Remembering Jimmy || Biography
A Tribute to our beloved Jim
by B. Gagnon
"For good or bad, what I've done for 25 years is a bulk of work that I'm proud of, most of it. And just to do a job that starts to infect that body of work doesn't thrill me and I don't want to do it. I can't really bring myself to do some of the stuff that is out there."
Quality, not quantity is what mattered most to James Franciscus. Perhaps that is why shows like "Longstreet" and "Mr. Novak", though short-lived, stand out in the minds and hearts of fans everywhere. Never wanting to settle for the norm, Jim sought roles that were unique, leaving his indelible mark on each character he portrayed. "You always look for something different, something that has never been done before." James Grover Franciscus was born to John and Loraine on January 31, 1934. His father, John Allen Franciscus, a Captain in the Canadian Air Ferry Command was killed while serving in WWII. Jim and brother John lived a "Tom Sawyer" - type life growing up in Missouri, as they spent their boyhood days fishing, trapping muskrats, and building rafts. That all changed for Jim. At age 11, Loraine married Francis LaFarge, an affluent RE Broker and the family moved east. "It was far different from Missouri! When we moved up to the growing concrete of New York City, it was a jolt!" Along with adjusting to the concrete jungle, Jim was projected into the cultural scene of the East Coast where he was immediately enrolled in the finest boarding schools. At age 12, while attending the Fessenden School in West Newton, MA, Jim appeared in the musical version of "Treasure Island." "Right then and there, I knew I wanted to be an actor."
Like most boys, Jim was also involved in sports and excelled in hockey, baseball and football. At Taft Prep School, in Watertown, CT, Jim was active in varsity sports the glee club and dramatics, as well as being elected president of his class, however had to give up football after he ripped a cartilage in his knee.
He starred in "Billy Bud" and "The Devil and Daniel Webster." Peter Chandler, his drama teacher said, "The Devil was his favorite role. He would love to play the Devil, but Jim would mostly get pretty-boy roles."
"Those weren't really very happy days." Jim recalled. "There was too much confinement for the sole purpose of being educated. I missed the everyday home life."
Jim entered Yale University and turned all his attentions to acting and writing. The Yale Drama Society produced three of his plays. In his junior year, he starred in the musical version of "The Great Gatsby." Dick Cavett, who was at Yale at the same time as Jim remembers him as "On the reserved side, mortified and terrified because he had to sing." It was at this time that Hollywood Scouts approached Jim to appear in his first movie role "Four Boys and a Gun."
In 1957, Jim graduated from Yale with a B.A in English. It was time to make a decision: to write or to act. "Writing, I had learned, was a lonely profession. When I wrote, I had time for nothing else. An actor's role isn't as creative as a writer's, but his life is more fun. He is with people. He keeps better hours."
In 1958, Jim co-starred in the series "Naked City." It was at this time that Jim packed up and moved to Hollywood. When it came to acting, Jim was a serious-minded, well-focused, cerebral guy who showed remarkable insight and maturity; when speaking of "Youngblood Hawke" Jim stated, "It failed because it has a bad concept. It was episodic and fragmented. I wanted to have the hero die at the start and tell the story in flashbacks. It would have maintained interest that way. But they wouldn't listen to me. Who was I? Just a young whippersnapper in his first starring role. No one paid any attention."
When it came to the females in his life, Jim was simple and old-fashioned. He wanted a blue jeans type of girl who'd want to devote herself to him and a family. He met Kathleen (Kitty) Wellman, daughter of film director William Wellman. One day, Jim tossed the pretty red-head into his pool - silk dress, high-heeled shoes and all, and when she emerged dripping, he popped the question. "Why did you wait so long to ask me?" she asked back. The couple were married on May 28,1960. Their marriage produced four daughters: Jamie, Kellie, Korie and Jolie.
Jim's multi-dimensional personality is evident only to those who are close friends and family members. In front of the cameras or press, he is "professional, right down the line." But when work is over, the cameras stops rolling and he is secure in his own domain, he possesses a "devlish streak", and wicket humor." "When he's home, away from acting, he's a very funny guy." "He's a different guy at parties, he can be loud and raucous."
This was evident while in Italy (filming Cat O'Nine Tails) he was seen chasing his wife down a hotel corridor throwing spaghetti at her. "I don't know how it all happened" Stated Kitty "We were having this great spaghetti fight in the room. Finally I ran out into the hall and Jimmy came after me. We had a real mess to clean up afterward." Unfortunately, his marriage to Kitty ended in divorce. Both later remarried.
Most people saw him as an introvert, shy and reserve. I think Stirling Silliphant, (Executive Producer and Chief Writer for "Longstreet") summed up Jim's personality best when he said "It is not shyness but a shield for a penetrating mind - he has total security. He's more than an actor, he's a creative partner. My relationship with him is as an executive, not an actor." Besides writing, Jim enjoyed reading: mostly philosophy, psychology, and biographies. His musical tastes were as diverse as his personality, everything from rock to Bach.
An avid tennis player, Jim hosted a celebrity tennis tournament in the 1970s, to help the victims of Multiple sclerosis. A disease that his mother had been afflicted with. Jim had also given his time and energy into other charitable causes such as cerebral palsey.
Though Jim's first love was "far and above, acting" he dappled in the production side of the business and co-founded Omnibus Productions and produced many classics such as "Jane Eyre," "Heidi," "Kidnapped," "David Copperfield," and "The Red Pony." But he found that he liked acting much better. "I must tell you," he said, "The producing end of this business is so full of deals, money talk, finagling. It sometimes makes me - uncomfortable."
In 1963 he starred in a TV series which helped propel Jim's career into the limelight. "Mr. Novak" featured stories told from the perspective of the teachers, not the students. A new approach since until then, television's idea of teachers were "Our Miss Brooks" and "Mr. Peepers." "Mr. Novak" lasted for two seasons and was still listed as one of the top 30 TV shows when it was dropped. This would have disheartened any actor, but Jim felt "I've never looked at success as a matter of longevity. It's better to work in something good that's dropped, than in something that's junk and stays on the air."
After a brief stint in the series "The Investigators" Jim was feeling that the TV media was too confining, geared for 12-14 year olds. He therefore,turned his attention to the silver screen. During 1965-1970 he starred in such movies as "Snow Treasures" "Hell Boats", "Marooned", "Valley of Gwangi" and "Beneath the Planet of The Apes."
Jim returned to TV playing "The most difficult role I've ever done in my life." That role was of an insurance investigator who is blinded in an accident that kills his wife. The TV media seemed to have matured - "The stories are more adult and things are being said and done that were no-nos just a few years ago." Longstreet lasted for only one season. A fact that saddened most fans today. For surely when you think of Jim, you think of Mike Longstreet.
Jim's next shot at series stardom came as "Doc Elliot." (1973) Benjamin Elliot is a New York City doctor who leave the concrete jungle and settle for the backwoods of Colorado where he is the only doctor for 600 miles.
After that, Jim was prominently featured in more than a dozen TV movies and featured in as many as that in different series. This would included portraying former president John F. Kennedy in the movie "Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy."
Stricken with emphysema, Jim's health condition deteriorated, and he soon found himself dropping out of the social circuit, especially from playing tennis. His usual reserve nature and infrequent public appearances made way for speculations by the press which escalated into the public sector. They labeled him as a "recluse, bitter and washed up". Jim retorted these accusations with a light-hearted humor, often making fun of them. But if you read between the lines, you'd get a sense that these accusations bothered him deeply. Mr. Franciscus passed away on July 8, 1991.
"I've had my ins and outs. I've never been able to say 'Well, now I've got it made' I've had my shot and I hope to have many more, but if the whole industry fell apart tomorrow, I would say, 'I got a crack at it, and I - I did okay."
All his fans miss him dearly and wish the best to the ones he left behind.
For more information on "Jimmy" goto Did You Know in our interactive section.
This biography and web site was made possible through a variety of articles and contributions by fans. Much appreciation to:
Appreciation also goes out to Corsican Productions, Paramount, TV Guide, LA TV Times, Minneapolis Tribune TV Week, Fox, TV Land, Lorimar Home Video, Warner Brothers, Tri-Star and Find a Grave and "Patterson".
Special appreciation goes to you, the fans, who support and contribute to the memory of James Franciscus.
FYI: If you live in the San Fernando Valley area of California and would like to help raise a puppy for the blind, please contact: Guide Dogs of America at 818-362-5834 and ask about their "puppy raiser program" They are located in Sylmar California