Actor Pernell Roberts, who died recently at age 81, was never part of the Hollywood scene to any great degree. He always walked to his own beat, as evidenced by his leaving Bonanza in 1965 when the show was #1 in the ratings. He rarely gave interviews and I can never recall him sitting down as a guest on a talk show. This air of mystery always made him seem more interesting than other actors who would show up to cut the ribbon at a local supermarkets grand opening if it got them in the spotlight for a few seconds. Author Gary S. Chafetz, who writes political books, was once an aspiring actor in the 1960s. He writes a moving column about a side of Roberts most of us never knew and how Roberts consistently went to bat to help a young actor he probably knew would never succeed. To read click here
Better days: Torn gave an acclaimed performance in the 1970s cult film Payday.
Notorious bad boy Rip Torn is at it again. The brilliant character actor has had a long battle with the bottle, which has often led to embarrassing public incidents and arrests. However, over the weekend, Torn's behavior resulted in an incident that could have serious ramifications for him. He was alleged to have been found inside a Connecticut bank he supposedly broke into and was in possession of a firearm. Police say he was also intoxicated. Torn is being held on $100,000 bail. For more click here
I'm writing to you today because it's January 31st and that was
the birthday of the late James Franciscus, who would be 76 today.
Probably best recalled now for only BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES
(1970), Franciscus was part of a crop of handsome TV actors (he was the
original star of THE NAKED CITY TV series) in the late fifties who
longed for movie star status (and likely watched with burning
resentment in the sixties as Steve McQueen shot past them all).
Franciscus tried for that brass ring several times (anyone remember
YOUNGBLOOD HAWKE from 1964?) only to return again and again to series
television to support his family. Jane Fonda's "first" (according to
her recent autobiography), Franciscus had a reasonably successful
acting career by most standards, but was reportedly bitter that he
never gained real leading man status in films and died young and rather
tragically in 1991 from emphysema caused by a suicidally dumb
four-pack-a-day smoking habit. The attached image from his best
remembered film is not meant as a tasteless joke, but a poetic comment
on the sad fate of this once promising "Hollywood" actor. - Rory Monteith
Retro responds: Thanks for your tribute to an often overlooked actor. Franciscus - like so many other actors- lived in the shadows of contemporaries who went on to greater things. Still, the fact that his name is still well known among movie and TV fans is an indication that he did gain respect in the industry. I always thought he must have felt awkward in Beneath the Planet of the Apes. Fox did all they could to get Charlton Heston to star again, but all they could muster was a brief cameo that he reluctantly performed. Thus, Franciscus was groomed to be a virtual clone of Heston and while the resemblance was remarkable, he must have felt somewhat belittled by this process- especially in the scenes in which he had to perform with Heston. Still, he was a good, sold leading man and his talents are missed.- Lee Pfeiffer
There are some of us who remembered James
Franciscus from his stint as TV's "Mr. Novak", when we heard he would be in the
sequel to "Planet of the Apes"! I can remember feeling embarrassed for Mr.
Franciscus, as it was so obvious to we, the audience, that he was supposed to be
a "clone" of Heston. However, we enjoyed his performance anyhow. (Heston and Franciscus are
so great when they finally meet on screen, it was like watching two long lost
brothers! ) Franciscus was better served in that under appreciated Harryhausen
epic, "Valley of Gwangi". But we fans really rooted for him as the blind
investigator cum martial artist, Longstreet. Sort of a precursor (in the U.S.
anyway) of Zatoichi minus the sword! It is good to see he is well appreciated
by his fans!--A. Rivera, New York, NY