LOS ANGELES (April 13, 2018) – Actor, writer and founding member of the Screen Actors Guild Foundation, Eugene Francis, died on April 10th in Westwood, New Jersey. He was 100.
Francis’ passing was announced by SAG-AFTRA Foundation spokeswoman Caroline O’Connor.
A New York native, Francis was almost, but not quite one of the original Dead End Kids, a collection of youthful actors who appeared on stage and screen as cinematic hooligans, in often comedic roles.
The original Dead End Kids appeared in Sidney Kingsley’s Broadway play Dead End, and later became movie sensations, with various incarnations of the group appearing in dozens of films into the 1950s
Francis tried out for the original Dead End Kids for their Broadway debut in 1935 but was not selected for the original cast due to the lack of a proper East Side accent.
“A bunch of other kids and I went to the casting office which was rare in those days because there weren’t too many chances for young people. I sounded like an Englishman, and they didn’t want any part of me. That was the problem. They didn’t want that in Dead End, but it did get me cast as the rich man’s son in the East Side Kids pictures,” Francis told John Antosiewicz in a 2006 interview.
He went on to appear in several of the films, however, taking over the role of Algy from Jack Edwards for “Boys of the City,” “That Gang of Mine,” and “Pride of the Bowery” in 1940 and then for Flying Wild in 1941.
The films were low budget affairs and Francis revealed how little actors for such projects were paid in that era.
“$66 a week. $11 per day! Sue Carol said there’d be no money involved, but at least I could get some film footage. I knew what I was getting into. It was Gower Gulch-bottom of the barrel. The cliche in Hollywood at the time was if you were working in Gower Gulch you’re either on your way up or on your way down,” he told Antosiewicz.
In 1941, Francis’s acting career was put on hold when he was drafted into the army during the war. Following his service, he returned to acting and landed several television roles, including appearances on Pulitzer Prize Playhouse and Martin Kane.
He also took a turn as a writer, penning scripts for a number of series in the 1950s, including Appointment with Adventure, Matinee Theatre and the George Sanders Mystery Theater.
His experience as a young actor led Francis to support early attempts at organizing an actor’s union and goes back to the days of AFRA (American Federation of Radio Artists) and the Television Authority, which merged to become AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists).
Francis served more than two decades as a SAG National and New York Board member and was elected to terms as recording secretary and national vice president. He lived and worked to see his unions merge as SAG-AFTRA in 2012 and its Foundations to become the SAG-AFTRA Foundation in 2015. He also saw service as a member of the Council of the Actors’ Equity Association.
Francis was elected as a founding board member of the Screen Actors Guild Foundation in 1985, now SAG-AFTRA Foundation, serving for 33 years as a board member up until his passing.
He served in the role of Treasurer of the Board, member of the Finance Committee and continued as an active board and finance committee member even in his role of Emeritus Board Member, attending board and committee meetings by Skype and phone when he could not attend in person.
“He loved his fellow actors and dedicated many, many hours of his life to performing artists everywhere,” said son Stephen Francis.
He is survived by son, daughter-in-law Bronwyn Berry and grandchildren Harrison and Carson Francis. The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the SAG-AFTRA Foundation.