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In 1963 I had a telephone interview with one of my favorites, Anthony Franciosa, an unusually talented, but hot-tempered actor whose career never quite reached the heights that seemed possible, given his early work.

He started in films in the 1950s, during the era most New York-trained actors were compared with Marlon Brando. Both Franciosa and Brando were labeled "method actors," but they weren't much alike. Brando was more deserving of the label because his style was more studied than natural. To me, Franciosa's performances seemed less disciplined, but much more real.

The fact he phoned an Akron newspaper writer was an indication Franciosa's career was in a slump. Part of the problem was his off-screen antics, part of the problem was that relatively few people agreed with my assessment of his talent. I always looked forward to a Franciosa performance. He could do wonders with a mediocre script, and even when his acting went over the top, as it often did, he was entertaining.

The 1963 interview:

April 7, 1963, Akron Beacon Journal

By JACK MAJOR

Time was you could depend on Anthony Franciosa for headlines.

Like 1957 when a nosy newspaper photographer bugged the actor by taking pictures of him with his fiancée, Shelley Winters.

Franciosa didn’t like it because he was married to someone else and didn’t think it proper to be photographed with another woman, even though he had already announced his intention to marry Winters when his divorce was final.

So he got mad, and when Franciosa got mad in those days, there was action. He kicked the photographer, was arrested, found guilty and sentenced to 10 days in jail.

Franciosa says he has mellowed since then. Oh, he’s still a bit of a tiger, but the next time he tells a photographer to mind his own business, he’ll do it with a smile. He didn’t enjoy those 10 days behind bars.

Franciosa called the Beacon Journal recently to plug his appearance on tonight’s “Show of the Week” on NBC, but he spent a lot of time talking about his new outlook.

“It used to unnerve me that people were interested in my personal life,” he said. “I operated on the theory that if you want to know what I’m like, watch me perform. I couldn’t believe people wanted to know what kinds of food I liked, or what I wore to bed, or what I thought about women.

“Then I remembered my heroes. Do you know who my greatest hero used to be? Thomas Edison. And I recalled that I was interested in Edison’s personal life. However, there seemed to be a connection between his personal life an his work. When there is that kind of connection, I can understand the curiosity.

“But I can’t understand why people are interested in personal details that have nothing to do with a person’s work. I still don’t like this invasion of privacy, but now I can tolerate it.”

Franciosa lived under a microscope during the three years he was married to Shelley Winters. Everyone seemed to be looking and his reaction was often violent.

When divorce proceedings began in November, 1960, Winters testified: “He had a terrible temper. He was always yelling ... I found myself avoiding living with him. If he was working in Hollywood, I would take jobs in New York.”

She was granted a divorce on grounds of cruelty.

Franciosa became a husband for the third time on New Year’s Eve in 1961 when he married Judy Balaban Kanter, daughter of Barney Balaban, president of Paramount Pictures.

It has been a quiet marriage ... so quiet some of Franciosa’s fans think he is still single.

During our interview Franciosa seemed willing to answer any question, but many answers were offered cautiously.

I wondered aloud if his marriage to Winters might have failed because it was such a public spectacle.

“Success of a marriage in Hollywood depends on how the two people involved react to the public’s curiosity,” he said. “There are some actresses out here who are willing to discuss the details of their private lives all day. Naturally, a guy wouldn’t want to stay married to one of them.

“I was never relaxed about my personal life,” he added. “I am now.”

Franciosa was born 34 years ago in New York City. Until he was graduated from high school he was more interested in basketball than in dramatics.

“I had a friend who was trying out for a YMCA play when I was 18,” he said, “and he talked me into trying out, too.

“The first time I went on stage I knew acting would eventually be my career.”

For years it looked as though eventually might never come.

“I acted in amateur and semi-professional plays for more than seven years. Then I received my first dollar for acting. I had several jobs during those seven years, but only because I wanted to eat.”

Franciosa attended several acting schools, including the famed Actors’ Studio. Then he began a string of Broadway successes – “End As a Man,” “Wedding Breakfast” and, finally, “Hatful of Rain,” in which Winters was his co-star.

Then Franciosa went to Hollywood where he was almost bound to create a sensation. First, he was a method actor – “whatever that is,” he snapped – and method actors were the rage in Hollywood in 1956.

He also had a reputation for being a Hollywood hater. “As soon as I finished a film in Hollywood,” he said, “I flew back to New York as fast as I could.” (Times have changed. He and his third wife live in Los Angeles.)

Franciosa’s film career started with a bang. He delivered strong performances in “Hatful of Rain,” “The Long, Hot Summer,” “Wild Is The Wind” and “A Face in the Crowd.”

Then came the bombs: “Naked Maja,” “Go Naked in the World” and “Story on Page One.”

A lull in his film career put him back on television for the first time in six years when he starred in “Heaven Can Wait” for “Show of the Week.”

Since then movie work has been a sometime thing. His most recent film was “Period of Adjustment.”

“I was more satisfied with that performance than anything else I’ve done,” he said. “For the first time I played scenes for what they were. I didn’t force the comedy or make the drama any more profound than it really was.”

Franciosa also did a TV bit last month for “The Dick Powell Show.” He anticipates frequent video performances, but promises, “I’ll never do a series.”

He was out of work when he called, but wasn’t concerned about unemployment.

“I am reading several movie and TV scripts,” he said.

An absence of between-films headlines has made it hard to keep tabs on this new Franciosa, but he says it has made him a happier person.

And he hopes it continues that way.

 

Franciosa, who died in 2006, kept working well into the 1990s, but he did mostly television, including a few short-lived series, best of which was "The Name of the Game" (1968-70). He also starred as "Matt Helm" in a television series based on the Dean Martin movie spy. In 1970 he wed for the fourth time, to Rita Thiel, and this time everything seemed to fall into place and they remained married for 35 years, until his death.

 

 

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