Franchot Tone

Filmography

1932      

The Wiser Sex

 

1933      

Bombshell

Today We Live

The Stranger’s Return

Gabriel Over the White House

Midnight Mary

Dancing Lady

Stage Mother

 

1934      

Moulin Rouge

Sadie McKee

The World Moves On

The Girl from Missouri

Gentlemen Are Born

 

1935      

The Lives of a Bengal Lancer

Reckless

No More Ladies

Mutiny on the Bounty

Dangerous

 


 

1936      

The Unguarded Hour

The King Steps Out

Suzy

The Gorgeous Hussy

Love on the Run

 

1937      

Quality Street

The Bride Wore Red

They Gave Him a Gun

 

1938      

The Girl Downstairs

Three Comrades

Three Loves Has Nancy

Man-Proof

 

1939      

Fast and Furious

 

1941      

Nice Girl?

 

1943      

His Butler’s Sister

Five Graves to Cairo

Pilot No. 5

 

1944      

Phantom Lady

The Hour Before the Dawn

Dark Waters

 

1946      

Because of Him

 

1947      

Lost Honeymoon

Her Husband’s Affairs

Honeymoon

 

1948      

I Love Trouble

Every Girl Should Be Married

 

1949      

Jigsaw

Without Honor

 

1950      

The Man on the Eiffel Tower

 

1951      

Here Comes the Groom

Uncle Vanya

 

1962      

Advise & Consent

 

1965      

In Harm’s Way

 

1965      

Mickey One

 

1968      

Nobody Runs Forever

Awards

He was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role for Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)

 

[on his ex-wife, Joan Crawford] “She’s like that old joke about Philadelphia: First prize, 4 years with Joan. Second prize, 8 years with her.”

Learn more about Franchot Tone, review his filmography and more

Actors, Biographies

Franchot Tone was born into a well-to-do upstate New York family. He traveled the world with his parents and attended various schools. He entered Cornell University, studying romance languages with an initial goal of teaching. He joined Cornell’s drama club, becoming its president his senior year.

Tone had no interest in the family electro-chemical business so he decided to become a serious actor. He joined a theater stock company in the city of Buffalo, earning only $15 a week. He played bit roles and educated himself in the theater business. He moved to Greenwich Village and auditioned for the New Playwrights’ Theater, making his Broadway debut in 1929 with Katharine Cornell in “The Age of Innocence”. Tone portrayed Curly in the flop Broadway production of “Green Grow the Lilacs” which would later be developed into the musical “Oklahoma!”. He later discovered the Group Theatre in New York formed by Lee Strasberg and Harold Clurman. This was the first functional school for “Method” acting in America, followed later by The Actors Studio, also under Strasberg. In late September of 1931 the theater presented its first production, “The House of Connelly”, with Tone and Morris Carnovsky in the leading roles. Tone appeared in “Big Night” and later appeared in “Success Story”, after which Strasberg proclaimed him as the best actor in the company. His performance in “Success Story” also prompted a contract offer from MGM. He moved to Hollywood in November 1932, although his aspirations as an actor did not include becoming a Hollywood star.

His first screen appearance was under the Paramount banner, not MGM, in The Wiser Sex (1932) starring Claudette Colbert. The Paramount brass did not see the potential, a telling sign of the chasm between Hollywood acting and that of the theater. Tone, however, was definitely on the “A” List ladder, His first MGM film, Today We Live (1933) co-starred the ambitious Joan Crawford. Here his woes with Hollywood actresses began in earnest. He and Crawford became a couple, and MGM could see the potential for better box office by pairing them in several movies. Tone worked through 1933 with other leading ladies, such as Loretta Young, Miriam Hopkins and Jean Harlow, before he worked again with Crawford. However, he was already being saddled with “the other man” roles. In his next movie with Crawford, Dancing Lady (1933), he was competing with Clark Gable. By their next movie together, Sadie McKee (1934), Tone was the leading man but in forthcoming outings with Crawford he would have other film rivals and his characters tended to be less dynamic than hers.

He was loaned to Warner Bros. for Dangerous (1935) with Bette Davis. Davis also became romantically interested in him, and her incipient rivalry with Crawford made her all the more incensed with Crawford on finding out that she was engaged to Tone. Davis was envious and ashamed of her advances toward Tone, and the incident is believed by many sources to be the start of the famous warfare between Crawford and Davis that lasted to their dying days. Tone and Crawford did marry in late 1935, but the chemistry did not gel. Tone was an Eastern blue-blood who shunned the artificial Hollywood lifestyle, while the unsophisticated Crawford could not get enough of it, and publicity. Those differences and Crawford’s bigger star power became glaringly obvious when the media labeled him “Mr. Joan Crawford”. Tone’s film career did not match Crawford’s phenomenal rise, and he was still dedicated to substantial support of Group Theatre productions. The marriage goals and the money diverged sharply; they divorced in March of 1939.

Tone was most definitely becoming a matinée idol name. In 1935 he had two big hits, proving his wide range and depth as an actor. His whimsical demeanor lent well to comedic roles, which is why his wisecracking Lt. Forsythe in The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935) rang true. He also had considerable dramatic power, as seen in the second of these movies, the much anticipated Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) with his former co-star Gable. He, Gable and co-star Charles Laughton all received Oscar nominations for best actor. This was a first, and certainly an embarrassment which the Academy sought to remedy by introducing Best Supporting Actor and Actress Oscars the next year. Though Tone had other substantial roles through that decade, he seemed ready for a break with his film career. He suddenly returned to Broadway, and was able to thumb his nose at Hollywood due to the great success of his 1940 role as a newspaperman in Ernest Hemingway’s “The Fifth Column”. Unfortunately for him, MGM pointed out that he was still under contract to them, so he had to return.

Tone had stimulating enough roles while with MGM until 1944, particularly the World War II adventure Five Graves to Cairo (1943) which Cary Grant turned down because he didn’t want to spend the summer in the Arizona desert, where it was being shot. Thereafter Tone worked to beat Hollywood at its own game. He freelanced at other studios and concentrated on parts that would expand his talents. He started working towards that goal with Universal’s critically successful Phantom Lady (1944), in which he played a psychotic killer. He also began producing films that he felt would be challenging and successful. One of his best efforts in this capacity was the psychological B noir The Man on the Eiffel Tower (1949) as star and producer, with his great friend Burgess Meredith as director. However, his success as an actor and producer didn’t extend to his personal life, and he still couldn’t get past his weakness for marrying Hollywood starlets. By 1948 he divorced his second wife, Crawford rebound Jean Wallace. Between 1950 and 1952 he was embroiled in the most foolish act of his career: his involvement with actress-turned-prostitute Barbara Payton. Just about everyone in Hollywood warned him against getting involved with Payton, including ex-wife Crawford. He failed to heed those warnings, however, and soon married her. The marriage only lasted a few weeks, and he paid a pretty heavy price: a hospital stay because of some fairly serious injuries (broken cheekbone and nose and a concussion) that required surgery after he was attacked and beaten by one of Payton’s most possessive boyfriends, brutish actor Tom Neal. The uproar over this assault ended Neal’s acting career.

Tone’s distancing himself from Hollywood continued into the 1950s, proving that dedicated stage acting and Hollywood usually did not mix. However, his need to adapt and mold the acting profession continued unabated. He saw the great potential of TV to provide both a live and economically filmed (the new videotape format) spectrum of stage plays. For a decade he was heavily involved in the medium and contributed over 30 performances in a number of prestigious TV playhouse productions. He didn’t forget Broadway, though. In 1957 he scored a triumph in Eugene O’Neill’s “A Moon For The Misbegotten”, and even his personal life brightened considerably. His last wife was much more amenable to being a helpmate. Dolores Dorn helped with his ambitious production of “Uncle Vanya” both Off-Broadway and in a lukewarm film version in 1958. When the more formal playhouse programs were replaced by TV drama story hours, Tone was again an enthusiastic contributor. He also worked in episodic TV from the late 1950s, notably a turn in a fondly remembered episode of the classic The Twilight Zone (1959).

He did not give up on the silver screen in his last decade. He turned in a memorable performance as the president in Advise & Consent (1962), directed by Otto Preminger. Though he had planned on retiring from acting at the beginning of the ’60s, he in fact was working into the year of his death. Along with co-buying Theater Four in New York to launch new plays, he planned another personal multi-tasking (starring in and directing) film effort of the life of artist Auguste Renoir, but that was not to be. In reality, the title of his last film before his passing was as prophetic for him is for all of humanity – Nobody Runs Forever (1968).

He died of lung cancer on September 18, 1968 in New York City.

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