Watch This Man!—Tony Franciosa
The young man, neatly dressed in a good dark blue suit, who walked into Jim Downey’s restaurant in New York looked like a reserved, successful lawyer or a rising young executive. He was neither. He was Anthony Franciosa, an actor who had yet to get a big break on the stage or in pictures.
He slid into a booth to join some friends, without asking permission. He stretched out the hulk of his six-feet-plus frame, tugged open the collar of his gleaming white shirt. pulled at his carefully knotted tie, and all of him relaxed. He joined in the banter and the laughs for a few minutes. Then his fingers began to drum on the table, impatiently. “Anybody seen Shelley?” he demanded.
Nobody had. Glowering, he jumped up, dug through his pockets for a dime, and headed for the phone booth. The conversation. was brief, and heated. Slamming the receiver down, he stormed out of the booth. For a moment, he stood there, boiling, indecisive, trying to control his mounting fury. Then, while the diners gaped, he snatched a New York directory and tore it to shreds, great hunks at a time.
Many months later, Anthony Franciosa was in Hollywood, having just completed his third picture, “A Hatful of Rain.” One day he took his fiancée, the above-mentioned Shelley—Winters, of course—to the Los Angeles City Hall to bid on a luxurious suburban home that was up for auction.
As they were leaving the building, a press photographer spotted them and leaped into action. Shelley, who had not anticipated being seen, was casually dressed and wore no makeup. She told the photographer not to take pictures. He persisted. Tony threatened to kick the camera out of the photographer’s hand if he ignored Shelley’s request. The shutter clicked, the bulb flashed—and Tony lashed out with a powerful kick that sent the camera flying. The fracas that followed was broken up by two passing policemen. Tony was taken to the police station.
He was charged with battery, and pleaded guilty. Two other charges, of malicious mischief and disturbing the peace, were dropped. Up for sentencing, Tony was confronted with his past record—a conviction for petty theft and two drunk arrests. He burst into tears.
“Your honor,” he sobbed, “I don’t know if robbery is the right word. Maybe you won’t believe it in this day and age, but I was hungry . . . I took a sewing machine from a theater in San Francisco where I worked . . . I wanted to hock it and get some money. It was Christmas time . . . I had the idea of some day returning it, but I got caught.”
The judge delayed sentencing. “I had intended to grant summary probation in this case,” he said. “However, disclosure of the defendant’s past activities places an entirely different light on matters.”
For Anthony Franciosa this statement did, indeed, put a different light on matters. At the same time as he was sobbing out the story of his past in court, he was being hailed as the greatest acting find in years, and an electrifying new personality, as a result of his work in a very difficult role in 20th’s “A Hatful of Rain.”
Now his triumph had a bitter taste, as a result of outbursts, past and present, that he was unable to control. Why? What was there in him that made him in one moment the epitome of charm, in the next an immensely talented, serious actor, and in the next, the person one of his closest friends sums up with a shake of the head and the words, “Wild, wild, wild”?
At first meeting, Tony Franciosa doesn’t strike you as being an explosive, or even a highly colorful personality. His approach is direct and intimate, buttered with warm Italian smiles. Yet just beneath the surface lies that inner disturbance that may break out in tearing up a telephone book—or attacking a photographer. Perhaps, behind this side of Tony can be found some hidden fears and guilts that cause him to lash out at a world that has been very kind to him, a world that he tries very hard to understand. Perhaps this is the clash of a very gifted, too-sensitive individual against the harsh reality of that world. He is a man searching to find himself. And, in the past, that search has not been easy.
Tony, whose real name is Anthony Papaleo, was brought up in New York’s East Harlem district, one of the city’s many little neighborhoods. Like all people who came from Italy, Tony’s family left it physically, but not spiritually. They brought the true feeling of the old country with them and they instilled that way of life in the hearts of their American-born children.
He was raised by his mother and two aunts, in the friendly seven-room apartment in the three-story building where he was born. An uncle and his grandparents shared the apartment, and there was always plenty of activity in the Papaleo-Franciosa household, much laughter, sometimes tears which all shared. Often his mother’s sister who lived across the street with her seven children would join them for what Tony calls “A Franciosa Feast.”
The neighborhood was tough enough to teach Tony that he had to be able to defend himself, often with his fists. Many times, he got his ears boxed by the older kids for stepping out of line. He always promised himself to get back at them. But such experiences left no bitterness.
“My childhood was one big laugh,” Tony says. “As I look back on it, I think I constantly laughed and had a good time and really enjoyed myself. Actually, one of my big problems in school was that I’d usually get hit by my teacher for being devilish. ‘What did I do?’ I’d say. ‘I didn’t do anything. I was just having a good time,’ I’d say.” He still honestly believes that man’s most noble virtue is the ability to have a good time.
With his highly developed flair for enjoying life, there was little room left for school studies. Except for basketball and photography, Tony wasn’t enthusiastic about school, to put it mildly.
When he finally emerged from the galling confines of the halls of learning, he was a big, happy hulk of high spirits and animal energy with no place to go. Until then, his most exciting excursion into the great world outside East Harlem had been a visit to Times Square at the age of thirteen. So he made a beeline for the Great White Way and all its glories.
It didn’t turn out to be very glorious. After irksome stints in the Times Square environs as messenger boy and dishwasher, he turned to more lucrative—but just as irksome—jobs as an awning installer, printer’s “devil,” and welder. He soon had enough of that. So off he went to see the world, as a steward on the S. S. President Cleveland. But alas, a steward’s life was not what it’s cracked up to be. He saw the sights of Hawaii, the Philippines, Japan and China through a dirty porthole.
Back in New York, restless and at loose ends, Tony found his way into the theater quite by accident. One night he joined a friend who was going to investigate the possibilities of getting a part in a YWCA play that was being produced. While at the auditions, calamity-prone Tony was talked into taking a part in the play.
For the first time in his life, a strange feeling of inadequacy began to set in during the first rehearsals. He noticed the other actors seemed to know what they were doing, but he didn’t. Not only had he never seen a play before, he had never even been in a theater. He decided to find out what this acting was all about.
He bought a ticket to see Jose Ferrer in “Cyrano de Bergerac.” The dynamic Mr. Ferrer entranced him completely. It was the most thrilling night in Tony’s life.
From then on Tony went to the theater alone. It was a special thing, going to see a play, and he didn’t want anyone to break the spell for him. The night he saw Judith Anderson in “Medea,” he was so strongly affected that he ripped his handkerchief to shreds. After he left the theater, he walked for three hours before going home, thinking about the greatness and power he had just witnessed. The theater did something to Tony that nothing else could do, and it frightened him a little.
His family couldn’t see him as an actor at all. Undaunted, Tony began to study with a dramatic coach and joined Off-Broadway, Inc., a group dedicated to experimenting with plays and actors. Then, as a result of his performance in the off-Broadway production of Gertrude Stein’s “Yes, Is for a Very Young Man,” Tony was awarded a four-year scholarship to Irving Piscator’s Dramatic Workshop. With the scholarship for ammunition, he broke the happy news to his family. With typical Italian warmth, they immediately whipped up another huge “Franciosa Feast” to celebrate.
Although his family was now filled with faith in his theatrical future, Tony found it hard to share their sentiments. Feeling that old inadequacy again, and realizing that he had missed a great deal in terms of education, he set about to educate himself. Almost overnight he changed from Good Time Tony to Anthony Franciosa, Dedicated Actor. And he shut himself off from the world for a time, becoming a recluse.
The Franciosa high spirits never waned, but he acquired a new sort of seriousness that for him was strange indeed. As he learned more about life and the world in which he was living, his personality began to change. Gradually he began to understand some of that power and excitement he had experienced going to see great plays with great artists. Inside him, emotional forces he had never tapped were being unleashed, and he found himself living more intensely than ever before.
Now, Tony had always had a very appreciative eye for any shapely member of the opposite sex. From the first awakenings of manhood, girls had become his favorite hobby. Other than eating spaghetti, dancing and sleeping, there wasn’t anything Tony enjoyed more than girls.
His joy knew no bounds when he discovered that a life in the theater brought with it plenty of contact with especially pretty girls, a delight which he pursued with the single-minded fervor of a kid let loose in a candy shop. In no time, he gained himself quite a reputation among his friends as a lady-killer.
But, once in an exotic New York bistro called the Port Said, Tony’s bravado with women was put to the test. One of the club’s sensuous “belly dancers” was performing. As is the custom, the dancer began to flaunt her act before Tony, more to irritate his date than to entice him, most likely. But Tony, the unabashed ladykiller, was so embarrassed by the incident that he flushed to the tips of his ears.
“Let’s get out of here,” he muttered, bolting up from his seat.
“Sh! Everybody’s looking at you!” his date hissed, tugging at his sleeve. But it was all she could do to keep him from running out of the place.
After a stint with the New York Repertory Theater, Tony left the city to join the Players group at Lake Tahoe, California. There, in the wild country and freedom of the lush California mountains, Tony stretched his cramped limbs and prepared to work hard and, as always, enjoy himself.
And, to be sure, among the players in the group that summer there was a sweet, reserved, gentle young girl named Beatrice Bakalyar. She was from the mid-West. She was strongly attracted to Tony Franciosa, and vice versa.
Beatrice was not the kind of girl one chases around dressing rooms, so Tony wooed her tenderly. It was a very young love, possibly the first real love for both of them, and it was the most important love they had ever known. That they were from widely divergent backgrounds and of enormously different temperaments never occurred to them. And they were married.
The first months were everything they had hoped for. But, back in New York, the endless demands of an actor’s life began gnawing at their serenity.
Tony passed auditions at the Actors Studio and began to study with new fervor. He snared several parts in off-Broadway shows and, in general, life was too crammed with progress and study to devote too much time and attention to marital adjustments.
A strong need developed within him: the need to share the intensity of his dedication to the theater as a way of life. Unfortunately, he began to feel that he could no longer find fulfillment for that need within Beatrice. For her part, Beatrice was not prepared for the double adjustment—first, to an entirely new life in the strange big city; second, to a man who was rapidly changing from the carefree actor she had met in a summer stock company into an intense creative artist with whom she was finding it more and more difficult to communicate. The inevitable happened: they separated.
For a while, Tony suffered overwhelming guilts. Perhaps it had been entirely his inadequacy. Perhaps he could have done more to make the marriage work out. But soon, with a heavy dose of work and the distraction of pretty faces around him, he immersed himself in his career again.
Several of the actors at the Studio had been working on scenes from an unproduced play called “End As A Man,” which has since been brought to the screen as “The Strange One.” A young producer, Claire Heller, decided to present the play off-Broadway, and set about casting it from the people at the Studio. For her lead she chose the intense young Ben Gazzara; for the secondary lead she chose William Smithers; and among the supporting players she cast Tony Franciosa in a choice part.
When the actors were called back to work after the first break during rehearsal, Tony was missing.
“Where’s Franciosa?” the director demanded. Shouts of his name brought no response. The crew searched the theater. No Tony. Finally, somebody spotted him, right on the stage, curled up on one of the handy bunks used in the military school set, snoozing blissfully. Thereafter, whenever Tony was wanted for a scene, somebody went and pried him off the bunk. Tony still sees nothing unusual about this—rest periods are for rest, aren’t they?
In spite of Tony’s slumber parties, the show was so successful that Miss Heller decided to move it into a Broadway house. There the critics gave their full approval and the cast settled down for a long run. When Bill Smithers left the cast to fulfill another commitment, Tony stepped into his role, Marquales, the second lead. Tony was so impressive in the part of the boy with a conscience that the producers of another play about to be done on Broadway, “Wedding Breakfast,” snatched him for the lead. The dashing role of the romantic lover was right up Tony’s alley. With two Broadway credits under his belt, Tony Franciosa was on his way to becoming an important stage star.
But, unknown to him, there was another force working in his life. Miss Shelley Winters had seen “Wedding Breakfast” and had been so impressed by the production that she contacted the producer. “I want to do a package of that show in summer stock,” she said. The arrangements were made, and that summer Miss Shelley Winters starred in a summer stock production of “Wedding Breakfast” with an exciting young actor named Anthony Franciosa.
Shelley soon found out what all his friends have learned: it’s impossible to resist this fellow who’s as natural and friendly as a big St. Bernard.
Shortly after they met, they spent an evening together. Shelley offered to drive Tony home in her car. But, always the perfect gentleman and, even more, the Man, Tony instructed her to move over. “I will do the driving,” he asserted masterfully, and Shelley dutifully obeyed.
After several blocks in which Tony practically ran the car onto the sidewalks, came within inches of hapless pedestrians, and petrified Miss Winters, she shouted for him to pull to the curb and stop.
“What’s the matter with you?” Shelley demanded angrily, “Are you crazy? What’re you tryng to do, kill us both?”
Tony smiled with the innocence of a little boy out to make a big impression and admitted bashfully, “I’ve never driven a car before.”
It was no time for reproaches or anger. What could she do but promise to give him driving lessons? Secretly, of course.
Gradually, Shelley began to fill in the emptiness for Tony. His long, lonely night walks grew shorter, as they began to spend more time together. Less and less Tony would frequent the dance halls and ballrooms, where he would go to dance with some girl who didn’t know and didn’t care what was troubling him. Now, there was Shelley. She cared.
It has been said that Shelley Winters “discovered” Tony Franciosa. Actually, the situation was slightly reversed. When Michael Gazzo’s startling new play, “A Hatful of Rain,” was set for production on Broadway, Tony was signed for the part of Polo, the faithful and helpless brother of a dope addict who, through his very love for his addicted brother, was contributing to his destruction. When he got the good news, Tony realized that this would be the part of his career, this at last would be the perfect showcase for his talents. Immediately he rushed the news to the one person who would understand what that meant to him, the one person with whom he could share his happiness—Shelley.
Shelley read the script and decided she would like to do the small role of the brother’s wife in the play. Tony pointed out that the part was not star material and that she would be foolish for taking it. But, Shelley was determined that he discuss it with the producer and the author.
Tony took the idea to the men who made the decisions. As soon as Shelley was signed to a contract, the show’s backers doubled. “A Hatful of Rain” opened with great praise for her performance and raves for Tony. Because of a script Tony brought her, Shelley Winters was a star on Broadway.
Not long after that Tony got a call from Elia Kazan for a strong role in his production of “A Face in the Crowd.” No sooner had Tony finished that, when he was cast in the lead opposite Jean Simmons in M-G-M’s “This Could Be the Night.” When 20th Century-Fox decided to make “A Hatful of Rain,” they bargained for Tony to recreate the role of Polo in the film version of the play. Almost before the picture was completed it was agreed around Hollywood that Tony Franciosa was sure to be a strong contender in next year’s Oscar race.
Despite his recent brush with the law, on the whole Tony enjoyed himself since coming to Hollywood. Unlike the sulking, introverted actors who profess to dislike parties and night clubs, it is Tony’s aim to do everything he had not done before, and as a matter of fact, he finds parties quite enjoyable. Parties give him an excuse to dance with pretty girls, eat delicious food to his heart’s content, and sleep as long as possible the next day.
“You know,” he analyzes, “Hollywood is pretty much like I thought it would be, especially as far as movie making is concerned. I like it, but I think a lot of time and concentration is put on the wrong things. Too much concentration is spent on the technical aspects of movie making, instead of spending more time with the actor.” But then, he always was a typical legimate stage actor at heart.
Maybe it is the old feeling of inadequacy, or merely an insecurity about his career, but whatever it is, there is still the wide-eyed humility in him that his friends have always known.
One day, he had spent many grueling hours in rehearsal for an NBC telecast. He was exhausted and irritable, when a group of fans stopped him in the lobby. Instantly, he was all smiles and warmth, as he signed autographs and answered questions for over a half-hour. “You know,” he said wonderingly after they’d gone, “I just can’t get over the fact that people recognize me and want my autograph.”
But, perhaps from the same self-doubts, perhaps from the torment of some inner struggle of Tony Franciosa versus the world that he has yet to resolve, the uncontrollable, violent temper is his still.
His love for Shelley has not modified it. On the contrary, their romance has been marked by one tempestuous scene after another.
When Tony first went out with Shelley, he found it hard to adjust to her strong independence. One night, after she had walked out on a date with him because of a disagreement, he stormed into a restaurant, spotted a girl he knew slightly, grabbed her arm and pulled her out of the restaurant, and shoved her into a cab. The poor girl was afraid to utter a word. Tony directed the driver to the supper club where he and Shelley were to have dinner with friends. The moment they arrived, his ugly mood evaporated. He became the most courteous, thoughtful escort the girl had ever seen. All went well, until Shelley called him at the club. In a few minutes, he whisked the girl out of the club and deposited her at her home before the evening had barely begun.
It seemed that as the romance heightened, Tony’s tantrums became more violent. In many of the scenes from “A Hatful of Rain,” he can be seen wearing a wrist strap on his right arm. It would seem explainable, since he plays the part of a man who has a job as bouncer in a rough bar. In truth, however, that wrist strap was a necessity, brought about when Tony’s temper flared dangerously a few days before filming was to get under way.
After another disturbing phone conversation with Shelley, in which they reputedly had another slight disagreement, Tony’s anger started to rise. For a few minutes he smoldered and boiled inside. As he walked past the San Moritz Hotel on New York’s fashionable Central Park South, he exploded. He bashed his fist through a large window of the hotel, severing an artery in his wrist. He would have been in serious danger from loss of blood had it not been for a window washer who was nearby and who quickly applied a tourniquet.
The severe wound had not healed by the time filming was to start on “Hatful,” so the wrist strap was devised to disguise the bandages and scar.
“The world is still a mystery to me,” confessed Tony recently. “Whenever I’m trying to figure somebody out, someone might describe me as moody. I don’t feel moody, but I think I’m inclined to be preoccupied.”
Although his preoccupations might appear slightly violent, as preoccupations go, Tony is right about the moodiness. His temper tantrums are short-lived, and rarely does he slip into long or serious fits of depression, or moods of any duration. Once he has it off his chest, he seems better for it and back to his charming self quickly.
His marriage to Shelley was quiet and dignified, with no Hollywood hoopla. Using their real names, Anthony Papaleo and Shirley Schrift, they were married by a Justice of the Peace at Carson City, Nevada, and no one recognized them. Shelley wore a simple white lace dress,
with a blue sash and white accessories. Tony had her wedding ring specially made—in the shape of a wishbone, in diamonds and platinum, to match a gold wishbone ring he wears on the little finger of his left hand.
“We’ll go to Acapulco for a two weeks honeymoon after I finish ‘Obsession,’ ” Tony said. “We’ll rent a house for a while, because our plans aren’t definite. I’m not sure whether we’ll live in California or New York.”
Even to their closest friends, Tony Franciosa and Shelley Winters seemed like an unusual pair. But, strangely enough, they are very much alike. Their romance was bumpy, and there is no reason to suspect that it will change just because they are married now. But those who know them can’t help feeling they are so much in love and need each other so badly that they will never part.
As one friend put it, “Maybe, behind all the noise, they’ve got something to envy.”
Will this new life with Shelley help him to bury the bitter memories of the past, and overcome more volcanic explosions in the future? It’s doubtful. Such problems are not so easily resolved. Whatever it is that spurs him to violent and compulsive actions, whatever brings out the warmth and charm and joy of life that draw people to him, these forces are inherent in his basic nature. They cannot be changed overnight. Only years of adjustment may modify them.
But there is one thing that will go a long way to giving him the peace and security he needs so badly: the knowledge that out of all the inner torment and strife he has emerged as the fine creative artist that, above all else, he truly wants to be. No matter what trouble lies in the past or in the future, nothing can ever take that away from him.
—BY BILL BAST
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE AUGUST 1957