January 20, 2006

Stormy Actor Anthony Franciosa Dies at 77

Anthony Franciosa, who turned in a string of moody, charged performances in a string of movies and TV shows in the late 1950s and 1960s, but whose combative behavior also hampered his career, died Friday of a massive stroke at UCLA Medical Center. He was 77.

His wife of 35 years, Rita, and other family members were present, according to his publicist Dick Guttman.

Franciosa was nominated for a best actor Oscar in 1958 for his performance as a junkie's beleaguered brother in "A Hatful of Rain," a portrayal that previously won him raves on Broadway.

Franciosa's movie career began with a sizzle in 1957, when he was cast in major productions for the top directors. He debuted as an introverted nightclub owner in Robert Wise's "This Could Be the Night" and played a sleazy personal manager in Elia Kazan's "A Face in the Crowd." The same year, he re-created his Broadway role for film, starring in Fred Zinnemann's adaptation of "A Hatful of Rain," which also starred Eva Marie Saint and Don Murray.

Franciosa was part of the new wave of mid-20th century performers who revolutionized film acting with their introspective, intensely realistic approach to their roles. Most of them were schooled in the method acting of New York's Actors Studio. They included Marlon Brando, James Dean, Rod Steiger, and Paul Newman.

Franciosa's sly smile and athletic grace won him notice. He was among the hottest rising stars and was cast in juicy parts in such steamy films as Martin Ritt's adaptation of Tennessee Williams "The Long Hot Summer," starring Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward and Orson Welles. In George Roy Hill's "Period of Adjustment," another Williams's adaptation, Franciosa starred with Jane Fonda and Lois Nettleton. The film was a potboiler of wayward romance and unstable characters.

He was acclaimed for his volatile performance as the artist Francisco Goya in "The Naked Maja." And with his electric performances garnering praise, Franciosa was signed to star "The Pleasure Seekers," a restyled "Three Coins in the Fountain," which also starred Ann-Margret and Carol Lynley.

In the early 1960s, he went from "Anthony" to "Tony," to lighten his image for frothier roles. Accordingly, "Tony" signed to star in a TV sitcom, "Valentine's Day" (1964-65). He hit his TV stride with "The Name of the Game" (1968-71), "Search" (1972) and "Matt Helm" (1975-76). However, he gained a reputation for being difficult, a description he acknowledged. Franciosa was fired from "The Name of the Game" and his part was rewritten to accommodate a series of performers, including Robert Culp, Peter Falk and Robert Wagner.

"I went to Hollywood in the mid '50s, and I would say I went out there a little too early. It was an incredible amount of attention, and I wasn't quite mature enough psychologically and emotionally for (it,)" he once said.

Anthony Papaleo was born Oct. 25, 1928, in the Little Italy section of New York City. Following high school, he toiled in a number of jobs, including shipyard worker, before he took up acting when in early twenties, accelerating to Broadway after a relatively short period of study.

Following his peak career period in the late 1950s and 1960s, he subsequently appeared in such action films as "Firepower" and "Death Wish II." He starred in such fare as "Death House," a direct-to-video project where he played an innocent man unjustly sent to Death Row who uncovers a military plot to use criminals for medical experiments. His last film appearance was in Harold Becker's depiction of shady urban politics in 1996's "City Hall."

On TV, his more recent acting credits include: "Finder of Lost Loves," "Blood Vows: The Story of a Mafia Wife" and "Ghost Writer."

During the course of his career, he guest-starred on numerous shows, among them: "Goodyear Television Playhouse," "Studio One," "Kraft Television Theatre," "The Virginian," "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" and "The Twilight Zone."

Franciosa was married four times, including a three-year marriage in the late 1950s to Shelley Winters, who died Saturday. He had three children -- a daughter Nina, with his second wife Judy Kanter, and two sons, Christopher and Marco, with his fourth wife Rita.

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