Saturday, July 31, 2010

James Franciscus - In His Own Words

Excerpts of this bio were taken from a 1964 Motion Picture Magazine article in which James Franciscus was interviewed by Claire Harris about his life.

James Franciscus, second son to Lorraine and John, was born on January 31, 1934 in Clayton Missouri. Lorraine was the daughter of james Grover, a banker with the St. Louis Union TrustCompany, and John was involved in real estate. Jim, and his brother John Allen, lived a Tom Sawyer-ish boyhood, as they spent their days fishing, trapping muskrats and skunks and building rafts.

"When I was little, we had a house on Whitebridge Lane. It was real country living, with alfalfa fields all around us. The house had two stories and a big backyard. I have a brother named John Allen. He's two and a half years older. When I was small we fought like tigers, but by the time I was 7, we were good pals. Goey has been my nickname since I was a kid. My middle name is Grover, when I arrived on the scene, my brother couldn't pronounce it - it came out sounding like Goey. So, I've been Goey to my family and friends ever since.

"I never had the everyday garden variety of childhood diseases. Usually I was getting hurt in odd ways. At three, I was parading across a wall when I fell down onto alightning rod, which had dropped down from somewhere. The rod almost went completely through my stomach. I still have a small scar from that little episode. I was a typical roguish kid, getting into mischief.

"I've always been crazy about dogs. We must have had about 25 different kinds. My favorite was a Dalmatian named Randolph. He was fantastic. Everyday he's wait for me in front of school. Sometimes when class was noisy, we were kept late. Randolph couldn't stand waiting - he'd jump through the classroom window and practically land in my lap - he became the class mascot."

"The first school I went to was a Catholic School, about 300 yards from our house. The nuns and brothers were very strict - once a nun tore a branch off the tree and rapped my knuckles. It hurt like mad, but I must have done something to deserve it. Johnny and I used to go to a great summer camp in Minnesota, until the year the war broke out."

John Franciscus, the boy's father, became a pilot during WWII and later died when his plane crashed.

"In 1941 WWII broke out in Europe. My father joined up under the English command and we moved to Canada where he was stationed. He was a pilot with the rank of Captain. His main duty was ferrying planes across the sea to England. One day the field got a rush order for some heavy bombers. The commander had reported heavy fog and the pilots were briefed on the possible dangers. My father volunteered for the mission, he felt very strongly about the war. He took off and crashed on his way over to England."

The day it happened, my brother and I were called into my mother's room. The minuteI walked in I sensed bad news. Mother didn't beat around the bush, she told us straight out. 'Your father's crashed.' I just stood there, looking into my mother's eyes. We cried and then moved back to St. Louis - we took my father's body back to be buried there. It was hard, especially on Mother, she was all broken up. --- And on me, too. Even atthe age of eight, I understood I had lost something wonderful and unique, something I would never find again."

After my father died, I tried to calm down and not be such a rowdy. My mother had enough on her hands without me getting into mischief."

Lorraine packed up her boys and went back to St. Louis. A couple years later, she met and married Francis La Farge.

"I was 11 when Mother met my future stepfather, at a cocktail party. He was a stockbroker who had come to St. Louis on business. His name was Francis La Farge. Mother said the minute he walked into the room she felt he was the man for her. They talked for six hours after which he proposed to her right on the spot! She accepted and they were married three weeks later. That's when Mother, Johnny and I moved to New proposed to her right on the spot! She accepted and they were married three weeks later. That's when Mother, Johnny and I moved to New York to live with our new father." It was far different from Missouri! When we moved up to the growing concrete of New York City, It was a jolt!"

Along with adjusting to the concrete jungle of New York, the boys were projected into the cultural scene of the East Coast where they were immediately placed in separate boarding schools. At age 12, while attending The Fessenden School in West Newton Massachusetts, Jim appeared in his first play.

"At Fenderson, I did my first play… I made my acting debut as a girl, no less. In an all boy prep school, someone had to be a good sport. I knew right then and there I wanted to be an actor!" At Taft Prep School, in Watertown CT, Jim was active in varsity sports, the glee club, and dramatics, as well as being elected class president. His sports activity was greatly curbed after he ripped a cartilage in his knee. He starred in "Billy Bud" and "The Devil and Daniel Webster." Peter Chandler (Snark) his drama teacher said, "Jim would love to play the Devil, but he would only get pretty boy roles. "I loved that part! It was the first time they let me play the bad guy! Always before, because of my light blonde hair, I'd been cast as the hero. I relished to chance to be evil!"

In his senior year, he authored and directed the class play - a musical satire called "Malice in Wonderland." After graduating from Taft, Jim spent the summer, before entering Yale, as an apprentice at Richard Aldrich's Cape Playhouse in Dennis Massachusetts. It wasn't until College that Jim fully realized the importance and appreciation of the education he's been receiving, and he decided to buckle down. He finished four plays at Yale - all of them produced - including one written entirely in blank verse called "Romulus." Another play call "Façade" was about boys in prep school. Every summer he went back to the Cape, working up from apprentice to stage manager. While in his junior year at Yale, a talent scout spotted him. He was tested for and cast in a film called "Four Boys and A Gun," which was shot in New York during school vacation.

"When I was beginning my senior year at Yale I was offered two separate movie contracts. I turned them down in order to finish my education. It was a hard decision. Though I was determined to become an actor, I believed that since I started college, I should finish and get a degree." Jim graduated from Yale with a BA in English. "When I graduated from Yale, some people thought I was foolish trying the uncertain life of an actor when I could have easily gotten into business and made a lot of money. But I didn't want that-I wanted acting. My parents gave me their blessing. I'll always love and respect them for giving me the opportunity to be free. Even as a kid my folks always gave a choice and allowed me to make up my own mind. They guided me, gave me advice, but the ultimate decisions were mine."

The summer after graduating from Yale, Jim went to Europe with the Fondas. Jim and Jane had been going steady and plans for marriage surfaced. Soon after the summer, Jane and Jim ended their romantic relationship, but kept one as friends.

"She's a fine girl. I had a wonderful time with them on the Riviera. The highlight for me was in Spain in the famous bullfighting town of Pamplona. During the running of the bulls, I decided to join in and ran down the street. The first time a bull ran past, I reached out and felt the muscles under his flanks. It was tremendous! I was so caught up in the spirit of the thing. I forgot to be scared. At the end of town, just before the bulls entered the arena, the street narrowed. There were bodies everywhere, piled up high-shielding each other from the bulls. I did what the others did - I jumped on top of the pile - well, it collapsed and I found myself on the ground, so close that I could feel the bulls' breath as they rushed past me. It was magnificent!"

In 1958. Jim co-starred in the TV Series "Naked City." During a break from shooting, while visiting friends in California, Jim met Kathleen Wellman, daughter of film director William Wellman. He was fascinated by the pretty girl, who was a bit too shy for his tastes.

"I have definite likes and dislikes. For a woman to appeal to me, she must be completely honest, not filled with phony sophistication. I like girls with a zest for living, girls who have a positive attitude towards life. Females who have thoughts to express and something to give. I've met too many girls who only know how to take. I'm inclined to go for the outdoor type, who plays tennis, and likes to hunt and fish. A girl who gets a thrill experiencing life in its many facets, rather than one who lives only to put on fancy clothes and go out places where she can be seen. I've thought a lot about what it means to love someone. I can assure you that any girl I love I must also like. The girl I marry I will love deeply and also have as a friend. A friend whom I can give and will give back in return."

After the second year of "Naked City" ended, Jim decided to pack it up and move to Hollywood. That was the place to be if you wanted to really make it as an actor. And in 1958, he was featured in another movie called "The Mugger," playing the character Eddie Baxter. It was also at this time that he was re-introduced to Kathleen Wellman. This time he gave a more aggressive chase.

One day, Jim tossed the pretty red-head into his pool - silk dress, high-heeled shoes and all, and when she emerged dripping, he popped the question. "Why did you wait so long to ask me?" she asked back.

Marriage came after a whirlwind two-week romance that took a year to get started. On May 28, 1960 Jim and Kitty became man and wife at St. Albans Episcopal Church in Brentwood California.

In 1960 Jim portrayed Rick Leyton in the movie "I Passed for White." A story about a light-skinned African American girl, who passes herself off as a Caucasian. 1961 was a busy and joyous year for Jim - he co-starred in the movie "The Outsider" opposite Tony Curtis. The movie was about Ira Hamilton (Curtis) who was one of the six marines who raised the flag at Iwo Jima. Jim played Hamilton's best friend, Pvt Sorenson, who is later killed in action. Jim was then cast as Russ Andrews in the TV series "The Investigators". It was also in 1961 that the Franciscus family grew by one. Jamie Allen Franciscus was born on December 4, 1961, the first of Jim and Kitty's four daughters.

1963 was another banner year for Jim. "Miracle of the White Stallions" took Jim to Austria. Jim's character played a "Major" role in helping to save the Lipizzaner horses from extinction during WWII. Jim was a devoted family man as well as actor and asked Disney if he could bring his family along, they agreed. Kitty said that trip was one of her happiest memories. Jim was then considered seriously for the part of "Dr. Kildare." E. Jack Newman, creator of the show, wanted Jim for the part. However, Jim was committed to another role and CBS would not break his contract. Jim, however, did appear in an episode entitled: "Jail Ward." Once the deal was fulfilled, Newman grabbed Jim to star in a television series of his own. And so was born "Mr. Novak." Jim was to play an English teacher at Jefferson HS. The series evolved around situations from the teacher's point of view. The NEA took part of the series creation which happen to cause some problems for the creative side of the show. Also in 1963, Jim's and Kitty's second daughter was born, Kellie Allen Franciscus was born on December 4, 1963. Jim often joked about his being "on vacation" regarding the coincidental dates of his daughter's birth.

In 1964, Jim was one out of 200 actors who auditioned for the part of "Youngblood Hawke." Jim got the role. The story was a powerful epic about the trials and tribulations of a young, naïve writer from Kentucky who tries to make it big in the big city. In 1967, Jim made the movie "Snow Treasure" A true story about a Nazi Officer who discovers children are smuggling German gold out of the country.

In 1968, He played Dr. Matthew Tregaski in the TV movie "Shadow over Elveron." 1969 was a busy year for Jim as he was cast as Louis Coleman in "Trail Run" and as Clayton Stone in the movie "Marooned" and Tuck Kirby in "The Valley of Gwangi."

Jim dabbled in the production side of the business and co-founded "Omnibus Productions" which produced such classics as "Heidi" (1968), "Jane Eyre" (1970), "David Copperfield" (1970), "Kidnapped" (1971), "The Red Pony" (1973) and "A Girl Named Sooner" (1975). Later he would have his own production company called "Corsican Productions" which helped to produce the "Longstreet" (1971) and "Doc Elliot" (1973) television series.

In 1970, Jim was cast for the part of John Brent in "Beneath The Planet of The Apes." A part in which Jim re-wrote to make his character more interesting. He portrayed Clay Howard in the television movie Night Slaves, and Lt. Commander Jeffords in the movie "Hell Boats."

Jim went to Italy in 1971 to film the movie Cat O'Nine Tails. In which he played Carlo Giordani, a reporter in hot pursuit of a mad slasher. Karl Malden co-stars as an ex- reporter who was blinded in an accident and aids Giordani. While in Italy (filming Cat O'Nine Tails) he was seen chasing his wife down a hotel corridor throwing spaghetti at her. "I don't know how it all happened," stated Kitty "We were having this great spaghetti fight in the room. Finally I ran out into the hall and Jimmy came after me. We had a real mess to clean up afterward."

Also in 1971 Jim got the most difficult role of his career. That role of Mike Longstreet. He made the pilot movie and later, the TV series. Mike was an insurance investigator whose wife was killed and his eyesight lost in a blast intended to kill him. Jim was excited about the role. He was looking for something different to do and "Longstreet" provided him with the challenge he was looking for. However, Jim was also a devoted family man. He knew that filming involved long hours Time away from his wife, and more importantly, his two daughter, who were at the age when they need both parents to guide them. He certainly didn't want to become a stranger to his girls. Several times, he'd already bargained with studio executive to arrange his family to travel with him to location shooting. Now his contract stipulated that he would only work a 10-1/2 day, ending with Friday and no weekends. Basically unheard of in this business, the executives agreed. And Jim went about the task of learning how to become blind and for the two months that followed, he read books, visited schools for the blind, and guide dogs, followed blind people around, while they learned to use their guide dogs.

"I wore a blindfold for 24 hours at a time. I often rehearsed with my eyes closed to see what I would do with no vision whatsoever. At first, it was like opening too many doors and not knowing which way to go, but I soon started to adjust. I had to learn more than just un-focusing my eyes, you have to have everything come into your ears. If that doesn't come across, you're lost."

Jim once again showed his creative talent and Sterling Siliphant (producer/writer) used many of his suggestions to develop the character. For instance, the variation on karate was just one of the long list of suggestions Jim made to make his character more real. The man did his homework, for even after only 23 episodes and nearly 30 years later, people remember him best for Mike Longstreet. On February 19, 1971, Korie Allen Franciscus, Jim and Kitty's third daughter, was born.

After "Longstreet," Jim was cast in another Television series called "Doc Elliot" (1973). Playing Benjamin Elliot, M.D., a New York City doctor who settles to the backwoods of Colorado, where he is the only doctor for 600 miles. Also that year he did the voice of Jonathan in "Jonathan Livingston Seagull."

Jim led an active life and enjoyed woodworking, writing, reading (about 80 books a year) and watching and playing sports. He took up parachuting in 1959, to conquer his fear of heights and, as of a report in August 1959, had jumped nine times at an altitude of 4000 feet, free-falling 2000 feet. He also learned to pilot a small aircraft in order to spend time with his brother and family, who had moved to Puerto Rico in 1960 to start a real estate business of his own. However, tennis is the one sport that Jim had excelled in, and in the early seventies, Jim hosted a celebrity tennis tournament to benefit victims of multiple sclerosis, a disease his mother had became afflicted with when Jim was only 11.

Jim also devoted his time to other major charities like Muscular Dystrophy and Cerebral Palsy.

Due to a knee injury, Jim could not serve in the Vietnam War, however, he wanted to help, so for 12 days he went over to visit with our boys. To talk with them, listen to their stories, share in their horrors and maybe sign an autograph or two. John's book, "The History of the United States, according to Franciscus and other Related Families" goes into detail about Jim's visit including how his chopper got shot down!

On January 2, 1973 Jim and Kitty's fourth daughter, Jolie Allen Franciscus was born.

In 1974, Jim made a TV movie entitled "Aloha Means Goodbye," where he played Dr. Lawrence Maddox, who tries to kill a woman in order to give her heart to his dying son. In 1975 Jim played Sammy Stone in "The Dream Makers," and Chaplain Andrew Jensen in The TV movie "The Trail of Chaplain Jensen."

The next few years were extremely busy for Jim, in 1975 he made four movies. "One of My Wives is Missing," "The Man Inside,"" The Amazing Dobermans," and the pilot for another television series, "Hunter" which used a lot of Jim's personal photos during the opening sequence. And in 1976, Jim released six movies, "The Greek Tycoon," "Secrets of Three Hungry Wives,"" The Pirate," "Puzzle," "Killer Fish," and "Good Guys Wear Black." In 1979, he played Jimbo in "City on Fire"and Moses Brody in "Concorde Affaire '79."

In 1980 made three movies: "Nightkill," "Great White Shark," and "When Time Ran Out." Unfortunately, it was around this time that Jim and Kitty's 20-years of marriage ended in divorced.

Jim teamed up once again with Jacqueline Smith (of Nightkill) and was featured in "Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy," where he played John F Kennedy and did a good job maintaining a Boston accent, which he revealed was a bit tricky to do. Later that year he was Moke Blue in "Butterfly." And in 1983 he was in "Veliki Transport" aka "Heroes."

In the middle eighties, Jim remarried (Carla) and made his last film, "Secret Weapons" (1985), in which his hair was dyed dark. He appeared as Colonel Victor Khudenko, a Russian KGB agent, whose job was to recruit Russian women who would be used to seduce American males in order to infiltrate America.

Stricken with emphysema, Jim's health began to deteriorate and his active lifestyle began to wither. He would spend more and more of his time at the typewriter, instead of the tennis courts, turning out scripts he hoped someday would be produced. Before his death in 1991, he wrote and assisted in the production of "29th Street."

James Grover Franciscus passed away on July 8, 1991.

All his fans miss him and wish the best to those loved ones he left.

Biography of James Franciscus

James Grover Franciscus was born in Clayton, Missouri, on January 31, 1934, the younger of two boys born to John and Loraine Franciscus. In interviews he described his early childhood in a small town in Mark Twain's home state as being something out of Tom Sawyer. However, this changed abruptly when his father, a volunteer with the British Air Force in WWII prior to America's entry into the war, was killed in action and his mother remarried a New York investor. The family moved to Manhattan and Franciscus attended prep schools in New England before going to Yale.

While at Yale he was friends with Dick Cavett and appeared in a movie, Four Boys and a Gun, as a junior, which was shot during the summer break before his senior year. He was offered a studio contract but he stayed at Yale to obtain his degree. Franciscus graduated from Yale in 1957. In the summer after his senior year, while working in a summer stock theater, he met and had a romantic relationship with Jane Fonda, who writes in her autobiography that Franciscus was her first lover. Franciscus went on vacation with the family in Spain, where he ran with the bulls in Pamplona. He proposed marriage to Fonda, but she turned him down.

Franciscus won his first major role as Jimmy O'Halloran in the classic police drama "Naked City", in 1958. The show was canceled but later unexpectedly revived, at which time it changed from a 30-minute to one hour format. When the show went back on the air, Franciscus had other commitments, probably either the movie "The Outsider" with Tony Curtis, or the TV show "The Investigators", both of which were released in 1961.

Franciscus married Kathleen "Kitty" Wellman, daughter of director William Wellman, in 1960 and the couple had four daughters. Unusual for actors at the time, Franciscus tried to always put his home life first, and went out of his way to make time to be with his family. He had his contracts written to allow him to be home for dinner and on weekends. When he and Kitty separated in the late 1970s, he put family ahead of his career, and, almost unheard of at the time, and certainly in Hollywood, it was he who took custody of all four girls, raising them as a single father. Later, the amicably divorced couple split child-rearing duties, and Kitty raised the two younger girls while the two older girls stayed with their father.

Franciscus was the first choice to play the lead in "Dr. Kildare", but again his prior commitments prevented him from taking the role and it went instead to Richard Chamberlain. Instead, Franciscus was chosen for the lead in the high school drama "Mr. Novak", about an idealistic poor boy who becomes a suburban English teacher, which also starred Dean Jagger, Burgess Meredith, and many well known and highly regarded co-stars and guest stars. The show lasted two seasons.

When Warren Beatty turned down the lead role in Herman Wouk's "Youngblood Hawke" (and almost ended his career - it was supposed to be a huge hit), Franciscus won the role from a field of 200 other actors (and almost ended his career - it was a disaster). He recovered from "Hawke" and went on to work constantly, appearing in science fiction movies such as "Marooned", Ray Harryhausen's "Valley of Gwangi", and "Beneath the Planet of the Apes"; the war movie "Hell Boats"; Dario Argento's spaghetti slasher "Cat O' Nine Tails"; and many TV guest shots and made-for-TV movies.

In 1971 Franciscus returned to a full-time television show in one of his signature roles as blind insurance investigator Mike Longstreet. Notable for Franciscus's realistic portrayal of a blind man as well as for co-stars Bruce Lee and seeing eye dog Pax, the show nevertheless only lasted a single season. Franciscus went on to other series ("Doc Elliott", "Hunter") and many more TV and movie appearances, including his first villain roles.

Franciscus was also a noted producer, bringing several classics such as "Kidnapped", "The Red Pony", and "Heidi" to the screen, and as a writer on projects like "Beneath the Planet of the Apes" and "29th Street".

Despite his athleticism and youthfulness, Franciscus never kicked a 4-pack-a-day cigarette habit. He died of emphysema in 1991 at the age of 57.

Welcome to the James Franciscus Blog

James Franciscus was one of the most talented but underrated actors of the 1960s and 1970s. This blog is our attempt to remind the world of his many entertaining contributions to our pop culture.