What was it with Franchot Tone and the women he married?
Tone, an experienced stage actor who compiled a busy Hollywood career (some 100 movie and tv credits over 36 years beginning in 1932), costarred in his time with some of classic Hollywood’s leading ladies including Jean Harlow, Loretta Young, Claudette Colbert, Myrna Loy, Joan Bennett, Rosalind Russell, Gladys George and Ella Raines.
Born in 1905 in Niagra Falls, Tone even lent his smooth self-assurance to an encounter with a 19-year-old Shirley Temple in 1947’s Honeymoon. We still enjoy seeing him opposite Anne Baxter in Billy Wilder’s entertaining 1943 adventure, Five Graves To Cairo.
But Tone’s taste in wives? We dunno.
Professionally, his first marital go-around (1935 to 1939) with Joan Crawford was beneficial. (That’s the happy couple pictured above.) Crawford was always a piece of work offscreen, but onscreen with Tone, she sparked a series of romantic comedies at MGM including 1933’s Dancing Lady with Clark Gable; 1935’s No More Ladies; 1936’s Love on the Run, also with Gable, and 1937’s The Bride Wore Red.
Marriage to wife number two, Jean Wallace, a former fashion model who had a modest career at MGM, was a disaster.
Tone met her in 1941 when he was 36 and she was just 18. The marriage, beginning in 1941 and lasting seven years, was marked by personal trauma; two suicide attempts by Wallace (first, sleeping pills and second, stabbing herself in the abdomen) followed by a really nasty divorce.
Tone charged his wife had had an affair with notorious mobster Johnny Stompanato, who later took up with Lana Turner and was famously stabbed to death by her daughter, Cheryl. Wallace claimed our man was unfaithful with wife number three (see below). Custody of the couple’s two children was finally awarded to Tone.
After signing a one-year contract at Universal-International, wife number three, B-actress Barbara Payton, made a western Silver Blue opposite a leading man wannabe Tom Neal.
Thus began her torrid on-again, off-again romance with the rugged, good-looking actor, who eventually made those Confidential magazine headlines when he belted (and seriously injured) Tone in an argument over Payton’s romantic-sexual favors.
According to Payton’s 1963 memoir I Am Not Ashamed, it happened on the night of Sept. 14, 1950. Neal later said he didn’t mean to hit Tone so hard. The altercation left the older actor with a concussion, a broken nose and a fractured cheek.
Tone may have lost the battle but he eventually won the marital war, however briefly. He married Payton (pictured with our man above) in 1951; the divorce came a year later. That marriage was spiced with unpleasant dramatics. There were night club brawls. There was Tone’s encounter with local police on charges of spitting and kicking a Hollywood columnist.
He was also dragged into court with Payton when she was called to testify in the investigation of the 1950 murder of gangster Abe Davidian, who had been awaiting to spill what he knew about a major West Coast narcotics investigation.
Marriage to wife number four, actress Dolores Dorn, was fairly serene by Tone standards. Yet it didn’t last. The couple married in 1956 and divorced in 1959, nine years before Tone’s death. During those last years, the actor appeared in three of his most notable movies: Otto Preminger’s Advise and Consent and In Harm’s Way and Arthur Penn’s Mickey One.