Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Franchot: A Wealthy, but Sensitive Comrade

Three Comrades. Source: www.ha.com
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.

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