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Joan Unmasks Hollywood for Franchot Tone
star proves that Hollywood can be friendly!
originally appeared in Screenland, December 1933
Your guess is as good as Hollywood's as to the status of the Joan Crawford-Franchot Tone "romance." Their scenes together in "Dancing Lady" are intense and torrid. On the other hand, both deny emphatically any serious off-screen interest. After talking to them both, I can only report that I thought I saw "Maybe" in their eyes.
But whether they fall in love depends on -- oh, a lot of things. Joan won't be legally free until next May. She wants to see her way clearly. Which, at that, is a typical Crawford trait. No girl has ever tried so hard to do what is right and been so misjudged as the earnest, radiant Joan.
As for Franchot?
That he admires Joan tremendously, that to him she symbolizes all that is splendid and fine is evident to their friends. Does he aspire to win her? A pretty strong mebbe to that!
Meanwhile, Hollywood lies before him like a world set out expressly for him to conquer. Certainly Joan interest has helped him both professionally and personally. Three months ago SCREENLAND presented him to you as a brilliant but constrained newcomer. In bringing him up-to-date Joan's influence must be credited for much of his advance.
"When I started West from New York I expected to land in the most fantastic of places," he confesses now. "I thought every actress of importance would conduct herself in the fashion of the movie queens in "Once in a Lifetime." I visualized studio contacts as a moral and mental hazard, to be approached with great caution!"
Then, break of breaks, he met Joan Crawford!
Though he had
an impressive cultural and stage background, Franchot was untested material to
Hollywood. Being seen with Joan immediately focussed attention upon him. If she
liked him, there must be something swell about the lad.
"What Joan has done," he confided to me, "is to explain Hollywood. When you understand a thing you can plan your course accordingly and avoid the unnecessary mistakes."
To realize just how he has benefited from his association with her, think back a minute to his past and his attitude when he arrived at M-G-M.
The son of a wealthy business man, Franchot had no youthful struggles. He was sent to a boys' private school and later to Cornell. At college he was preeminent in dramatics and scholarship, being president of the dramatic club and a Phi Bete.
Yet being elected to Phi Beta Kappa for his heavy studying didn't dampen his zest for extracting the utmost from each passing day. He is high-spirited and perhaps that is why he was intrigued by the exhilarating life of the theatre. To his staid parents' astonishment he accepted a job as the juvenile in a Buffalo stock company as soon as he had graduated.
"I made forty a week -- while it lasted!" he recounts. "I headed for Broadway and fame when that 'tryout' was over. Only -- fame kept at a respectful distance from me. For weeks I pounded the pavements! At last I persuaded a little theatre organization in Greenwich Village to allow me to illustrate how well I could enact the lead in the first production. I read the part with profound confidence. They rewarded me with a supporting role.
"It was a hectic but stimulating existence from then on. Good plays and bad ones, strong parts and poor ones. Finally I got into Katharine Cornell's 'The Age of Innocence.' " This success launched him into a series of juvenile leads and the highbrow critics proclaimed him the white hope of the legitimate. That brought the Hollywood bid.
He determined to play a lone hand. Silence couldn't get him in to trouble. And so our first conception of him was that he was aloof.
The advice of one who is at the top, of one who has learned the ropes by often bitter experiences, has been an invaluable aid. Ability can mean nothing in pictures if you don't know the tricks of the trade. Unless it is properly explained.
"This is where Joan's counsel comes in," Franchot said to me. (We were introduced over the telephone, by the way! I'd called Joan and he happened to be at her house. So she did the honors by remote control. Later I took to visiting them on the sets.)
"In every business there are people who must be pleased if one wishes to be looked up with favor. Powers behind the thrones, too. Joan intimated who was who in Hollywood." And, of course, she sponsored him socially.
most noticeable change she affected on him was in his viewpoint towards
"Joan showed me how wrong I was. She convinced me that a picture player is not making a fool of himself when he acknowledges the public's curiosity. She believes one should be very grateful to the fans for their approval. I agree now that I've reasoned it out.
"I remember my first Mayfair Club party at the Biltmore. A news photographer snapped a group shot of Joan and Doug, Jr., the Irving Thalbergs and the Leslie Howards and myself. I carefully stood so that my head would be completely hidden by Leslie's!"
The lessons in showmanship have modulated his reserve. He still lacks the spectacular quality which big stars have, but it can be developed since he is no longer inhibited by self-consciousness. He is endeavoring to discover just what kind of publicity is best.
"When I see how writers have badgered Joan, particularly when she announced her separation from Doug, I shudder at the dangers one can encounter by being too kind to the press!"
Franchot has moved in from the beach to Brentwood, a few blocks from Joan. The set decorator who fixed that delightful barn-house for Alice Brady in "When Ladies Meet" supervised the furnishing of the new Tone home. (With some suggestions from Joan!) The chief feature is a beautiful all-white bedroom, designed for his mother. Franchot anticipates a visit from her shortly, having forwarded pictures of the room to Niagara Falls.
There are many details of the actual camera work which he has had to master, and on which Joan helped him.
"My gestures were quicker than they should be for the screen and Joan slowed me down. Then the speed with which scenes are taken confused me. It is difficult to rise to a climax with no preliminaries, as we have on the stage.
"I noted that whenever Joan loses the mood of a scene she stops and begins anew. Naturally, she'd be a mechanism if she did otherwise. I might expose my secret! On occasions when I realize I'm not getting the correct mood I pretend to forget a line. They have to stop. Only a star rates ceasing without some pretext!"
"Which is silly generalization," Franchot declares. "Joan is fair to everyone. She wants each person to do his best." She told him how to deal with these scene-stealers.
"An actor may maneuver around so that you are 'backed up,' as they describe it. He emerges full-face to the camera and you have only a profile showing. Joan recommended that if such a situation arose I turn my back completely to the camera. Then the director would have to give me a close-up to see what the heck I was expressing on my face!
"In a recent picture the leading lady tried to do me dirt exactly in this manner. I followed through quite successfully with Joan's advice!"
On the stage the stars leave the wardrobe items to those who are paid to attend to the costuming. Franchot learned from watching Joan that a wise star wouldn't dream of overlooking his or her clothes.
At first he was in a daze with the Hollywood custom of rushing one into a part without consulting the actor about it. Everyone knows before the player, in contrast to the legitimate where one may pick at leisure the suitable roles. That Joan has proffered opinions as to which are "building" parts is not to be doubted.
And I'm going to quote Joan. Though she has been interviewed numberless times she is always vivid copy. That is because she is a thinker as well as a doer, because she is ever progressing, ever living.
"From all appearances Franchot is the most indifferent person in the world," Joan began as we sat in her portable dressing room on the "Dancing Lady" set. She was adorable in a demure Swiss costume, topped by a flaxen wig. Patiently she braided the long yellow hair into two coy pigtails and tied on a bright blue bow as the finishing touch. The fancy effects were for a Broadway revue number in the picture.
"Then you begin your scene with him and are astounded to find you are working with the keenest of actors. Technically, he is perfect. He knows how to express every kind of feeling -- instantly!
"I have no technique at all for myself. I'm all emotion and when I cry, for instance, I keep on until I'm cried out. I'd give anything to be as skilled in acting as he is. But he learned his technique on the stage and you can't develop any in films.
"Franchot has fascinated me with his accounts of the theatre. My greatest desire now is to act with the famous Group Theatre in New York, the organization with which he played. They take time to analyze every character, to study everything pertaining to drama."
And speaking of analyzing reminded Joan that Franchot is the most logical man she has ever known.
"He has taught me to curb relying upon my intuition. If someone hurts him he doesn't lose his temper. He sits in a corner quietly and reasons out why. When people have said sarcastic things to or about me I've cried. But he has shown me that they must have had a motive for being mean. And when you search for it you recognize their purpose and aren't hurt."
I asked her what is his most foremost characteristic and she replied sincerity and honesty. It may be imagined that his wealth of academic and stage atmosphere strikes a hitherto untouched chord in Joan's heart. Doug Jr. thrilled her when she was impressed with superficial glory. Franchot stands for maturity, conservative achievement.
"It's not true that I'm easily influenced," Joan added, denying the many articles which have painted her as swayed by her environment. "The friendship of people I trust and respect indirectly affects me -- for the better, I hope! But I have to like them a lot to value their prescriptions.
"I have learned peace of mind from Franchot," Joan concluded as an assistant director called her to work. "He has taught me to have faith in my own judgement. And, oh yes -- he reads aloud to me! All the grandest plays -- and 'Alice in Wonderland.' I'd never read it!"
"Maybe you are falling in love, Joan?"
"Ah-ha!" she rallied back. "You want the lowdown, don't you? Well, I refer you to Carlyle who said something about love being the embroidery of the imagination upon the stuff of nature!"
Joan may be ambitious, but she is the eternal woman at heart. She couldn't be so exciting if she led an ordinary life.