If you're a Joan Crawford or Bette Davis fan, I'm willing to bet that you watched Ryan Murphy's newest FX program over the last eight weeks, titled Feud. I certainly did.
I was in adoring awe over the costumes and set design (I really was born during the wrong time) and thought the leads were brilliant. And by leads I mean not only Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon but also Albert Molina (as director Robert Aldrich), Stanley Tucci (as Jack Warner) and Jackie Hoffman (as the devoted Mamacita.)
Where I felt the series came up short, however, was the portrayal of Bette and Joan - - but most especially Joan - - as sad, pathetic women who truly had no one. Now Bette Davis was always a "keep it moving/plow straight ahead" type of woman who would never feel pity for herself nor want it. Even the less dedicated Davis fans can read this off her. Joan also never wanted pity but Murphy egregiously (in my opinion) played her as a sad sack of a woman after her acting career was over.
Based solely on the show, Crawford shut herself away in her New York apartment and saw no one other than her devoted housekeeper/confessor Mamacita. This simply wasn't true. Her film career came to an end in 1970 with the letdown flick Trog. But Joan kept herself busy as a Pepsi executive until her forced retirement in 1973 (due to her age.) She was also still active with her charities and had many friends she kept in contact with, both in Los Angeles and New York - - actresses Barbara Stanwyck, Myrna Loy, Rosalind Russell Ann Blyth; actors Cesar Romero, Cliff Robertson, Jimmy Stewart, William Haines (who became a very successful interior designer.) These are just a few.
|During their marriage|
Despite a contract with MGM and appearing in some stellar films alongside Clark Gable, Loretta Young, Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford and Charles Laughton, Franchot never became a huge star. Part of it was the casting - - when paired with Harlow or Crawford, he was invariably chosen to play the sidekick or second lead. When costarring with his own wife (Crawford), he would never get the girl. Louis B. Mayer infamously told Tone that Joan Crawford could not walk off into the sunset with an unknown. This, despite the fact that Joan Crawford went home every night with Tone as her husband. For someone as sensitive and serious minded about his craft as Franchot Tone, that remark must have stung.
In 1935, Franchot made a little picture called Dangerous with Bette Davis. Bette fell and fell hard for her leading man, who at that time only had eyes for his girlfriend - - Joan Crawford. Many believe this was the seed that grew into the eventual "feud" the two actresses had together. Plain old jealousy over a man. Bette may have gotten Franchot in the film but Joan got him offscreen, marrying him in October of 1935. That same year, he appeared in the excellent Mutiny on the Bounty, where he was nominated for the Academy Award as Best Actor, alongside his costars Clark Gable and Charles Laughton. All three would lose to Victor McLaglen.
Throughout his movie career, Franchot longed to return to the stage. Newly married to Crawford, the two built a theater, complete with a stage, in the backyard and would host friends with play performances. The couple idealized about living in New York for six months out of the year with Franchot returning to the stage and Joan making her debut.
It wasn't meant to be. Joan's Hollywood career continued to accelerate while Franchot's plateaued. He grew weary of playing second banana and grew resentful over his wife's immense success. The two would divorce in 1939; the evening before their divorce was final, they were seen dancing together. Joan would tell the judge granting her divorce that she hoped she (Joan) would have the good sense to remain friendly with her soon to be ex-husband.
While both went on to other marriages, it appears they still held each other in high regard. In early 1954 the two were spotted out on the town together. Columnist Earl Wilson asked Joan if she and Franchot were going to reconcile. She responded with a "we haven't discussed it but I wish it could be so. I just adore this man!" Adoration or not, they did not officially reconcile and the following year Joan would marry Pepsi executive Alfred Steele and have a happy four years with him before he died unexpectedly of a heart attack.
|In the 1950s. No longer married but close friends.|
When Joan wrote her autobiography Portrait of Joan, she mentioned Franchot. "I have the utmost trust for Franchot and regard for him."
In 1964 Franchot was appearing in an off-Broadway play called The Dirty Old Man. His first wife was in attendance on opening night to support him and wish him well. At that time, he commented that he and Joan had dinner every once in a while (both were living in New York) and he always found her stunning. He also stated that she was good at everything she did, from her movie work to her work with Pepsi.
Sadly, the two would not have much longer together. Franchot was a chain smoker and it finally caught up with him. He was diagnosed with lung cancer. Joan immediately moved her wheelchair-bound former husband into her apartment, where she would not only care for him during the better part of 1967 and 1968 but paid for his medical expenses as well. He reportedly also asked Joan to remarry him - - either before he fell ill or during his illness - - but she turned him down, believing it was not the best idea.
Franchot Tone died on September 18,1968. He was sixty-three years old.
Joan paid for his funeral expenses and arranged to have him cremated and his ashes scattered over Muskoka Lakes, Canada, not far from his birthplace.
Whatever their issues may have been during their marriage - - resentment, ambition, infidelity - - they remained friends until the end and neither ever turned their back on the other. This love and friendship is rarely mentioned when Joan is discussed whether because Franchot was not as well known as Joan and some of her other relationships or because it simply doesn't fit the narrative subscribed to by some of Joan being a terrible person.
As good as certain aspects of Feud were, I'm disappointed that this fact was omitted. It shows a very different Joan Crawford - - a caring woman, one that wasn't desperately lonely and one that wasn't painfully self absorbed.
During their film careers, Joan and Franchot starred in seven movies together - - Today We Live, Dancing Lady, Sadie McKee, No More Ladies, The Gorgeous Hussy, Love on the Run and The Bride Wore Red. While he was never a leading man in Joan's films, I am partial to Dancing Lady and Love on the Run (because he always played well off Clark Gable) and Sadie McKee (because it's simply a good film).
Have you seen any of the Crawford-Tone films? Do you have a favorite?
|During the filming of Dancing Lady - - in love and both beautiful|