Franchot Tone

Stanislaus Pascal Franchot Tone (February 27, 1905 – September 18, 1968) was an American stage, film and television actor. He was Oscar-nominated for his role as Midshipman Roger Byam in Mutiny on the Bounty (1935).[1] Tone was a leading man in the 1930s and early ‘40s, and at the height of his career was known for his gentlemanly, sophisticate roles, with supporting roles by the ‘50s. His acting crossed many genres including pre-Code romantic leads to Noir layered roles and many WWI films. He appeared as a guest star in episodes of several golden age television series, including The Twilight Zone and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour while continuing to act and produce in the theater and movies throughout the 1960s.

Franchot Tone
Stanislaus Pascal Franchot Tone

(1905-02-27)February 27, 1905
DiedSeptember 18, 1968(1968-09-18) (aged 63)
EducationThe Hill School
Alma materCornell University
Years active1926–68
Joan Crawford
(m. 1935; div. 1939)

Jean Wallace
(m. 1941; div. 1948)

Barbara Payton
(m. 1951; div. 1952)

Dolores Dorn
(m. 1956; div. 1959)

Family and early life

Stanislaus Pascal Franchot Tone was born in Niagara Falls, New York, the youngest son of Dr. Frank Jerome Tone, the wealthy president of the Carborundum Company, and his socially prominent wife, Gertrude Van Vrancken Franchot.[2] His maternal great-grandfather was congressman Richard Franchot.[3] Tone was also a distant relative of Wolfe Tone (the "father of Irish Republicanism");[4] his fourth great-grandfather John Tone was a first cousin of Peter Tone, the father of Wolfe Tone.[5] Tone was of French Canadian, Irish, and English ancestry. Through his ancestor, the nobleman Gilbert L'Homme de Basque, translated to Basque Homme and finally Bascom,[6][7] he was of French Basque descent.

Tone was educated at The Hill School, from which he was dismissed "for being a subtle influence for disorder throughout the fall term".[8] He then entered Cornell University, where he was president of the drama club and was elected to the Sphinx Head Society.[9][10] He also joined the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity. He gave up the family business to pursue an acting career in the theater. After graduating, he moved to Greenwich Village, New York.[11]



Tone was in The Belt (1927), Centuries (1927–28), The International (1928), and a popular adaptation of The Age of Innocence (1928–29) with Katherine Cornell. He followed it with appearances in Uncle Vanya (1929), Cross Roads (1929), Red Rust (1929–30), Hotel Universe (1930), and Pagan Lady (1930–31).

He joined the Theatre Guild and played Curly in their production of Green Grow the Lilacs (1931), where Tone sang, which later became the basis for the musical Oklahoma![12]

Tone also became a founding member of the Group Theatre, when the Theater Guild disbanded along with other former guild members Harold Clurman, Cheryl Crawford, Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler, and Clifford Odets.[13][14] Clifford Odets recalled of Tone's acting, "The two most talented young actors I have known in the American theater in my time have been Franchot Tone and Marlon Brando, and I think Franchot was the more talented."[15] Strasberg, later becoming a director of the Group during 1931-1941 and teacher of "The Method" in the 1950s,[16] had been a castmate of Tone's in Green Grow the Lilacs, which only ran for 64 performances.[17]

These were intense and productive years for him; among the productions of the Group he acted in were 1931 (1931) which lasting 12 performances, Maxwell Anderson's Night Over Taos (1931) a play in verse that lasted 10, The House of Connelly (1931) lasting 91 performances and John Howard Lawson's Success Story (1932) directed by Lee Strasberg.[18][19] Outside the Group he was in A Thousand Summers (1932).[20]

Tone made his film debut with The Wiser Sex (1932) starring Claudette Colbert, filmed by Paramount at their Astoria Studios.[21]

The MGM years

Tone was the first of the Group to go to Hollywood when MGM offered him a film contract. In his memoir on the Group Theater, The Fervent Years, Harold Clurman recalls Tone being the most confrontational and egocentric of the group in the beginning. However, Burgess Meredith credits Tone with informing him of the existence of "the Method" and what was soon to be the Actors' Studio under Strasberg's teachings.[22] Nevertheless, he always considered cinema far more invasive to private life and paced differently than theater productions and recalled his stage years with fondness.[23] He later provided financial support to the Group Theater, which often needed it.[24] He returned to stage work sporadically after the 1940s.

Tone summered at Pine Brook Country Club, located in the countryside of Nichols, Connecticut, which was the Group Theater's summer rehearsal headquarters during the summer of 1936.[25][26]

MGM immediately gave Tone a series of impressive roles, casting him in six pre-Code film standards, which came out in 1933. They started him with the WWI romantic war drama Today We Live, written by William Faulkner in collaboration with director Howard Hawks. It was originally meant to be just a WWI war buddy script by Faulkner but the studio wanted a vehicle for Crawford, so the two got together and wrote in the romance between co-stars Gary Cooper and Joan Crawford.[27] Tone was then the romantic male lead in Gabriel Over the White House starring Walter Huston[28] and then co-starred with Loretta Young in Midnight Mary.[29]

Tone romanced Miriam Hopkins in King Vidor's The Stranger's Return and was the male lead in Stage Mother. He also had an excellent role in Bombshell, with Jean Harlow and Lee Tracy.[30] The last of the sequence of films released in 1933 was Dancing Lady, with an on screen love triangle with his future wife Joan Crawford and Clark Gable, which was a "lavishly staged spectacle" with a solid performance by Tone.[31]

Twentieth Century Pictures borrowed Tone to romance Constance Bennett in Moulin Rouge (1934) as she played dual roles in which "she shines as a comedienne" and his performance was called "equally clever in a role that calls for a serious mein" by The New York Times.[32] Back at MGM he was again co-starring with Crawford in Sadie McKee (1934), then was borrowed by Fox to co-star "commendably" with Madeleine Carroll in John Ford's French Foreign Legion picture, The World Moves On (1934).[33]

After The Girl from Missouri (1934) with Harlow,[34] MGM finally gave Tone top billing in Straight Is the Way (1934), although it was considered a "B" film, one which didn't have a high publicity or production cost. Warners then borrowed him for Gentlemen Are Born (1934).

At Paramount, Tone co-starred in the Academy Award nominated hit movie, The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935) with Gary Cooper.[35] He was top billed in One New York Night (1935) but billed underneath Harlow and William Powell in Reckless (1935). He supported Crawford and Robert Montgomery in No More Ladies (1935) and had another box-office success with Mutiny on the Bounty, for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor, along with co-stars Clark Gable and Charles Laughton.[1]

Warner Bros borrowed him again, this time to play Bette Davis' leading man in Dangerous (1935). Davis has stated this is the picture where she fell in love with Tone, although unreturned, which began difficulties between Crawford and Davis.[36] He then had the lead in Exclusive Story (1935), and again was paired with friend Loretta Young in The Unguarded Hour (1936) and also starred with Grace Moore in Columbia's The King Steps Out (1936), notable for the debut of an eleven-year old Gwen Verdon.[37]

Tone was the third lead in Suzy (1936) with Harlow and Cary Grant.[34] He then filmed The Gorgeous Hussy (1936) with Crawford, Robert Taylor and Lionel Barrymore with co-star Beulah Bondi earning an Academy award nomination for the Andrew Jackson period piece.[38] A Crawford and Gable film captilizing on It Happened One Night by casting the pair in roles as fast talking journalists in Love on the Run (1936),[39] found Tone in a supporting role.

RKO borrowed him to appear opposite Katharine Hepburn in Quality Street (1937), a costume drama that lost $248,000 at the box office.[40] Back at MGM he supported Spencer Tracy and Gladys George in They Gave Him a Gun (1937).

He had the lead in Between Two Women (1937) and co-starred for the final time with Crawford in The Bride Wore Red (1937), then joined Myrna Loy in Man-Proof (1938) and Gladys George in Love Is a Headache (1938).

In Three Comrades (1938) Tone was teamed with Robert Taylor and Margaret Sullavan in a film about disillusioned soldiers returning to Germany after World War I. He made Three Loves Has Nancy (1938) with Janet Gaynor and Robert Montgomery and co-starred with Franciska Gaal in The Girl Downstairs (1938), a Cinderella type story. He then starred in a "B" picture with Ann Sothern in Fast and Furious (1939) as married crime slueths, the third movie in a series with different sets of actors in each, that were marketed towards the Thin Man films audiences.[41] After his contract ended, Tone left MGM in 1939 to act on Broadway in a return to his stage roots, often working with "the Group's" members of its formative years, and playwrights such as Eugene O'Neill.[42]

Return to Broadway

He returned to Broadway for Irwin Shaw's The Gentle People (1939) and an adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's The Fifth Column (1940), which only had a short run. He later starred in Eugene O'Neill's A Moon for the Misbegotten, during the 1950s, and Strange Interlude. His biggest performance of Oh, Men! Oh, Women!(1953) ran for 400 performances.[42]

The Universal, Columbia & Paramount combination

Tone signed a contract with Universal, where he starred in his first Western, Trail of the Vigilantes (1940). He was soon back supporting female stars though, making Nice Girl? (1941) with Deanna Durbin.

Tone also signed a multi-picture deal with Columbia, where he made two films with Joan Bennett, She Knew All the Answers (1941) and The Wife Takes a Flyer (1942).

Back at Universal he was top billed in This Woman Is Mine (1941). Tone went to Paramount to star in Five Graves to Cairo (1942), a World War II espionage story directed by Billy Wilder.

He also returned to MGM to star in Pilot No. 5 (1943) then it was back to Universal for His Butler's Sister (1943) with Durbin.

Tone made two more films at Paramount, True to Life (1943) with Mary Martin and The Hour Before the Dawn (1944) with Veronica Lake. He had one of his best roles in Universal's Phantom Lady (1944) directed by Robert Siodmak, an early film noir picture and a villainous part for Tone.[43] Also impressive was his performance in Dark Waters (1944) with Merle Oberon for Benedict Bogeaus.[44]

He continued his stage career by performing on Broadway in Hope for the Best (1945).

At Universal Tone did That Night with You (1945) with Susanna Foster and Because of Him (1946) with Durbin.

Tone made Lost Honeymoon (1947) at Eagle Lion Studios and Honeymoon (1947) with Shirley Temple. While at Columbia he had roles in Her Husband's Affairs (1947) with Lucille Ball, and I Love Trouble (1947), then Every Girl Should Be Married (1948) reteamed with Grant at RKO. He had the lead as an assistant D.A. looking for the murderer of a journalist while being distracted by a beauty played by then wife Jean Wallace in the film noir thriller, Jigsaw (1949).[45] He then had a supporting part as a murder victim in Without Honor (1949), a noir film co-starring Laraine Day.[46]


Tone produced and starred in The Man on the Eiffel Tower (1949), a troubled production suffering from filming delays on location, creative wrangling and the pictures hard to transfer single-strip technicolor film stock.[47] It has benefited from restorations in the 2000s that have coincided with theatrical showings and vastly improved DVD releases.[48] Tone's tour de force role as a manic depressive sociopath included performing many of his own stunts on the Paris landmark.[49]

Burgess Meredith and Charles Laughton star with Tone and Meredith is credited as director although Tone took over duties when Meredeth was in front of the camera with Laughton sometimes directing himself. The film has some of the best cinematic pictures of the Eiffel Tower according to French director Jean Renior.[47]

Live theater television

Tone relocated to New York and began appearing in New York City-based live theater television, including The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse, Lux Video Theatre, Danger, Suspense and Starlight Theatre. He returned to Hollywood to appear in Here Comes the Groom (1951).[50]

Back on the small screen, Tone was in Lights Out, Tales of Tomorrow, Hollywood Opening Night, The Revlon Mirror Theater, and The Philip Morris Playhouse. But he soon returned to Broadway, appearing in a big hit with Oh, Men! Oh, Women! (1953–54), a revival of The Time of Your Life (1955) and A Moon for the Misbegotten with Wendy Hiller and Cyril Cusack in 1957.[50]

During this time he continued to appear on TV adaptations of Broadway plays, in such original productions as Twelve Angry Men, as well as The Elgin Hour, The Ford Television Theatre, and in The Best of Broadway series in a production of The Guardsman with Claudette Colbert. Tone then continued in Four Star Theatre, Robert Montgomery Presents, a Playwrights '56 production of The Sound and the Fury, Omnibus, General Electric Theater, The United States Steel Hour, The Kaiser Aluminum Hour, The Alcoa Hour, Climax!, Armchair Theatre, Pursuit, Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Goodyear Theatre, Playhouse 90, and The DuPont Show of the Month.

He did a TV adaptation of The Little Foxes (1956) with Greer Garson and played Frank James in Bitter Heritage (1958).[51] In 1957 Tone co-produced, co-directed, and starred in an adaptation of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, which was filmed concurrently with an off-Broadway revival.[52] His performance as the Russian country doctor with "ennui" was praised and the preserving of the stage production to film only varied by the addition of then wife Dolores Dorn.[53]

Final films and television

In the early 1960s Tone was in episodes of Bonanza[54] and The Twilight Zone ("The Silence") and appeared on Broadway in an adaptation of Mandingo (1961). He then had a good film role as the charismatic, dying president in the screen adaptation of the pulitzer prize winning novel Advise & Consent (1962), an Otto Preminger film that the director had unsuccessfully lobbied Martin Luther King to portray a senator in, while many U.S. senators played extras on Capital Hill locations previously used for Mr. Smith goes to Washington.[55][56]

On stage in 1963 he acted in a revival of O'Neill's Strange Interlude, with Ben Gazzarra and Jane Fonda, and Bicycle Ride to Nevada. The next year he appeared in Lewis John Carlino's Double Talk.

He was cast in TV shows such as The Eleventh Hour, Dupont Show of the Week, The Reporter, Festival, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and The Virginian. He appeared in what is possibly the first TV movie, See How They Run (1964).[50]

In Europe, Tone made La bonne soupe (1965). He co-starred in the Ben Casey medical series from 1965 to 1966 as Casey's supervisor, Dr. Daniel Niles Freeland.[57]

He had roles in Otto Preminger's film In Harm's Way (1965) in which he portrayed Admiral Husband E. Kimmel and Arthur Penn's Mickey One (1965), and an episode of Run for Your Life.[58] He appeared off-Broadway in Beyond Desire (1967) and his last roles were in Shadow Over Elveron (1968) and Nobody Runs Forever (1968) a British film originally titled The High Commissioner.[59]

Personal life

In 1935, Tone married actress Joan Crawford; the couple divorced in 1939.[60] They made seven films together – Today We Live (1933), Dancing Lady (1933), Sadie McKee (1934), No More Ladies (1935), The Gorgeous Hussy (1936), Love on the Run (1936), and The Bride Wore Red (1937).[61] During the time they were married, they tried to have children, but Crawford had several pregnancies that ended in miscarriages.

Tone took their split hard, and his recollections of her were cynical — "She's like that old joke about Philadelphia: first prize, four years with Joan; second prize, eight".[62] However, many years later, when Tone was dying of lung cancer, Joan often cared for him, paying for his food and medical treatments. At one point during this period, Tone suggested they remarry, but she declined the offer.[63]

In 1941, Tone married fashion model-turned-actress Jean Wallace, who appeared with Tone in both Jigsaw and The Man on the Eiffel Tower. The couple had two sons and were divorced in 1948. She later married actor Cornel Wilde.[64]

In 1951, Tone's relationship with actress Barbara Payton made headlines when he was rendered unconscious for 18 hours and sustained numerous facial injuries following a fistfight with actor Tom Neal, a rival for Payton's attention.[65] Plastic surgery nearly fully restored his broken nose and cheek. Tone subsequently married Payton, but divorced her in 1952, after obtaining photographic evidence she had continued her relationship with Neal.[66][67] Payton and Neal married in 1953 and capitalized on the scandal touring with a production of the Postman Always Rings Twice.[68]

In 1956, Tone married Dolores Dorn, with whom he appeared in a film version of Uncle Vanya (1957) which Tone directed and produced. The couple divorced in 1959.


Tone, a chain smoker, died of lung cancer in New York City on September 18, 1968.[69][70] Crawford arranged for him to be cremated and his ashes scattered at Muskoka Lakes, Niagara Falls, Canada. However, Ferncliff Cemetery has no record of this and Tone's ashes are on a library shelf by works of Shakespeare with his son.[71]

On February 8, 1960, Franchot Tone received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contribution to the motion picture industry, located at 6558 Hollywood Blvd, on the south side of the 6500 block.


Year Title Role Notes
1932 The Wiser Sex Phil Long
1933 Today We Live Ronnie
Gabriel Over the White House Hartley "Beek" Beekman
Midnight Mary Thomas "Tom" Mannering, Jr.
The Stranger's Return Guy Crane
Stage Mother Warren Foster
Bombshell Gifford Middleton
Dancing Lady Tod Newton
1934 Moulin Rouge Douglas Hall
Sadie McKee Michael Alderson
The World Moves On Richard Girard
The Girl from Missouri T.R. Paige, Jr. Alternative titles: 100 Per Cent Pure, Born to Be Kissed
Straight Is the Way Benny
Gentlemen Are Born Bob Bailey
1935 The Lives of a Bengal Lancer Lieutenant Forsythe
One New York Night Foxhall Ridgeway
Reckless Robert "Bob" Harrison, Jr.
No More Ladies Jim "Jimsy Boysie" Salston
Mutiny on the Bounty Midshipman Roger Byam Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor
Dangerous Don Bellows
1936 Exclusive Story Dick Barton
The Unguarded Hour Sir Alan Dearden
The King Steps Out Emperor Franz Josef
Suzy Terry
The Gorgeous Hussy John Eaton
Love on the Run Barnabus W. "Barney" Pells
1937 Quality Street Dr. Valentine Brown
They Gave Him a Gun James "Jimmy" Davis
Between Two Women Allan Meighan
The Bride Wore Red Giulio
1938 Man-Proof Jimmy Kilmartin
Love Is a Headache Peter Lawrence
Three Comrades Otto Koster
Three Loves Has Nancy Robert "Bob" Hanson
The Girl Downstairs Paul / Mr. Wagner
1939 Fast and Furious Joel Sloane
1940 Trail of the Vigilantes "Kansas" / Tim Mason
1941 Nice Girl? Richard Calvert
She Knew All the Answers Mark Willows
This Woman is Mine Robert Stevens
1942 The Wife Takes a Flyer Christopher Reynolds
Star Spangled Rhythm John in Card-Playing Skit
1943 Five Graves to Cairo Cpl. John J. Bramble / "Paul Davos"
Pilot No. 5 George Braynor Collins
His Butler's Sister Charles Gerard
True to Life Fletcher Marvin
1944 Phantom Lady Jack Marlow
The Hour Before the Dawn Jim Hetherton
Dark Waters Dr. George Grover
1945 That Night with You Paul Renaud
1946 Because of Him Paul Taylor
1947 Lost Honeymoon Johnny Gray
Honeymoon David Flanner
Her Husband's Affairs William "Bill" Weldon
1948 I Love Trouble Stuart Bailey
Every Girl Should Be Married Roger Sanford
1949 Jigsaw Howard Malloy Alternative title: Gun Moll
Without Honor Dennis Williams Alternative title: Woman Accused
1950 The Man on the Eiffel Tower Johann Radek Co-producer
1951 Here Comes the Groom Wilbur Stanley
1956 The Little Foxes Horace TV Movie
1957 Uncle Vanya Dr. Astroff Co-producer and co-director
1958 Bitter Heritage Frank James TV Movie
1961 Witchcraft Your Host TV Movie
1962 Advise & Consent The President
1964 La bonne soupe John K. Montasy Jr.
See How They Run Baron Frood TV Movie
1965 In Harm's Way Admiral Kimmel
Mickey One Rudy Lapp Directed by Arthur Penn
1968 Shadow Over Elveron Barney Conners TV Movie
Nobody Runs Forever Ambassador Townsend Alternative title: The High Commissioner, (final film role)

Partial TV credits

Year Title Role Episode(s)
1955 Four Star Playhouse Ben Chaney "Award"
1956 General Electric Theater Charles Proteus Steinmetz "Steinmetz"
1957 The Kaiser Aluminum Hour Arthur Baldwin "Throw Me a Rope"
1958 Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse Candy Lombe "The Crazy Hunter"
1959 Alfred Hitchcock Presents Oliver Mathews "The Impossible Dream"
1960 Bonanza Denver McKee "Denver McKee"
1961 The Twilight Zone Col. Archie Taylor "The Silence"
1962–1967 Ben Casey Dr. Daniel Niles Freeland 27 episodes
1964 The Alfred Hitchcock Hour The Great Rudolph "The Final Performance"
1965 The Virginian Murdock "Old Cowboy"
1967 Run for Your Life Judge Taliaferro Wilson "Tell It Like It Is"

Theater appearances

Date Production Role
October 19 – November 1927 The Belt Bunner
November 29 – 1928 Centuries Yankel
January 12 – February 1928 The International David Fitch
November 27, 1928 – May 1929 The Age of Innocence Newland Archer, Jr.
May 24 – 1929 Uncle Vanya Mikhail lvovich Astrov
November 11 – December 1929 Cross Roads Duke
December 17, 1929 – February 1930 Red Rust Fedor
April 14 – June 1930 Hotel Universe Tom Ames
October 20, 1930 – March 1931 Pagan Lady Ernest Todd
January 26 – March 21, 1931 Green Grow the Lilacs Curly McClain
September 28 – December 1931 The House of Connelly Will Connelly
December 10, 1931 – December 1931 1931
March 9, 1932 – March 1932 Night Over Taos Federico
May 24 – June 1932 A Thousand Summers Neil Barton
September 26, 1932 – January 1933 Success Story Raymond Merritt
January 5 – May 1939 The Gentle People Harold Goff
March 6 – May 18, 1940 The Fifth Column Philip Rawlings
February 7 – May 19, 1945 Hope for the Best Michael Jordan
December 17, 1953 – November 13, 1954 Oh, Men! Oh, Women! Alan Coles
January 19–30, 1955 The Time of Your Life Joe
May 2 – June 29, 1957 A Moon for the Misbegotten James Tyrone, Jr.
May 22–27, 1961 Mandingo Warren Maxwell
March 11 – June 29, 1963 Strange Interlude Professor Henry Leeds
September 24, 1963 Bicycle Ride to Nevada Winston Sawyer

Radio appearances

1952Theatre Guild on the AirThe House of Mirth[72]
1953Broadway PlayhouseHis Brother's Keeper[73]


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