Sunday, January 22, 2006

Tony Franciosa Dead at 77

Actor Anthony "Tony" Franciosa died at age 77 on Thursday following a stroke. Strangely, he died just a week after Shelley Winters, to whom he was married for a time.

Franciosa was born in New York City to Italian American parents. His father was a construction worker and his mother was a seamstress. He trained at the Actor's Studio in New York, one of a number of actors in the Fifites who used the method style of acting. He made his debut on Broadway in the play End As a Man. He would earn a Tony nomination for the play A Hatful of Rain. When he recreated the role as for the movie version, he was nominated for an Oscar.

Franciosa made his movie debut in This Could be the Night in 1957. He appeared in the Elia Kazan classic A Face in the Crowd the same year. With A Hatful of Rain, Franciosa was poised for major stardom. He had parts in such films as The Long, Hot Summer, The Pleasure Seekers, The Swingers, and Career (for which he won a Golden Globe). According to the gossip of the day, however, his behaviour on the set was often less than might be desirable. He allegedly fought with other actors and even sulked in his dressing room.

It is perhaps for this reason that the Sixties saw him increasingly turn to television. He played the lead in the series Valentine's Day in 1964. He would later play Jeff Dillon on The Name of the Game, one of that show's three rotating stars (Robert Stack and Gene Barry were the other two). He would be fired from that series for what NBC executives called "the wear and tear" he made on the set. He would later appear in the series Matt Helm and Finder of Lost Loves. He also appeared in several TV movies and miniseries. His last role was a return to the big screen with City Hall in 1996.

Franciosa was known for his temper. Beyond his behaviour on the set of The Name of the Game, he served a jail term in the Fifties for striking a reporter and engaged in fisticuffs with a director on the set of Matt Helm. Although known for his irascibility, Franciosa had other sides to him as well. He was active in the civil rights movement and even took part in marches led by Dr. Martin Luther King.

Franciosa was a very talented actor, as shown by his performance in Career as an actor who sacrifices everything for his craft. Indeed, his early career feature many such performances. In an interview in 1996, Franciosa said he wasn't quite mature enough psychologically and emotionally" for the attention he received when he broke into Hollywood in the Fifties. Sadly, his immaturity had a negative effect on his career. Considered hot headed and tempermental, he got fewer jobs as the years went by. He went from starring in major motion pictures to television in a few short years.

This was most unfortunate, as it seems to me that Franciosa's biggest chance to shine was on the big screen. He was, quite simply, a movie star. The week to week grind of television was less suited to his talents than motion pictures or the stage. It is for that reason I must say that I am saddened by his passing. For me he will always be a very talented actor who only had a brief time in which to shine.

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