Friday, August 31, 2012

Steve Franken R.I.P.

Steve Franken, perhaps best remembered as the rich, snobbish Chatsworth Osborne Jr. on Dobie Gillis, died 24 August 2012 at the age of 80. The cause was cancer.

Steve Franken was born 27 May 1932 in Brooklyn, New York. He attended Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. He made his film debut in 1958 in an uncredited part in the film Stage Struck. He made his television debut the same year in an episode of Playhouse 90. He appeared in the film Cop Hater, and such TV shows as One Step Beyond, The Rebel, Lock Up, Checkmate, and Dr. Kildare before he was cast in Dobie Gillis in its second season. He remained on the show until it ended in 1963.

In the Sixties Mr. Franken was  a regular on the show Tom, Dick, and Mary and had a supporting role on The Lieutenant. He guest starred on such shows as Perry Mason, Petticoat Junction, McHale's Navy, My Favourite Martian, The Patty Duke ShowThe Wild Wild West, The Rat Patrol, My Three Sons, BewitchedMission: Impossible, The Big Valley, Mod Squad, and Rod Serling's Night Gallery. He appeared in such films as The Americanization of Emily (1964), The Time Travelers (1964), Wild Wild Winter (1966), Follow Me, Boys! (1966), The Party (1968), Panic in the City (1968), Angel in My Pocket (1969), and Number One (1969).

In the Seventies Steve Franken appeared on such shows as Marcus Welby M.D., Adam-12, Love American Style, Mary Tyler Moore, Emergency, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Man from AtlantisCharlie's Angels, Qunicy M.E., and Insight. He appeared in such films as Westworld (1973), The Missouri Breaks (1976), Avalanche (1978), Hardly Working (1980), and The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu (1980). In the Eighties he appeared on such shows as Barney Miller, Trappper John M.D., Simon & Simon, Hill Street Blues, MacGuyver, Our House, Hunter, and China Beach. He appeared in such films as Curse of the Pink Panther (1983), Can't Buy Me Love (1987), Freeway (1988), and Transylvania Twist (1989).

In the Nineties Mr. Franken appeared on such shows as Human Target, Herman's Head, Sisters, Seinfeld, and Murphy Brown. He appeared in such films as Breakfast of Aliens (1993), Munchie Strikes Back (1994), The Pandora Project (1998), Restraining Order (1999), The Omega Code (1999), and Nurse Betty (2000).  In the Naughts he appeared on the shows Family Law and King of Queens. He appeared in such films as Crash Point Zero (2001), The Metrosexual (2007), Angels & Demons (2009) , and Watch Out for Slick (2010). His last role was in Reach, to be released next year.

Steve Franken was a true character actor. He had a gift for creating memorable characters in even the briefest amount of time on screen. Those characters covered a particularly wide range, from police officers to medical doctors to a cardinal (in Angels and Demons). Of course, while Steve Franken played a number of different roles in his career, he is perhaps best remembered as Chatsworth Osborne, Jr. on Dobie Gillis. While his predecessor Warren Beatty (who appeared in the series' first season) played the handsome, well dressed, rich guy one loves to hate, Steve Franken played the twitchy, nervous, well dressed rich guy for whom one actually feels sorry. For all that Chatworth could be a pain in the neck to Dobie Gillis and Maynard G. Krebs, one could not help but feel that deep down inside him there was a decent guy trying to get out. It was Steve Franken's talent that allowed him to take a character that could easily have been detestable and make him sympathetic. Mr. Franken's other great role would come in The Party, in which he played the drunken waiter Levinson. Throughout the film Levinson utters not one word of dialogue, and yet he generates the biggest laughs in the entire movie, even outshining Peter Sellers. The Party is the film that best demonstrates Steve Franken's gift for comic timing and slapstick. While Steve Franken may not be a household name, then, he will be remembered for his many great appearances on film and television, many of which may well have lasted only a few moments.

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