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Robert Francis (actor)

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Cause of death
Airplane crash


Robert Francis

Years active


Robert Francis (actor) Robert Francis actor Wikipedia the free encyclopedia

Full Name
Robert Charles Francis

February 26, 1930 (

July 31, 1955, Burbank, California, United States

Resting place
Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills

The Caine Mutiny, They Rode West, The Long Gray Line, The Bamboo Prison

Similar People
May Wynn, Edward Dmytryk, Philip Carey, Phil Karlson, Donna Reed

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Robert Charles Francis (February 26, 1930 – July 31, 1955) was an American actor. He appeared in only four Hollywood films, all with military themes, before his career and life were cut short at the age of 25 in the crash of a small airplane he was piloting.


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Early life

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Robert Charles Francis was born in Glendale, California in 1930. His parents, James and Lillian Francis, ran a family pharmacy. He was the youngest by 10 years of three children. He was a conscientious student and an excellent skier, so much so that throughout the majority of his teenage years he had aspirations to join the U.S. Olympic team. However his career prospects soon changed as, while tanning himself on a Santa Monica beach, he was spotted by a Hollywood talent scout who persuaded him that with his handsome, all-American looks he should try to become an actor.

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He graduated from Pasadena City College in 1947, after which he soon began to take acting classes in order to work on his skills. However, they were interrupted when he had to spend two years in the army. He resumed his classes after he was discharged from the army. He attended the Batomi Schneider Drama Workshop, which led to a screen test for Columbia Pictures. It just so happened that the husband of his acting coach worked at Columbia. He thought that Francis would be of interest to the studio's founder Harry Cohn. Cohn was on the look out for a new male lead. Francis's manner had always been quiet and respectful unlike James Dean and Marlon Brando. It was these personal traits that appealed to Cohn, who was known for demanding obedience from his stars and staff. Although he tended to play reserved characters, they were often very rebellious in their approach. On the strength of his screen test he earned a contract and the pivotal role in The Caine Mutiny.

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He began a keen interest in flying in his early twenties and it was this passion that brought him to the attention of Howard Hughes. They shared their interest and frequently went flying together, with Francis most likely to be at the controls of Hughes' planes. The amount of time spent flying together soon was reduced once Cohn offered Francis a contract with his studio.


Robert Francis (actor) My Romance with Movies Briefly Robert Francis

He made his motion picture debut and had his most significant role, that of Ensign Willie Keith, in The Caine Mutiny (1954), alongside Humphrey Bogart, Fred MacMurray, Van Johnson, and José Ferrer. The film involved a subplot opposite May Wynn. Prior to the film's release, Francis and Wynn were sent out on press junkets together by Cohn as a way to showcase the studio's two youngest stars. As a result, the gossip magazines reported a romance between the two and even a possible engagement. After his film debut he was voted one of Screen World's "Promising Personalities of 1954".

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Capitalizing on his rising star, he was quickly cast in, They Rode West, followed by The Bamboo Prison and John Ford's The Long Gray Line. In Ford's film, he was given third billing on the screen credits, which shows how Columbia was lining him up to be a big star. Although he appeared in only four films in his short life and career, in each one he played a character in the military and received solid reviews.

He was then loaned to MGM in order to appear in Tribute to a Bad Man and was scheduled to travel to the film location in Wyoming to begin filming, a journey he would never make.


A little more than a week before his departure, he piloted a Beechcraft Bonanza belonging to fellow actor Joe Kirkwood, Jr. Also on board were Kirkwood's business partner, George Meyer, 38, a commercial pilot who had flown B-29 bombers in WWII, and starlet Ann Russell, 24. Immediately after a 5 pm takeoff (which eyewitnesses called a "poor takeoff") from Lockheed Air Terminal in Burbank, the plane's engine began to splutter and then lost power over Restland Cemetery. Francis managed to avoid crashing into a crowd at nearby Valhalla Memorial Park, but the aircraft stalled and crashed in a parking lot where it burst into flames, killing all occupants.

It is alleged that Francis apparently did not possess a pilot's rating or certificate and the Civil Aeronautics Administration investigation determined that pilot error was responsible for the crash, which took place nearly six months after the release of The Long Gray Line.

He was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park on August 2, 1955. His funeral was attended by, among others, Jeff Donnell, Jack Lemmon, Vince Edwards, and May Wynn (who later married Jack Kelly, both of whom had appeared with Francis in They Rode West).


The Long Gray Line as
James N. Sundstrom Jr.
The Bamboo Prison as
MSgt. John A. Rand
They Rode West as
Dr. Allen Seward
The Caine Mutiny as
Ens. Willie Keith
The Ed Sullivan Show (TV Series) as
- Episode #8.22 (1955) - Self
We, the People (TV Series) as
Self - Actor
- Episode #4.30 (1952) - Self - Actor


Robert Francis (actor) Wikipedia

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