Friday, May 18, 2018

Pre-Hollywood Variety Mentions

Franchot first gained notice with filmgoers in 1933, but he was creating a buzz in Variety magazine as early as 1927. I've gathered a timeline of those Variety mentions.

May 4, 1927:
First National Pictures searched college campuses for future cinema talent and spotted ten talented actors at Cornell University. "The lucky ten at Cornell included Franchot Tone, president of the Cornell Dramatic Club.

January 18, 1928:
Starring as David Fitch in "The International", which Variety noted was "anything but not original in creation and presentation. So hectic and cacaphonous is its production that the play might well be styled a true exponent of a new school of vo-do-de-o drama."

October 23, 1929:
Franchot is busy rehearsing "Cross Roads" with Sylvia Sidney and others.

November 20, 1929:
Performing as Duke in "Cross Roads", Franchot is called "capable" in this "truthful, sympathetic picture of youth wrecked by the standards of modern society."

May 7, 1930:
"Franchot Tone, Niagara Falls boy, and protege of the late Garry McGarry, has signed with the New York Theatre Guild."

My note: I'm currently working on an individual post on Garry McGarry that I'll be posting within the next two days. I feel he deserves his own post, not a mere mention in this little Variety timeline.

September 1930:
Franchot is busy rehearsing Uncle Vanya, his first of several associations with this play.

October 6, 1931:

Performing as Will Connelly in The House of Connelly. "First nighters were impressed with this carefully prepared, serious drama"

December 5, 1931:
Performing as Adam in the play "1931". "A graphic picture of unemployment among the city's laboring class, strikingly scened but a depressing play."

March 15, 1932:
Performing as Federico in "Night Over Taos". "The Group Theatre which had the aid of the Theatre Guild but claimed now to be on its own offers a third production this season. 'Night Over Taos' is as good a production as 'House of Connelly' if not more skillful and certainly more striking. The mistake called '1931' has been forgotten."

May 3, 1932:
For his work in "A Thousand Summers", Variety writes, "Franchot Tone is especially good as the boy, presenting him sincerely and with great earnestness."

June 28, 1932:
Franchot leaves "A Thousand Summers" on June 25 and is replaced by actor Johnny Griggs.

October 4, 1932:
Performing as Raymond Merritt in "Success Story". "Franchot Tone, one of the Group's most promising players, does well but is third to the Adlers [Luther and Stella]."

October 25, 1932:
"Franchot Tone goes Metro on a six months' contract, plus a similar option, booked by Mike Connolly of the Jenie Jacobs office. He leaves 'Success Story', current New York play, and goes to the Coast next week. First assignment is 'Nora' opposite Jean Harlow."

November 8, 1932:
"Franchot Tone arrived Saturday (6) from New York, to start his Metro contract."

Source:
Variety Publishing Company. Accessed via Media History Digital Library

Friday, May 11, 2018

Charles Brackett's Take on Five Graves to Cairo

Oscar-winning writer and producer Charles Brackett kept a diary throughout his career and it was published in Anthony Slide's 2014 book It's the Pictures that Got Small. I only read the parts concerning Five Graves to Cairo, but plan to go back and read the book in its entirety. It's a fascinating book, but it's also amusing—most entries concern Brackett complaining about something or someone on set and declarations that he cannot wait for it to be over. It struck me as funny because it reads much like the diary of any one of us who might talk about our job at the end of the day over dinner or keep a diary about all of our coworkers. You're grouped with people of all different personalities and egos and you're forced to problem solve and reach an ultimate goal together. It's bound to be mostly negative complaints, right?  Guess it's no different for Hollywood producers!

The diary entries serve as a wonderful timeline of the film with Brackett's thoughts on the director and cast.

In July and August 1942, the film is referred to as "Imperial Hotel" and "Imperial Palace" until on August 11, Brackett writes:
Settled on the title, Five Graves to Cairo, told it to Bill Dozier at the table and word-gamed successfully. In the afternoon, we were summoned to Buddy De Sylva with Bill Dozier, told Buddy the title. He didn't like it. The word "graves" would keep people away from the theatre. Before we left he had accepted it...no one but ourselves to know anything about the picture...
Their publicity plan was also mapped out during the meeting over the title.
As early as August 2, Brackett was struggling with collaborator and friend Billy Wilder, writing that their ideas were "miles apart" and wondering whether "our successful collaborative partnership is over."

Casting was discussed on August 6. Buddy De Sylva wanted Paulette Goddard or maybe Zorina for the role that eventually went to Anne Baxter, but Brackett's top pick was Simone Simon. Simone and Franchot tested as early as September 29. There seems to have been no debate over Franchot in the lead. After seeing the tests, Brackett realized that Simone was not a good fit after all. He writes:
As it was, she was only a good spare, comfortable to know we could fall back on in case we got stuck. She wanted to see the tests, made a scene over the telephone. It is fantastic how she alienated every human being from the hair-dresser to the cutter during the test itself. As a result, the atmosphere in the projection room where the test was shown was distinctly unfriendly...
In October, Wilder and Brackett met with a British captain for technical advice on the picture, but Brackett writes that he was "not impressed."

In November, Brackett is utterly frustrated with Wilder, writing that Billy related their story of Five Graves to Cairo "quite badly" to David Selznick, that he, himself, is "unenthusiastic" about Wilder's desire to have Anne Baxter ("as dreary a little piece as I ever saw") in the female lead, and that Wilder's confidence in the film is so badly "shaken" that he makes their session together "absolute hell." By the end of the month, before the film has even been fully cast, Brackett writes:
Tonight I am playing with the thought, ecstatically, of casting off the utterly foolish pretense that I am producing Five Graves to Cairo...
December is no better. Brackett writes of more "hell," calls Anne Baxter "as plain as a pikestaff but nice," and questions Wilder's mental state writing:
There are times when I look at Billy, the best dramatic mind with which I ever came in contact, with the appalling feeling this his mind is dropping apart before my eyes—its brilliant decisiveness crumbling to utterly foolish indecisions.
Franchot, who apparently had a large appetite that day, is filming the scene in which he runs into the town by January 4, 1943. Brackett observes:
Then the sun rose and the excess water dried and the shooting began. Franchot [Tone], running towards the town, Franchot seeing the town, rising to his feet, starting his run, Franchot addressing the imaginary sentry...The time for shooting was brief, due to the direction of the hotel, which has the sun on its face for three brief hours. Lunched at the commissary, the point of interest being F.T.'s appetite, which is prodigious...wandered on the set to see Franchot do his crawl to the road, his eerie laugh as he saw the town.
Later that week, Franchot's buddy Buzz (actor Burgess Meredith) visited the set and Brackett enjoyed talking with them before they left. By January 12, Brackett is growing frustrated with Franchot:
In the afternoon Franchot Tone resumed his curious, quiet, automatic argument over every comma of the script. It's not that he really objects to the stuff, he just argues—uninterestingly, seemingly for the sake of conversation. I offered to give him a lecture on the subject but Billy said not yet, "But it is going to get on my nerves"...
Two weeks later, Franchot objected to the line "Like kind Uncle 'Erbert on Christmas Eve." Brackett:
Listened to his argument that he, as an American playing an Englishman, didn't want to have to play an Englishman imitating a Cockney. Suggested some lines, heard his objections, and had one of my old-fashioned ground-fits, from sheer boredeom—which scared the hell out of Tone and should prove valuable to Billy in future.
Actor Erich von Stroheim requested changes to his dialogue as well and Brackett calls the changes "absurd" and describes Von Stroheim as elderly, writing of his "slowness, lack of sureness, inability to remember his lines."

Brackett thought the January rushes he viewed were good but by February was concerned that the new rushes were only "fair" and called them "slightly ridiculous." By February 21, he was savoring the "unspeakable rapture of not having to work on Five Graves to Cairo." By March 2, they had a rough cut of the entire film and the first week of April, Wilder and Brackett had written the introductory title for the film though Brackett wrote "we're no good together any longer. There's so stimulation in the relationship."

At the final preview of the film in early April, Brackett wrote:
The picture played infinitely better without the omitted music, save for the sun-struck scene which seemed to need it. The ending was truncated and awful. The audience was completely absorbed in the story, and the picture isn't a great success. It has no real warmth, partly due to Tone. It is taut and contrived. Wish to hell we'd made anything but a war picture.
Although Brackett and Wilder didn't see eye to eye on Five Graves to Cairo, they would actually go on to collaborate through the end of 1948, completing 12 films together before going their separate ways.

Now that we've read Brackett's complaints, I have one of  my own—the design of most of the promotional posters and the DVD cover. Franchot is the male lead and the focal character throughout the entire film, but he is non-existent on the most widely distributed film poster.

And look how tiny little crawling Franchot is on the modern DVD cover.


Production-wise and story-wise, Five Graves to Cairo stands as one of Franchot's finest films. If you are a fan of Mutiny on the Bounty and The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, you'll appreciate Five Graves to Cairo—strangely, I've never written film summaries with screen captures for any of those three here! I guess I assumed a lot of people have seen those and started with some of the more rare films first. They are on the to-do list.

There's a wonderful behind-the-scenes photo album on TCM's website: http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/75054/Five-Graves-to-Cairo/#tcmarcp-500479-500481

Source:
Slide, Anthony. "It's the Pictures That Got Small": Charles Brackett on Billy Wilder and Hollywood's Golden Age. Columbia University Press, Nov 25, 2014.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Henry Hathaway on Franchot Tone

Autographed photo (to Eleanor) of Franchot
Tone on the set of The Lives of a Bengal Lancer.
Source: my collection
In a series of interviews with Polly Platt, director Henry Hathaway discussed the initial difficulty of getting Franchot secured for the role of Lieutenant John Forysthe and why he thought Franchot was perfect for it. Hathaway explained:
Well, the part had to be a man in balance. I considered this a love story between two guys; I don't mean a love story about homosexuals. Great affection and great love. And respect. When they gave me [Henry] Wilcoxon, I went in and protested. I said, "This man can be a first mate on a ship or a tough sergeant 'cause he's got a tough look about him. But he could not be a gentleman from the Blues." And it's much better to have a gentlemen instead of an Englishman. For balance. I said I wanted Franchot Tone and they said he was at M-G-M and he wasn't an Englishman and I had to use Wilcoxon...I started to work and I tried to get the balance in this stuff and I worked like hell with Wilcoxon, trying to get him a little softer, a little more gentle, more affable, tried to get him to be a gentleman...
About a month into filming the picture, Hathaway knew that Wilcoxon was the wrong fit. He went to Manny Cohen and said that if Wilcoxon wasn't out, then Henry himself would quit the picture. Hathaway felt his future career as a director hinged on this moment and he was willing to abandon the project if his wishes were not met. He told Cohen that he wanted Franchot Tone for the part. A meeting was held with the studio's lawyers, Cohen, and Hathaway. Hathaway requested Franchot Tone. The studio said no and offered Cary Grant and then Ray Milland. Hathaway recalls he demanded:
"Why don't you get me the man I want? Get me Tone." They said, "He's in a picture." "I don't believe it. Call Metro." They called Metro and they said they'd talk to Tone about it. I said to send Tone over to talk to us. He came over and I talked to him about the whole thing and he said, "Fine, I'll do it." So I went back to work with Tone. You know that the picture would not have been the same without Tone. Would it?
At this point, interviewer Polly Platt agrees and adds that "Tone is more interesting I think than Cooper." Hathaway responds, "And the fun he had with the Cooper character because he wasn't as classy as he was."

Platt then praises Hathaway for how the characters were set up and interacted with one another "and Tone does this wonderful look. Who could get away with that? Any other man?"

Hathaway responds, "If it was Wilcoxon, you'd have hated Wilcoxon. He's like the heavy."

Of course, Henry Wilcoxon starred in many of Cecil B. DeMille's films and went on to become a television actor and producer. We're fortunate that Hathaway pressed for Tone's involvement and that Franchot returned the interest despite M-G-M's leanings against it. Hathaway's insistence provided Franchot with one of the finest performances and films of his career. It was a role Franchot took pride in and would screen at home for his own enjoyment.

Source:
Hathaway, Henry and Polly Platt. Henry Hathaway. Scarecrow Press, 2001.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Disappearing Act

I just realized my recent post on the play Bicycle Ride to Nevada has disappeared from my blog! I'm trying to figure out what happened to my post and my drafts of it online and can hopefully repost it in its entirety. If not, I'll write about it again shortly.

Exploration of Five Graves to Cairo coming this weekend!

Update: I think I definitely deleted the BRtN post by accident before backing it up. What a bummer! Will recreate it from my notes soon. Five Graves still coming!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

She Knew All the Answers (1941)

She Knew All the Answers is a lighthearted romantic comedy starring Franchot Tone and Joan Bennett. Released in 1941, the film is directed by Richard Wallace, who would team up with Tone and Bennett again a year later for the war comedy The Wife Takes a Flyer. Neither film has been released commercially on DVD and I'm not sure if that will ever be something slated for the future at all, but I would love to see a Bennett/Tone double feature DVD one day. In addition to these two early 40's films, Franchot and Joan would go on to costar in a 1957 episode of Playhouse 90 entitled The Thundering Wave.

In She Knew All the Answers, we are first introduced to playboy Randy Bradford (John Hubbard) and chorus girl Gloria Winters (Joan Bennett), both eager to elope. There's just one problem standing in their way and that problem's name is Mark Willows. Willows (Franchot Tone) was Randy's father's partner in a lucrative financial firm on Wall Street, and was appointed Randy's guardian when his father died. As guardian, Mark gets approval over the woman Randy marries and if he doesn't approve, Randy loses his millions. Mark is a mild-mannered, conventional man who doesn't approve of Gloria's chorus girl status and nixes their plans.


Gloria knows that Randy will never make it as a working class man and she's not willing to be a working class wife, so she hatches a plan. She will get a job—under the name of a roommate—as the switchboard operator at Willows' office long enough for him to sign a letter of recommendation for her, then she will use that signed letter to marry Randy without consequence. Expecting an older, unattractive guardian, Gloria is surprised to find that Mark Willows is a young, attractive man—albeit, a reserved, bespectacled one. Although focused on stocks and investments, Mark is clearly befuddled by his blossoming attraction to Catherine Long (Gloria's assumed name.)


Beginning to feel confident with the switchboard and around her coworkers, Gloria—unaware of Wall Street lingo—accidentally spreads false news about the firm causing Mark to lose a large amount of investments. Mark fires her, then, after her suggestion for a solution is successful, visits her apartment to ask her to return to the firm. This is the scene where many men would've caught on to Gloria's tricks, but Mark is gullible. Randy is hiding in the kitchen while the real Catherine Long, Gloria's roommate played by the infallible Eve Arden, feigns a disability to substantiate Gloria's lies.


Randy sees that his guardian is falling for Gloria and has a prank call placed to the restaurant where Mark and Gloria are dining one evening. Mark decides to get revenge and talks Randy into staying in the office all night in order to "save the business." Gloria's eyes light up when she realizes that the typically straight-laced Mark, whom she's convinced to ditch the glasses, is up to mischief. As Randy waits by the phone all night, Mark and Gloria go to Coney Island and act like total goofballs. This is my favorite part of the film! They pose for silly pictures, ride the Tunnel of Love, eat cotton candy, and both Franchot and Joan are really adorable in these scenes. They fall for each other, but then Mark learns the truth about Gloria and her scheme. In the final scenes, an unusual dream sequence for all three main characters follows leading to a wedding in which those dream alter egos call the shots.


The film was lukewarm with critics. Bosley Crowther warned audiences that it was an "inconsequential little comedy," which was actually much kinder than he'd be a year later when he deemed The Wife Takes a Flyer a "painfully labored comedy." She Knew All the Answers would be neither Franchot nor Joan's most successful comedy, but they, as evidenced in their incredibly expressive faces throughout, embrace the lightness of the picture. It's a joy to watch from start to finish and the two stars are very well-matched in their comedic timing. I hate to call it a "cute movie," but it just is. I watched it again this week when I was ill with a virus, and—even though the quality of my old copy leaves much to be desired—it proved to be the fantastic spoonful of sugar I required.




Franchot and Joan shared not only these films, but also the same birthday. As I wrote about a few weeks ago, Franchot and Joan celebrated their birthdays together two years in a row—with surprise cakes for each other on the set of this film in '41 and by cohosting a massive party for servicemen with Feb. 27 birthdays a year later in '42.

Finally, a pal who has been a kind supporter of my Franchot efforts (and antics) happens to be an out-of-this-world knowledgeable and passionate expert on all things Joan Bennett (as well as some other fantastic film ladies) and recently devoted a website to Joan B. at http://www.joanbennettfan.com. Check it out!





Sources:
Crowther, Bosley. "The Screen in Review." The New York Times. June 20, 1941.
Crowther, Bosley. "The Screen." The New York Times. .June 19, 1942.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Wagon Train: The Malachi Hobart Story (1962)

Franchot was the special guest star for Wagon Train's fifth episode in its fifth season. The Malachi Hobart Story aired on January 24, 1962, with Franchot as the title character. Franchot showed up in a handful of western shows in the 1950's and especially, the 1960's. Despite their identification of him as a former film gentleman, the public seemed to embrace Franchot in these rugged cowboy roles and frankly, he was compelling in them. In that gravelly older-Franchot voice, he masterfully adopted a southern accent (so much so that sometimes I hear it faintly in later roles that didn't require it!) and cowboy swagger.

Duke (billed here as Scott Miller-later called Denny) stumbles upon Malachi Hobart (Franchot Tone), a seemingly gracious Southern man who makes his living as a traveling preacher. Malachi extends his camp to Duke, sharing his supper and his shelter.





Duke leaves the next morning to check on friends George and Martha, only to find that drunkard George has died and his long suffering wife Martha paid a traveling preacher $300 to pray George into heaven. Martha believes it was worth the money not to worry about her husband's soul...until George shows up at the door! Turns out he was not dead at all, just off on an epic bender. Duke promises to get the cash back and seeks out Malachi.

Duke confronts Malachi and learns that Malachi is a major conman. Then, Duke does something unexpected. He decides to join Malachi in a gold detector product grift. Malachi guarantees that the detector will sound an alarm when gold is buried underneath it. Of course, it's only an alarm clock inside a box. As sidekick, Duke buys the detector in front of a group of men, then brags about all the gold he found with it. As Malachi gains interest in the product, Duke (hiding) shoots the detector and exposes what's inside. Malachi has to race out of town in his wagon, with Duke jumping in the back, to avoid injury.

When Duke asks Malachi if he ever feels bad about what he does, Malachi answers that he often does more good than harm. Here is that scene in full:






Duke convinces Malachi to seek shelter with the wagon train. The families are eager for a preacher and a moving sermon, and Malachi delivers. Then, when the collection plate is passed around, Duke exposes the fraud once more, changing Malachi's life forever.

\



The Malachi Hobart Story episode is another great piece of Franchot's television work. Fortunately, this episode is easy to find and watch in its entirety! It's available to stream on the Internet Archive if you click here.

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.

Sources:
"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.