Steve Franken

Active - 1958 - 2009  |   Born - May 27, 1932   |   Died - Aug 24, 2012   |   Genres - Comedy

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Biography by Hal Erickson

American actor Steve Franken was the son of a Hollywood press agent, thus he grew up discoursing in the highly stylized trade-magazine lingo that every show-business functionary was required to learn in the '40s and '50s. Sustaining himself as a stage actor in 1960, Franken was appearing in a Los Angeles production of Say Darling when he was spotted by Rod Amateau, producer-director of the TV sitcom Dobie Gillis. Amateau was looking for someone to play the insufferable rich-boy nemesis of Dobie, a role recently vacated by Warren Beatty. Thus Franken's first assignment on a Hollywood soundstage was in the role of Chatsworth Osborne Jr., snotty young millionaire overachiever (the character had been called "Milton Armitage" when Beatty played it). The character's trademark was a pained look of condescension, which Franken attributed to an ulcer that he'd suffered since the age of 14, when his mother died.

Not really a regular on Dobie Gillis, Franken found himself at the unemployment office between his "Chatsworth" stints, and understandably grew to resent the character he played so well. When he did receive an outside job, it was generally as a Chatsworth type, so when Dobie Gillis ended its run in 1963, Franken sought out as many villainous roles as possible--after another "rich buddy" stint on the short-lived series Tom, Dick and Mary. Some of the actor's best work can be caught in reruns of such '60s TV series as Perry Mason and The Wild Wild West. Still, Franken didn't work as often as he should, and it was his contention that Dobie Gillis had all but ruined his career. Steve Franken persevered into the '70s and '80s, notably as an actor/director on the popular religious TV anthology Insight, with frequent appearances on the Jerry Lewis Telethons and in occasional character roles in such films as Westworld (1973).

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