Anthony Franciosa, whose strong portrayals of moody, troubled characters made him a Hollywood star in the 1950s and ’60s but whose combative behavior on movie sets hampered his career, has died, his publicist said Friday. He was 77.
Franciosa died Thursday at UCLA Medical Center after suffering a massive stroke, publicist Dick Guttman said. The actor’s wife of more than 35 years, Rita, and other family members were present. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, a longtime friend, visited the family later, Guttman said.
Franciosa was part of a new wave in the mid-20th century 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, Shelley Winters and Paul Newman.
Franciosa was once married to Winters, who died last weekend.
From his first important film role as the brother of a drug addict in “A Hatful of Rain,” Franciosa became known for his portrayals of complicated young men. He received a 1956 Tony nomination for his performance in the role he created on Broadway, then an Oscar nod. In 1957, the actor appeared in three other films, “This Could Be the Night,” “A Face in the Crowd” and “Wild Is the Wind.”
Franciosa’s career continued in high gear with such films as “The Long Hot Summer,” “The Naked Maja” (as Goya), “The Story on Page One,” “Period of Adjustment,” “Rio Conchos” and “The Pleasure Seekers.”
Behavior on sets became a topic of gossip
The actor’s behavior on movie productions became the subject of Hollywood gossip. The stories alleged fiery disputes with directors, sulks in his dressing room, outbursts with other actors.
“I went out to Hollywood in the mid-1950s,” he remarked in a 1996 interview, “and I would say I went there a little too early. It was an incredible amount of attention, and I wasn’t quite mature enough psychologically and emotionally for it.”
Franciosa’s assertive attitude extended beyond movie stages; in 1957 he served 10 days in the Los Angeles County jail for slugging a press photographer. His reputation contributed to the downturn in Hollywood offers, and his career veered to European-made films and television.
His first TV series, “Valentine’s Day,” cast him as a swinging New York publishing executive involved in numerous romances. It lasted one season (1964-’65).
In “The Name of the Game” (1968-71) Franciosa alternated with Gene Barry and Robert Stack as adventurous members of a Los Angeles publishing firm. In 1971 the producing company, Universal Pictures, fired him from the series, charging erratic behavior. He countered that the company had treated him badly and demanded that he take a pay cut.
The 1975 TV series “Matt Helm,” with Franciosa as a wisecracking detective, was canceled after half a season.
He was born Anthony Papaleo on Oct. 25, 1928, in New York City. He was 1 when his father disappeared, and the boy grew up tough in Manhattan slums. “Getting in the first blow was something I learned in childhood,” he said in an interview.
After working in odd jobs and sometimes sleeping in flophouses, at 18 he attended an audition for actors at the YMCA. and was chosen for two plays. He later studied at the Actors Studio and the New School for Social Research. Adopting his mother’s maiden name, Franciosa, he began getting roles in television and the theater. “A Hatful of Rain” made him a star.
Besides Winters, Franciosa was married to writer Beatrice Bakalyar and real estate agent Judy Kanter, with whom he had a daughter, Nina. His lasting marriage was to Rita Thiel, a German fashion model. They had sons Christopher and Marco.