Steve Franken dies at 80; portrayed rich pal of ‘Dobie Gillis’
Steve Franken, a veteran character actor whose long career included playing the spoiled young millionaire Chatsworth Osborne Jr. on the popular situation comedy “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” in the early 1960s, has died. He was 80.
Franken died of cancer Friday at a nursing and rehabilitation center in Canoga Park, said his wife, Jean.
In a more than 50-year career that began in New York, Franken appeared in scores of TV shows and several movies, including “The Party,” “The Americanization of Emily,” “The Missouri Breaks” and the Jerry Lewis comedies “Which Way to the Front?” and “Hardly Working.”
But for many TV fans, Franken may be best remembered as Chatsworth Osborne Jr. on “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.”
The series, which aired on CBS from 1959 to 1963, starred Dwayne Hickman in the title role of the girl-crazy grocer’s son, whose beatnik friend, Maynard G. Krebs, was played by Bob Denver.
Franken joined the series in 1960, replacing the young actor who had played Milton Armitage, the show’s original rich kid: Warren Beatty.
“Warren Beatty did about four or five shows and wanted to go do movies,” Hickman told The Times on Thursday. “Once he had done that, he wasn’t going to come back and do ‘Dobie Gillis.’ But because he was gone, we got Steve, and he was wonderful.”
As the snobbish Chatsworth, “he wore clothes that were expensive, polo outfits and a polo stick and all that,” said Hickman. “He was a great character. He was the only person to call me ‘Dobie-do.’ Chatsworth Osborne Jr. — what a great name. And, of course, everything was grand and he was so rich. Steve played it very well.”
When Hickman appeared at an autograph show with Franken a few years ago, he said, “Steve told me people were still coming up to him on the street asking for his autograph and calling him Chatsworth.”
But, Hickman said, Franken did many things in his career and was “a very serious actor.”
Jean Franken said her husband was especially proud of his performance in director Blake Edwards’ film “The Party,” the 1968 comedy starring Peter Sellers, in which Franken played a drunken waiter who never speaks a word.
“He and Peter Sellers worked out most of the improvisations themselves for that,” she said. “Blake let them go.”
Franken was a versatile actor who studied at the Actors Studio in New York and later did a lot of theater work in Los Angeles, much of it dramatic.
Born in Queens, N.Y., on May 27, 1932, Franken graduated from Cornell University and launched his acting career against his parents’ wishes.
“They wanted him to go to medical school, but he went straight to New York,” his wife said. “He was obsessed with the idea of being an actor.”
As chemotherapy gave him another eight months of life, she said, he continued to audition for TV and movie roles and do theater work until a month before he died.
In addition to Jean, his wife of 25 years, Franken is survived by their daughter, Anne; two daughters from a previous marriage that ended in divorce, Emily Franken and Abigail Glass; and two grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m Sept. 22 at Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, Los Angeles.
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