Schaffner, Franklin J.
SCHAFFNER, Franklin J.
Nationality: American. Born: Tokyo, 30 May 1920. Education: Franklin and Marshal College; studied law at Columbia University. Military Service: Served in U.S. Navy, 1942–46. Family: Married Helen Jean Gilchrist, 1948, two daughters. Career: Assistant director, March of Time series, late 1940s; television director for CBS, 1949–62, work included Studio One, Ford Theater, and Playhouse 90; with Worthington Miner, George Roy Hill, and Fielder Cook, formed "Unit Four" production company, 1955; directed Advise and Consent on Broadway, 1961; signed three-picture contract with 20th Century-Fox and directed first feature, A Summer World (incomplete), 1961; television counselor to President Kennedy, 1961–63; president, Gilchrist Productions, 1962–68; president, Franklin Schaffner Productions, from 1969; president, Directors Guild of America, 1987–89. Awards: Three Emmy Awards; Oscar for Best Director, and Directors Guild Award, for Patton, 1970. Died: Of cancer, in Santa Monica, California, 2 July 1989.
Films as Director:
A Summer World (incomplete)
The Stripper (Woman of Summer)
The Best Man
The War Lord
The Double Man (+ role)
Planet of the Apes
Patton (Patton—Lust for Glory; Patton: A Salute to a Rebel)
Nicholas and Alexandra (+ pr)
Papillon (+ co-pr)
Islands in the Stream
The Boys from Brazil
Sphinx (+ exec pr)
By SCHAFFNER: book—
Worthing Miner: Interviewed by Franklin J. Schaffner, Metuchen, New Jersey, 1985.
By SCHAFFNER: articles—
Interview with Gerald Pratley, in Cineaste (New York), Summer 1969.
Interview with R. Feiden, in Inter/View (New York), March 1972.
"Chronicler of Power," an interview with Kathe Geist, in FilmComment (New York), September/October 1972.
Interview with R. Appelbaum, in Films and Filming (London), February 1979.
Interview with D. Castelli, in Films Illustrated (London), May 1979.
"Sí, Giorgio/Pavarotti," interview with Eugenio Amaya, in Casablanca, no. 23, November 1981.
On SCHAFFNER: book—
Kim, Erwin, Franklin J. Schaffner, Metuchen, New Jersey, 1986.
On SCHAFFNER: articles—
Wilson, David, "Franklin Schaffner," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1966.
Sarris, Andrew, "Director of the Month—Franklin Schaffner: The Panoply of Power," in Show (Hollywood), April 1970.
Lightman, Herb, "On Location with Islands in the Stream," in American Cinematographer (Los Angeles), November 1976.
"Franklin J. Schaffner," in Kosmorama (Copenhagen), Autumn 1977.
Cook, B., "The War between the Writers and the Directors: Part II: The Directors," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), June 1979.
"TV to Film: A History, a Map, and a Family Tree," in Monthly FilmBulletin (London), February 1983.
Countrymann, J., "Jerry Goldsmith and Franklin J. Schaffner: A Study of Collaboration," in Cue Street (Hollywood), vol. 5, no. 2, April 1988.
Obituary, in Variety (New York), 5 July 1989.
Obituary, in EPD Film (Frankfurt), vol. 6, no. 8, August 1989.
* * *
Franklin J. Schaffner has often been referred to as an "actors' director." A former actor himself, he spent over a decade directing television drama before making his first film. This experience proved invaluable when he arrived in Hollywood. All his films starred well-established professionals such as Fonda, Heston, Brynner, Scott, Hoffman, Peck, and Olivier.
Schaffner's first film, The Stripper, was based on William Inge's play A Loss of Roses. Producer Jerry Wald died while it was being made, and after completion the film was taken out of Schaffner's hands and re-edited. As a result the character of the "stripper", played by Joanne Woodward, was sadly lacking in contrast. Schaffner's experience working on political television programs proved beneficial when he directed his second film, The Best Man, a story of two contenders for the presidential nomination at a political convention in Los Angeles. Set mainly in hotel rooms and corridors, it could have become very static. But Schaffner accepted the challenge and turned out a compelling drama.
After the intimacy of The Best Man came the vastness of The War Lord. A medieval costume picture, the film was a complete change for Schaffner, but he succeeded in capturing the visual splendor of the outdoor sequences—particularly in the first few minutes—and the excitement and gusto of the battle scenes. Although an "action" film, it had a literate script—but once again Schaffner's film was cut by the studio. The director's next work was The Double Man, an average spy drama. His first big financial success was Planet of the Apes, in which he had to produce realistic performances from actors in monkey suits. Handled by another director, it could easily have been turned into a farce, but Schaffner's craftsmanship made it a science fiction satire.
In 1970 Schaffner directed George C. Scott in the role of General Patton. Twenty-seven years earlier Schaffner himself had taken part in the landings in Sicily under Patton. The film was shot in 70mm, but he insisted on cutting it in 35mm to avoid being influenced by the scope of 70mm. Scott's performance was widely praised, but he refused an Academy Award (Schaffner accepted his).
It was his interest in history that first attracted Schaffner to Nicholas and Alexandra. Here he told what was basically an intimate story of two people, but two people surrounded by the overflowing retinue of the court and the boundless expanse of the countryside. Schaffner used the contrast to great effect, and the film was nominated for an Oscar.
Papillon is the only film which Schaffner directed in sequence, and this was not by choice. Dalton Trumbo was rewriting the script as the film was being shot, often just managing to keep up with the production. This film marked the second time that Schaffner had worked with cinematographer Fred Koenekamp, and they were teamed again for his next feature, Islands in the Stream. This time he faced the problem of space and isolation, having to fill the large screen for a long time with just one man. He also found it necessary to use two cameras for some of the action sequences, something which he never did if he could avoid it. Several studios turned down The Boys from Brazil because it was impossible to cast, but Schaffner thought it would work if he cast against type. So Gregory Peck, always known as a "good guy," played Mengele—the German doctor intent on producing clones of Hitler. Olivier, who had earlier played a German war criminal in Marathon Man, was the Jewish doctor trying to track down the Nazi. In the early 1980s Schaffner made Sphinx, an adventure story set amongst the pyramids, and Yes, Giorgio, his first "musical," with Luciano Pavarotti.
Schaffner had a reputation for getting the best out of his actors and coping well with intimate dramas. Yet he also achieved success with large-scale epics and has been compared with David Lean because of the beauty of his compositions and the breadth of his dramatic power. He reveled in films about men struggling to achieve a certain goal. A craftsman, he did his homework and prepared each scene before arriving on the set.