Anne Francis’ Second Wind

A few weeks ago, Anne Francis went to 20th Century Fox for an interview in connection with a new TV series.

“You must be Colette?” the young man in the outer office said. “No,” she returned, “I’m Anne Francis. I’m here for a 2:30 meeting.”

“Ah,” said a young woman at another desk, “we’re running a little late, honey. Would you mind just sitting out in the hall and going over your lines?”


So Francis, who in a long movie career has starred with Paul Newman and Spencer Tracy and Sidney Poitier and Burt Reynolds, went out and sat in the hall.

So much for experience.

Nothing new in this, of course. Other veteran players have gone through the same sort of thing. And Francis harbors no resentment. In fact, she laughs about it.

“I’ve been humiliated so often that I don’t even notice it anymore,” she said. “It wasn’t important that they’d never heard of me.”

Now this veteran 56-year-old actress, whose movies include “Bad Day at Black Rock,” “The Blackboard Jungle” and “Funny Girl,” is actively pursuing her career again.

Today, she’s together with Harry Hamlin, Jason Robards and Rip Torn in HBO’s murder mystery thriller “Laguna Heat,” directed by Simon Langton (“The Whistle Blower”). Monday, she can be seen playing the role of Marjorie Merriweather Post in NBC’s “Poor Little Rich Girl,” the Barbara Hutton story. Both roles, she feels, will give people a chance to see her range.

“In ‘Laguna Heat’ I’m a real boozy floozy,” she said with a laugh, “perpetually drunk and propping up the bar. Tons of makeup, wobbly on my feet and red-faced. But I’m the woman who helps solve the murder.

“It’s a great part, but when I finished it I said to Jay Weston, our executive producer, ‘You better find me a comedy quickly. This isn’t how I want people to remember me.’ ”

Her role as Marjorie Merriweather Post--Barbara Hutton’s aunt and one of the richest women in the world--while less flamboyant and showy, also pleased her. “But I did wonder why they didn’t offer the part to Dina Merrill (Post’s daughter),” she said. “Wouldn’t that have been a coup? But maybe she wouldn’t have wanted to play it.”

Francis, who lives in Santa Barbara, considers herself lucky to have had such a long career.

“Remember, I came out here from the East in 1946 and went straight under contract to MGM,” she said. “I’ve worked with some terrific people and had the good luck to be in some fine films.”

One of them, “Bad Day at Black Rock,” which starred Spencer Tracy and Robert Ryan (and featured Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine as a couple of heavies), has not aged at all, she says. “But ‘The Blackboard Jungle’ has. I saw it again a couple of years ago and it just isn’t believable today.” (The movie starred Glenn Ford and Sidney Poitier.)

With some 40 movies behind her, half a dozen plays and innumerable TV appearances, Francis says she has lost none of her appetite for acting.

“It’s still fun for me,” she said, “though I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been given the chance to show what I can do. For some time, you know, I went through a period of withdrawing from the business. I just concentrated on raising my children (she has a daughter Jane, 25, by an early marriage and an adopted daughter Maggie, 18). And I wrote a book, ‘Voices From Home’ (published five years ago). But now I’m anxious to work more.

“It’s funny. When I first was under contract here, I didn’t have to read for anything. Now I do for almost everything. It’s a bit like starting all over again. But that’s all right. I don’t mind. I love acting.”