Don Francks | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Don Francks

Don Harvey Francks. Singer, actor (born 28 February 1932 in Burnaby, BC; died 3 April 2016 in Toronto, ON).

Don Harvey Francks, singer, actor (born 28 February 1932 in Burnaby, BC; died 3 April 2016 in Toronto, ON). An actor as a child and later a dixieland trombonist, Francks began his CBC career in Vancouver singing on Lorraine McAllister's radio show Sing for Your Supper and starred 1954-55 with McAllister on The Burns Chuckwagon Show. At Theatre Under the Stars he played leads in Oklahoma (1954) and Anything Goes (1955). Moving to Toronto in 1957 he sang with Patti Lewis on CBC radio's Country Club. Concurrently Francks took roles in many CBC TV dramas and in 1961 starred in The Drylanders, the National Film Board's first feature-length dramatic film. He was in the cast for productions of The Fantasticks, and of Spring Thaw, and other revues, and was co-producer of the Toronto production of the controversial US play by Jack Gelber about the drug subculture, The Connection, staged 1960-61 at the House of Hambourg with Francks (as Leach). It also featured the musicians Maury Kaye (piano), P.J. Perry (saxophone), Ian Henstridge (bass), and Archie Alleyne (drums).

In 1962, Francks formed a jazz trio with Henstridge and the guitarist Lenny Breau, appearing in nightclubs in Toronto and New York, including at the Village Vanguard, where they made the LP Jackie Gleason Says No One in This World Is Like Don Francks (1963). Remaining in New York, he recorded Lost... and Alone (1965, Kapp KS-3417) and appeared on Broadway in the musicals Kelly (1965) and Flipside (1968), both unsuccessful productions, and off Broadway (1965) in a program of theatre songs by Leonard Bernstein. In 1967 he played Woody in the Francis Ford Coppola's feature film debut, Finian's Rainbow.

After a hiatus, during which he lived on the Red Pheasant Reserve in western Saskatchewan, Francks resumed his career in the mid-1970s, appearing in several Canadian cities in jazz clubs and theatres. In 1975 he staged The Insanity of One Man, in Saskatoon using musicians from the reservation. Returning to live in Toronto he played Lugerio in 1977 in the musical adaptation by Alan Gordon and Doug Riley of Mandragola for a CBC broadcast performance and cast recording. He again took dramatic roles on CBC TV and radio, winning ACTRA awards for his work in the TV movie Drying Up the Streets and the TV series The Phoenix Team in 1980 and 1981 respectively. He also served as narrator for CBC TV's The Land and was seen in such productions as Riel (1979) and Labor of Love (1985). Concurrently Francks performed in Toronto nightclubs (frequently at Basin Street in 1978 and on occasion at George's Spaghetti House thereafter) and appeared at the Ontario Place jazz festivals in 1979 and 1984.

Of Francks's varied career, Bob Blackburn (Toronto Telegram, 22 August 1963) suggested: "He's furiously driven to communicate with people. He is full of things he wants to say, but so diversely gifted in means of expression that he can't settle on one way to communicate. He keeps trying them all." Francks wrote the libretto for Ron Collier's Hear Me Talkin' to Ya (1964), basing his text on quotations from jazz musicians and writers. His Growing Up, a jazz waltz, has been recorded by Paul Hoffert and Moe Koffman. Francks also wrote many songs.

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