Thursday, March 15, 2012

Star-Crossed Stars: Franchot Tone & Joan Crawford, A True Hollywood Tale

STAR-CROSSED STARS: FRANCHOT TONE & JOAN CRAWFORD, A TRUE HOLLYWOOD TALE -- It's one of those Hollywood love affairs-turned into a marriage that has a very unusual ending -- and it wasn't part of any clever script or a dreamt-up stunt by an over-ambitious press agent, either.  What it does prove is that love -- even of the Hollywood variety -- is sometimes stronger and stranger and better than the plot of any movie.  But then, that is why we are eternally fascinated by showbiz affairs here at Studio of Style -- from the very beginnings of Hollywood itself to the present day -- so keep reading, kids, to see how this one finally comes to a bittersweet ending that demonstrates that even beloved icons such as the legendary Joan Crawford and the dashingly handsome Franchot Tone are ultimately human, just like the rest of us mere mortals! So, for now, just forget all the things you've heard about what Crawford was supposedly like and let's revisit this screen icon from another point of view.  Ready?  Good! The year was 1932 and Crawford (fresh from her divorce with screen idol Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) was having an affair with the other screen idol Clark Gable (!) -- and onto the set of MGM's "Today We Live" strolls the new kid on the block Franchot Tone (he had only one film under his belt "The Wiser Sex" with Claudette Colbert -- while Crawford was already riding high on such hits as "Grand Hotel, " "Letty Linton" and "Rain"). You could say it was sparks at first sight for the two extremely handsome actors (he with his deep voice, East Coast breeding and manners -- and she with her sensual mannerisms and goddess-like figure and stature). Though "Today We Live" bombed at the box office, the fireworks went off between them and they married in 1935 and between 1933 and 1937, they starred together in seven films.  By 1936, Crawford was the reigning queen of Hollywood and Tone was nominated for an Academy Award for his part in the classic "Mutiny on the Bounty." Behind the scenes, however, things weren't so picture-perfect. For Tone, heavy drinking, jealousy over his movie roles, on-set fighting and less-than-star treatment by the studios led to domestic abuse (Crawford often showed up on set with sunglasses trying to hide Tone's black and blue-inflicted marks) -- causing Crawford to seek comfort in the arms of her co-star Spencer Tracy during the 1938 filming of "Mannequin" for a torrid affair. Crawford "surprised" Tone on the set of one of his films one day -- only to catch him with an unknown starlet providing oral favors (some things never change in Hollywood!). It was the end of Tone and Crawford's relationship -- or was it?  They divorced in 1939. "If anyone catches me getting married again," said Crawford afterward, "they oughta give me a good sock on the jaw." (She must have gotten enough of that from Tone, one would think -- tsk-tsk)  So everyone goes their separate ways -- Tone would marry three more times; and Crawford twice more. As they grew older, Tone and Crawford rekindled their friendship and she would become a caretaker for the now-sick Tone (who would eventually succumb to lung cancer in 1968).  A reporter who interviewed Crawford in her New York City apartment was curious about the "old man" sitting quietly in a wheelchair throughout the interview. "Oh that's just Franchot," replied Crawford, which startled the reporter.  You see, kids, sometimes love runs deeper than the bruised egos and black eyes meted out in the past -- all can be forgiven (as it was between these two) and even the oft-maligned Joan Crawford showed she had a soft spot in her heart for what may have been the love of her life.  PS: On the Walk of Fame in Hollywood, you can find Crawford's star at 1750 Vine Street; and Tone's star at 6558 Hollywood Boulevard.