) and as Malcolm’s sarcastic, witty friend, utters lines like, “You know it’s funny. I drink and you’re drunk.”
Three Loves Has Nancy is overflowing with witty one-liners from all of its characters. Malcolm’s rejected girlfriend says at the party, “I had a lovely evening. This wasn’t it.” It’s just an enjoyable comedy all around. When Malcolm takes her to an upscale restaurant, a safety-conscious Nancy puts out the fire that’s grilling the evening’s meal. She publishes a newspaper ad for George and is surprised when scores of men show up at the apartment. Of course, Nancy’s solution is not to turn them away but to feed them all, to which Franchot names her the “Florence Nightingale of the Skillet.”
A favorite scene of mine is when butler William quits after Nancy calls him dishonest. Speaking of this character assassination to his employer Malcolm, you begin to notice all that William is wearing…layers of Malcolm’s clothing which William claims he was taking as “souvenirs.”
It’s clear to the audience that Malcolm is slowly falling for Nancy’s homespun charms, but he is slow to realize the fact himself. Sober since her arrival, Robert proposes immediately, calling Nancy the “first genuine person who’s ever come into my life.”  It takes the jealousy he feels about Robert’s proposal to make Malcolm question his own feelings about Nancy.
Hilarity ensues! Nancy’s backwoods family shows up (with unbeatable performances by Guy Kibbee and Charley Grapewin), Robert’s snooty wealthy parents appear, a psychologist called Pieface throws his expertise in, and then runaway groom George surfaces. You will not be disappointed. The final scenes are laugh-out-loud funny and fitting to the rest of the film.

Franchot and Janet in Three Loves Has Nancy. Source: original photo from my collection.
Now comes a very personal story explaining my particular attachment to the film. Years ago, I first discovered Three Loves Has Nancy on the TCM app on my iPad. I was very ill and struggling to come to terms with a recent diagnosis of Lupus. Especially in those early days when none of my treatment plans were successful, I was bed-ridden a lot of the time. I’d like to go ahead and say here that in the years since, I have found medications that are working for me, keeping me stabilized, and, although I still require a good amount of bedrest when I’m not working, I’m feeling much stronger these days and living a full, happy life! But that particular night years ago, I was truly struggling physically and emotionally. I needed a light comedy to make me laugh and take my mind off myself.

I chose Three Loves Has Nancy because it starred Janet Gaynor, whom I’ve always liked. I watched the movie once, chuckling throughout, and completely forgetting everything else. And although I believe that all three stars are equally matched in it, it was Franchot Tone who grabbed my attention from the very beginning. I remember just being mesmerized by his manner of speaking and rich voice, his physical presence (the cocked eyebrow, slow grin, and comedic movements), and his entire delivery. I was waiting for his scenes and wishing he’d had more. This was not the first time I saw Franchot. I realized later, while frantically scouring the internet for information about him, that I’d watched him in Jean Harlow movies and Joan Crawford movies and Honeymoon with Shirley Temple. But I never actually saw him.  He was there all the time, but for some reason, my eyes were not focused on him until the night I watched Three Loves Has Nancy. After watching it and then researching the film and Mr. Tone for a long while after, I was thinking of all the great lines and cute moments and ended up re-watching the film from start to finish immediately.

Three Loves Has Nancy will always have a special place in my heart. It provided the perfect escape for me on a night when I desperately needed the smiles and laughter it contains. It is the film that forced me to take another look at Franchot Tone. I’ve been madly researching and watching him since that viewing. I would come to find that as much as I loved Three Loves Has Nancy, it was just a hint of what Franchot could do. There were tons of sensitive and nuanced performances waiting for me in Franchot’s film and television work. Three Loves Has Nancy started it all—my appreciation of an under-appreciated actor, my fascination with his life, and my need to dedicate a permanent online space for him.

I hope you enjoy the Franchot Tone Blogathon this weekend!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Gatineau Treasure

Last year, I wrote about Franchot's ties to the Gatineau region of Quebec. Franchot always spoke fondly of his time outdoors fishing on the Thirty-One Mile lakes, hunting in the woods, and relaxing in his cabin there. Franchot escaped his hectic life in Hollywood by returning to this region and shared its beauty with all four wives, spending several of his honeymoons here. It's easily one of my favorite aspects of Franchot's life to research, because it's so in contrast to the gentleman role in which he was often typecast and because it seems like such a joyous place for him. My original detailed post on the Tone family cabin and Franchot's visits can be found here. Franchot's fourth wife Dolores Dorn described her honeymoon there and I wrote about that here.

Recently, multiple 16 mm film of home movies belonging to Franchot's brother, Jerry, were up for auction on eBay. Most of the film was dedicated to Jerry's family with glimpses of Franchot's parents here and there. I didn't see any indication that Franchot would appear in most of the reels. Then, I saw one small preview picture of a 1938 reel from Gatineau and there he was with a huge grin on his face fishing from a boat. There was also a separate film of Gatineau from 1935, but I doubted Franchot would pop up there because '35 was a busy year for him. I bid on both despite the fact that I have no means to play or transfer 16 mm film. My plan was to find a way to transfer the film to digital, so that I could share the videos here. I bid as high as I felt I could, but a more competitive bidder took it home instead. eBay can be quite an emotional roller coaster! Ever since the auction ended, I've gone back and forth between devastation that I didn't bid just a little bit higher and relief that I didn't bid above my means.

Sadly, I didn't win but my hope is that the person who did win was either 1. Franchot's family (and if so, I apologize for the bidding war!) 2. a library or archive or  3. a fan like me who plans to transfer the film for others to enjoy.

I did, however, save the preview shots that were posted on eBay and they give a wonderful view of life at Franchot's family cabin in Canada!

From the 1938 color reel:
Franchot fishing. I love this candid shot!

Franchot with his father Frank J. Tone

Franchot's father Frank J. Tone and brother Jerry
I did not see any indication that Franchot appears in the '35 film, but it still gives a wonderful view of what vacation life was like for the Tones there. From the 1935 black and white reel:

Franchot's father Frank J. Tone with other family members

Don't forget that my Franchot Tone Blogathon happens later this week! Check back this weekend for great entries on Mr. Tone from multiple bloggers.