Thursday, 8 January 2015

The King and the Showgirl - an interview with Francine York

My heart raced, my palms sweated, my mind whirled... What was I doing here? I wasn't special enough for this! I was just Betty-Sue from a little town that you probably have never heard of in the but end of nowhere. 
But here I was, ready to step out on that stage with poise and dignity, with a talent from juggling and the tiniest yellow swimsuit. 
Oh Lordy, was that my name? Did the man call my name? Was I meant to walking out there now? I looked around for help, but the other girls were all too preoccupied with their own worries to think about little 'ol me. My eyes darted from one girl to another, some were practising walking in their sky scraper heals, some were applying coat after coat of lipstick onto their unnaturally large pouts, some were stretching and some, who had obviously been doing this a long time where looking bored, waiting for their name to be called.
Still confused, and noticing that no one else had entered the stage area I took a deep breath and took one tentative step toward the stage... Then suddenly I felt two hands on my shoulders and a voice telling me "Not yet Hon", I felt noting but relief... You expect, perhaps for me to be scared or shocked by the person who had grabbed me, but no... The hands, seemed comforting and for some strange reason familiar. 
"Thank you" I whispered as I was passed a roll call sheet... I was way down... Last on the the list! I wouldn't be on for ages... So what could I do now? I needed a distraction, something to take my mind off my forthcoming appearance.
I noticed the wash room, two girls teetered out, giggling and pointing at another girl trying to keep her endowments inside the scantiness of her suit. 
I turned as fast as my shoes would let me, which wasn't very fast, these strappy things were made to sashay down a runway, not run to the loo! But then I saw her, standing by the curtain, looking wistfully at the stage and the acts, it was none other than Francine York, she turned to me and winked, so she had been my fairy godmother, she had prevented me from making a fool of myself and ruining the whole day and oh my goodness, she looked as beautiful today as she did when she was doing this kinda' thing herself!
Francine York, the one and only Francine York... Born in Minnesota, USA Francine was literally born to act, making her stage debut at just 9 years old, playing Griselda in her schools production of Cinderella. This lead to an extraordinary career, from beauty queen to actress, Francine's life and career reads like a who's who of Hollywood, from Jerry Lewis to Elvis, from Bob Hope to Eva Gabor, Francine knew them all! Her smile was warm and inviting so I walked over to her, she could see how nervous I was and ushered me towards a water fountain, where we both dispensed a plastic cup of water and took a seat nearby...

I asked her if she didn't mind me asking her a few questions and she was more than happy to talk! 
She told me about her career...
"Since I wrote so many stories for my high school newspaper & started writing a book in the 10th grade - subjects that in looking back, I realize I did not have much background, (the short stories that I wrote for the Aurora Borealis newspaper, ‘A Mini Witch’ had an O Henry type ending - meaning surprise end twist.) I was most encouraged by my teachers to continue in this path in my future life and after winning many declamation contests and being offered scholarship at Hamlin University in common journalism, I thought that was the way to go. I thought it over I decided more school is not what I wanted — I had enough of Teachers, I did not like very much discipline and I felt that I wanted find some way to get out of Minnesota. I read all the movie magazines and dreamt of being a model and actress in Hollywood, I started at a very young age, ordering all the books on modelling, make up and cosmetics from various catalogues that I could get in my little small-town [of] Aurora Minnesota. Everyone knew in school that I had big dreams. I starred in all class plays. Rewrote Thorton Wilders ‘Our Town’ into a 10 minutes monologue-pretty darn good work for a 10th grader who only had radio -no TV sets, no computers to deal with, just simple everyday small-town tools.
Being a majorette was one way for me to get out there, it helped me get over my shyness and I did indeed love to float around in light pretty white satin outfits and white boots, call me a show-off but I sure did like to strut my stuff at the basketball and football halve, particularly in front of the handsome team members, what a show off!!
A dramatic teacher(English teacher), Miss Lodgaurd, was my champion, so from 10th grade on I got all leads in class plays. In my senior year  I did ‘Room for one more’ (made into a movie with Cary Grant and Betsy Drake) and when I did the soliloquy at the end of the play and the orchestra leader Mr. Olsen played the violin, as I spoke I felt the audience in the palm of my hand, the theatre was hushed and the thrill of knowing I could exert that type of response was exhilarating - if I ever doubt it that acting was my major goal, that moment convinced me. I gave a dramatic reading in the 11th grade called 'The day the earth was the day by Amy Lowel.
I won the contest having played two southern women by the name of Rachel and Minnie. Minnie had just taken wood alcohol to commit suicide and Rachel comes upon her and castigates her for doing such a terrible thing, playing both women in grandmas old lady black coat and black shoes, cornstarch in my hair - no wigs then! - This monologue carried me through winning the Miss Eveleth Contest which was an entry into the Miss America and miss Minnesota Contest, I was also chosen to be miss ARROWHEAD


Later, having been chosen in the San Francisco, and participating in the Miss California contests, I used the same dramatic reading. It’s a lot pressure enjoying contests, girls can be petty competitive and sometimes nasty, but it
also give you a lot of poise and prepares you for what you hope will be that big break. Everyone always said start in high school, but I would go to Hollywood… [But] how in the devil was I going to get there?! I went to an Airlines school Minneapolis, hoping I could be an airline stewardess just to get out of Minnesota, I thank god that didn't work out, as after my first flight on Branif airlines, I got so sick and was so scared, I realized that was not for me [and] to this day I don't like to fly. The modelling job brought me to san Francisco, later I was a model there and was in all the local papers and then of course the San Francisco contest, one day I saw an ad in the paper for showgirls in a club called Bimbos, I got the job, but being a showgirl is frowned upon by the modeling agency, but as destiny would have it, that is where I met Singer Mary Meade French (at Bimbos) where she was the playing. We became immediate friends and she arranged for me
to come to Hollywood - later I met Jerry Lewis, which was the beginning of six films [with him], I could not believe at the time that I was sitting in the office of the Jerry Lewis! Jerry's a genius no question - I was recently asked to participate in the documentary for the movie "it's only money" - my first film with him - I was the only one from the cast - possibly because most were dead! As I jokingly said to the producers “Is that why you asked me?” I said in the documentary that there are a lot of comedians but only one Jerry Lewis.

 I forgot to tell you that when I came to Los Angeles the first job that I had was at the Hollywood Moulin Rouge where we had horses elephants pigeons to work with on a revolving stage we often
had to dodge the droppings left by the animals, one time getting [some]
on the beautiful pink satin shoes of my showgirl Indian costume! I only worked there six months - I was fired because I was late by 3 minutes for rehearsal which was the best thing that could have happened!

I went on to acting school, then while I was there, I was discovered by a producer and did my first movie called ‘Secret file Hollywood ’which we ended up premièring in my home-town. It was quite a thrill to see banners in the streets ‘Welcome home Francine’-I think if the plane has gone down on the way back to Los Angeles, I would've truly [reached] the highest point in my life! What person would not love being applauded by everyone your home town? I gave a speech at school which you could’ve heard a pin drop, but I have a longway to go and that was just beginning!!!"
I was transfixed and so I asked her about the other actors who she worked - and played - with...
"Marlon Brando was one of the most insecure actors I have ever met, the 20 takes for our
scene - he drank Sweet vodka.
... During the takes?!
He Possibly did, I know when I said goodbye to him at the end of the day he was smashed!
David Niven what's the most fabulous ‘Bon Vivant’ human being I've ever met, I adored him, I was deeply saddend by the dreadful Lou Gehrig's disease that he passed from, I felt this beautiful person should never have it.
Elvis was fabulous, could not have been more charming and acted like an everyday person, not like a star. I was on the movie for five weeks and we shot it at Paramount, but it was United artist released. Who knew that Elvis was going to be THE KING? We had no idea at the time, although we knew he was a star, we did not realize what a great legacy he would be leaving and to this day the love that he receives from his fans!

He had a special l twinkle in his eye and when he sang to you - it felt like you were the only girl in the world! That smile was so adorable and he was even more handsome in person,  if you can believe that? What a thrill it was to work with him. I know one thing… he made my heart flutter quite a bit as I'm sure he did every gal. When he held my hand during the Hawaiian scene and sang to me I said to him,  “ I’ll never wash my hand again “ [I] Think I told them that and he just gave me that wonderful smile-what a thrill you have worked the king!
Elvis loved the fact that we had to shoot he scene over,  when the director ((Norman Taurog ) asked if it was ok? He said “shucks I could be like this all day”…  He kidded on the set a lot, always being funny, never acting like the superstar he was. [He] told me I was very pretty and that I should have a good career. I'm the only girl of the entire cast that is still out there working, Julie Adams mostly does autograph shows some girls are dead or just out of the business … Married and retired… Not me I just keep going… acting is my life and i hope to do it for many more years to come, the lord willing…"

When I was living in San Francisco the first movie I ever saw of Elvis’ was ‘Jailhouse Rock’, I remember how I was absolutely mesmerized by his charisma on the screen, wondering then if I would ever have a chance to work with him (which seemed completely impossible at the time) A gal who is not yet 21 idolizing this fantastic figure on the screen, little did I know what destiny had in store for me as less than 10 years later there I was cheek to cheek, hip to hip, snuggling with Elvis… I guess that proves the dreams can come true.
George Peppard was amazing to work with, he was very concerned by the love scene and did everything possible to make me feel comfortable, I have heard that the belly dance [from Cannon for Cordoba] has many a young man through puberty! I saw him couple of months before he died at a local restaurant here and told him that I had pictures of us together from Canon For Cordoba on my wall, he was so touched I almost saw tears in his eyes, as at that time he was quite ill with Cancer.
Nicholas Cage in Family man, what a thrill, he even sounded like Elvis!"
I bet he was impressed with you previous co star!!!
"Yes, he was quite impressed that I worked with him [Elvis] and asked me many questions about how it felt to be next to the king. I said of course it was the thrill and how he was even more handsome in person than on the screen. Love Nick and when I would run into him subsequently he would always give me a big warm and friendly hello. 
Peter Falk-one of the all-time Great guys, we had much fun when I played Sgt. Lefkowitz on Colombo, he let me have the final close up in the scene. My character kept trying to get him to the shooting range and get a new photo, it was possibly going to be a recurring role but the series was cancelled soon after. 

Bob Hope, Tony Franciosa, Ernie Borginine – ‘Have gun, will travel’ actor Richard Boone 9 in HecRamsey, Michael Ansara, Red Skelton, Karl Malden, Agnes Moorehead, John Forsythe, David Jensen, Barbara Eaden, Tony Randall, Roddy McDowell, Martin Miller, Richard Basehart, Andy Griffith, Eddie Albert, Eva Gabor, Troy Donahue, John Agar and having dated ‘Gunsmoke’ himself, Jim Arness (never in the show) and the list goes on…
Oh, I forgot Ricardo Montalban, I worked with him and David Jensen on ‘O'Hara U.S. Treasury’, Ricardo came after me a bit, I turned him down though… maybe I should not have. (but he was quite married)"
Any particular favourites?
"Jerry Lewis of course! ‘It’s only money was the first major movie and for Paramount, went on to do five more after that with Jerry, the last being ‘Cracking up’, playing a French Marquise from the 15th Century (with a French accent). I went on to play a lot of Italian roles since I had a very good Italian accent also and having had dark hair at the time… The first was ‘Gallant Men’ at Warner Bros ([Playing] a peasant Italian girl during WW11), then ‘Bedtime Story’ with Marlon Brando, Then ‘The Life of Henry Phyfe’ with Red Buttons… ‘To Rome with love’ with John Forsythe ( Dynasty actor )… and of course not to be forgotten ‘Bewitched’ as a very Italian Venus! We recently had a Bewitched Fan Fare and they came I'm all over the world to meet those left of the guest stars, Elizabeth tried to ply me with Margaritas in her dressing room-I guess she was concerned about her than husband Bill Ascher being interested in me.. for the men in the cast all going bonkers over me…

Who knew at that time that shows like ‘Lost in space’  (Appearing as Noble Niolani), Batman (as Lydia Limpet with Roddy McDowell),were going to become fan favourites? People lining [up] at autograph shows… I guess we were  all making history unbeknownst To us -I also played other French roles in a series called ‘Masquerade’ with Rod Taylor.

Richard Crenna from ‘Slatterly’s People’ was exciting because I tested at 
10 o'clock in the morning and got the part by 1o-clock! He adored me and later directed me in a pilot Starring Don Porter called ‘Captain Ahab’ with Judy Conova… Unfortunately [it] didn't sell.

Irwin Allen was another Champion of mine and put me in six projects, the most outstanding was my first Guest star and ‘Lost In Space’, what a thrill to see on the screen the words ‘Guest star Francine York’, the only one! Then going on to do ‘The Flood’, ‘Adventures of the queen’, ‘Time
traveler’ and ‘The night the bridge fell down’. He always had and all-star cast, I was excited, like a child when he said “I have Walter Pigeon, Fred Astaire or Paul Newman! He was like a kid with the toy and had great enthusiasm.
[I] forgot to mention ‘Land of the Giants’, as the infamous Dr. North… again
‘Guest star Francine York’, I had to work with A chimpanzee… looking back now I don't know why I completely trusted the animal?! I felt safe and it was fun… So many stories I could go on and on…"

Please do!

"I just Love Ralph Fiennes, had a chance to meet him and take a photos with him,  he was sweet - as far as working with? I guess David Niven a thrill, of course Elvis and i did love the gentleness of George Peppard, as I understand he gave them a lot of trouble later in the shooting,  but with me he was great. We went to dinner, with his than date Judy Gesson, who he just did a pic [ture] with in Greece, this was in Madrid, Spain (Filming Canon for Cordoba ) which was the trip of my life that changed my life!  I started studying Spanish and European History as a result, so now I am quite proficient in both.  
...And her time being Marilyn...
"Playing Marilyn Monroe was quite a challenge, the reason being I am so opposite of her in every way, I wanted to get the voice quality and that internal sadness that she had. In ‘Marilyn's alive and behind bars’ being an apocryphal story, it was even more important and I play it completely realistically, I have been told that I captured her essence and every time I see her in a movie now I laughingly say " she's playing me”!!! I never did meet her unfortunately, our paths never crossed perhaps and I might've helped her to some of her rough Times."
And her life so far...
"No I never been married, nor do I have any children. I always believed that there was a natural procedure of what comes first… I guess I grew up with the Cinderella syndrome; get married and live happily ever after, as in fairytales. There are so many people today that's think they want to be an actor, some will make it in some won’t, you have to be tough skinned and take rejection, as it will come along many times, but it is not necessarily your performance, or you at all, but the choices of many people that are involved in the final decision. So, if you're willing to pick yourself up off the floor and start already and I keep fighting the forces of this crazy business, then you might make it… I tell a lot of hopefuls keep your day job.
If I had a to do over again? Absolutely! Do I regret not having gotten married along the way? Absolutely not! When someone says “I'd like to keep you barefoot and pregnant" run for the hills, as I did! No way was I going to get stuck living in Aurora Minnesota with some Iron miner, fixing his lunch bucket every-day, with six kids take care of! Not for me! I had big plans! I'm happy to say that I'm grateful that I have had the career that I‘ve had… not the biggest perhaps, but having regard and fans I'll over the world and my contemporaries admiration.
If I wasn't an actress what would I be? I did some teaching had at modelling school, John Robert Powers and Barbizon and I loved it; taking young people and moulding them, teaching them, not only acting, but proper behaviour, to handle their life ahead, I especially liked working with kids of five years old, it was a challenge, [but] I was up to it. I'm a good teacher and fixer so, when I had a class for older women who were looking for something more in their life, I came up to the bat and changed their make-up, their hairdos, their clothes and possibly their lives. I was given flowers and a card of thanks and my students told me what a great influence I had been on their lives, so possibly I would've done something like that. At this point I'm concentrating on my acting career, with great hopes for the future...
I've always been an optimist and today is the first day on the rest of my life and maybe that man the glass slipper(in size 10) will come along and sweep me off my feet, where there's life there's hope, here's looking at a new beginning for great things to happen!!"
Then I heard it, very clearly this time... my name... they called my name... I shot up from my seat and thanked Francine, I was pumped now, ready for anything... I strolled out on the stage with confidence and pride, ready for the acclaim, ready for the honour, ready for the sparkles and ready to be crowned Miss Retro LadyLand... 

You can read more about the fascinating life of Francine York at: Internet Movie Database Wikipedia or her official website 



3 comments:

  1. Enjoyed it Francine! Can't wait for your autobiography. Yours will be one special book in my library.

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  2. Just the other night I was watching "king of Queens" And there you were in a Red Dress the stunning lady that you are...it was wonderfully Acted too..there is a great clip of the show on your Demo Real ..Loads of fun!

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