Anthony Franciosa, 77; Versatile Star of Stage, Film and Television

Times Staff Writer

Anthony Franciosa, the rakishly handsome, cleft-chinned actor who came to fame on Broadway in the 1950s and had a long career in Hollywood as a star in five TV series, including “The Name of the Game” and “Matt Helm,” has died. He was 77.

Franciosa suffered a stroke Monday and died Thursday at UCLA Medical Center, his publicist Dick Guttman said.

An alumnus of New York’s Actors Studio under Lee Strasberg, Franciosa received his big theater break in 1955 when an Actors Studio workshop production of “A Hatful of Rain” moved to Broadway. His searing portrayal of the brother of a heroin addict earned him an Outer Critics Circle Award and a Tony nomination in 1956.

Franciosa’s success on Broadway brought him to Hollywood, where he earned an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor for reprising the role of Polo Pope in the 1957 movie version of “A Hatful of Rain,” starring Don Murray and Eva Marie Saint.

The string of film roles he played at the time included an unethical personal manager in Elia Kazan’s “A Face in the Crowd,” starring Andy Griffith; a weak Southerner in “The Long, Hot Summer,” starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward; and the starring role as a struggling actor in “Career,” with Dean Martin and Shirley MacLaine.


“Tony was as good as it gets -- smart, probing, explosive, and he had it all at his fingertips,” Newman said in a statement to The Times on Friday.

Among Franciosa’s other early films are “Period of Adjustment” opposite Jane Fonda, “Rio Conchos” with Richard Boone and Stuart Whitman; and “The Pleasure Seekers” and “The Swinger,” both opposite Ann-Margret.

“He was extremely talented, and he showed people what he could do because he did all the dramatic things and then the very light” roles, Ann-Margret told The Times on Friday. “He was a caring man -- obviously charming and extremely supportive, bless his soul -- and had a wonderful sense of humor.”

In addition to “The Name of the Game” and “Matt Helm,” Franciosa starred in the TV series “Valentine’s Day,” “Search” and “Finder of Lost Loves.”

Along the way, the actor earned a reputation for having a hair-trigger temper, a man whose image was summed up in a 1975 TV Guide article as “hotheaded” and “arrogant.”

Franciosa served 10 days in the Los Angeles County Jail in the 1950s for kicking a news photographer. He was fired from “The Name of the Game” by NBC executives who cited “the wear and tear” he had caused on the set. And he got into a fistfight with a director on “Matt Helm.”

“I went to Hollywood in the mid-1950s, and I would say I went out there a little too early,” Franciosa said in 1996. “It was an incredible amount of attention, and I wasn’t quite mature enough psychologically and emotionally for it.”

Veteran actress Janet Waldo saw another side of Franciosa.

“Tony was a gorgeous, brilliant man, and a dear, dear person,” said Waldo, who played Franciosa’s secretary on “Valentine’s Day,” the 1964-65 situation comedy in which he played a debonair young Manhattan publishing executive who was a magnet for beautiful girls.

“It was such great fun to work with him,” Waldo told The Times on Friday. “He was a bit temperamental, but people understood that and indulged him and didn’t criticize him for it.”

What she remembered most about Franciosa was how he’d second-guess his performance after an episode aired.

“He was always self-critical because he was such a perfectionist,” she said, recalling that Hal Kanter, the show’s producer, once told him, “Tony, you can’t be Hamlet every week.”

By the time he starred in “Finder of Lost Loves” in 1984, Franciosa reportedly had mellowed.

The only child of a construction worker and a seamstress, Franciosa was born Anthony Papaleo in New York City in 1928. His parents divorced when he was a year old, and he later said he felt abandoned by his father, whom he seldom saw.

Franciosa held a variety of jobs after graduating from high school, telling Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper in 1957 that he was interested only in girls and dancing at the time.

“I had only one main concern -- I couldn’t do the mambo,” he said. “So when I read that they were giving free dancing lessons at the YWCA, I went there with a friend who was studying dramatics. They were casting a play and offered me a part.”

He later won an acting scholarship and worked in a restaurant to support himself while attending the Actors Studio, during which he adopted his mother’s maiden name, Franciosa.

The actor, who made his Broadway debut in “End As a Man” in 1953, fell in love with Actors Studio classmate Shelley Winters.

In 1957, after divorcing his first wife, writer Beatrice Bakalyar, Franciosa married Winters. His marriage to Winters, who died Jan. 14, ended in 1960. He also had a six-year marriage to Judy Balaban Kanter.

A longtime civil rights supporter, Franciosa joined actors Marlon Brando and Newman in Gadsden, Ala., in 1963 for a desegregation drive.

“Regardless of the great struggle we’re going through,” Franciosa told the crowd of more than 1,000 gathered in a Methodist church, “the greatest thing I see here is joy.”

Franciosa is survived by his wife, Rita; his children, Nina, Christopher and Marco; and a granddaughter.

A private memorial service is pending.