Childhood & Early Life
Franklin J. Schaffner was born on May 30, 1920 in Tokyo, Japan to American missionaries Sarah Horting and Paul Franklin Schaffner. He was raised in Japan until he turned five.
At the age of five, he moved to United States along with his family. Therein, he attended the Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, graduating from the same in 1942 with a major in government and English. During his academic years, he was active in drama.
Following his early education, he gained admission at Columbia University studying law. However, his education was interrupted by World War II during which he served for four years as a lieutenant in the United States Navy Amphibious Forces in North Africa and Europe and with the Office for Strategic Services in India, Burma and China.
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Following his service in World War II, he took up job for a world peace organization that in turn led him to the position of an assistant director for the documentary film, ‘March of Time’.
Schaffner found work as a director in the news and public affairs department of the CBS television network. His foremost work was directing television coverage of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1948. He also directed several public service programs and entertainment shows including hockey, basketball, horse races and beauty pageants.
In 1949, Schaffner made his directorial debut for the television show, ‘Wesley’. The success of ‘Wesley’ led him take up more directorial projects. The decade of 1950s saw him cap the role of a director for more than 150 live dramas for prominent anthology series such as The Ford Theatre Hour, Playhouse 90, Studio One in Hollywood.
In 1954, Schaffner won his first Emmy for the show ‘Twelve Angry Men’. Two more Emmy’s followed in 1955 for directing and co-writing the TV adaptation of the Broadway play, ‘The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial’. In 1961, he won yet another Emmy for directing the weekly series ‘The Defenders’.
In 1960, Schaffner directed Allen Drury’s play, ‘Advise and Consent’ on Broadway. In 1962, his directorial TV documentary ‘A Tour of the White House’ featuring Jacqueline Kennedy as the host received a Peabody Award.
After finding success in television, Schaffner stepped into the world of films. His big screen directorial debut came with the feature film, ‘The Stripper’ in 1963. Based on William Inge’s play ‘A Loss of Roses’, it had Joanne Woodward star as a struggling actress who accepts a job as a striptease performer. Richard Beymer played the role of a wide-eyed teenager who is infatuated with her. The film was a success.
Following the success of ‘The Stripper’, Schaffner directed several other films including the dramedy, ‘The Best Man’, in 1964 featuring Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson and the medieval drama, ‘The War Lord’, starring Charlton Heston and Richard Boone.
Year 1968 marked the beginning of the golden era of Schaffner’s career. Though he had found success as a director, big commercial hit eluded him until ‘Planet of the Apes’ happened. A classic movie, it had Charlton Heston don the role of an astronaut who lands on a planet ruled by civilized and cultured apes. The sprawling success of the film led to its sequels.
He matched the success of ‘Planet of the Apes’ with an equally successful and laudable film, ‘Patton’. A biopic, the film revolved around the life of General George S. Patton. It was supremely successful, earning Schaffner an Oscar for best direction.
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In 1971, he came up with the historical drama, ‘Nicholas and Alexandra’. Epical in theme and opulent in size, the film centered on the end of Romanov Dynasty in Russia. It was widely appreciated by audience and also received an Academy award nomination in the category of Best Picture.
In 1973, he came up with the film, ‘Papillon’. The film was about a French prisoner who escaped from Devils Island. It was based on the autobiography of Henri Charriere. The film had Steve McQueen play the role of the protagonist while Dustin Hoffman was in supporting role.
Year 1977 marked Schaffner’s not-so-well received film ‘Islands in the Stream’. He made it up with the thriller ‘The Boys from Brazil’ which was based on Ira Levin’s bestseller novel. Laurence Olivier who was in the lead role won an Oscar nominated performance.
Towards the end of the 1970s and the beginning of 1980s, his films were major debacles. Most of them were critically and commercially panned and became huge disasters at box office, be it ‘Yes, Giorgio’ or ‘Lionheart’ or his final feature film ‘Welcome Home’.
Other than making films, he was a member of the Directors Guild of America, National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Phi Beta Kappa, the Center Theater Group of the Music Center, Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, National Council of the Arts, Presidential Task Force on the Arts and Humanities, and American Film Institute. He served as the President of the Directors Guild of America for two years from 1987 to 1989.