• Franklin J. Schaffner '42 speaks to a group of aspiring F&M thespians on campus in this file photo. Franklin J. Schaffner '42 speaks to a group of aspiring F&M thespians on campus in this file photo. Image Credit: Archives & Special Collections

Academy Award Winner; Best Director, Patton

Franklin J. Schaffner was an American director who worked on a number of well-regarded television programs before launching a successful film career that included such classics as Planet of the Apes (1968) and Patton (1970). He passed away in July 1989.

Schaffner, whose parents were Protestant missionaries, was raised in Japan until he was 5 years old, when his family returned to the United States. After attending F&M, he served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy during World War II. In 1948 Schaffner began working for the CBS television network, and he went on to make important contributions to what became known as TV’s “golden age.” He made his directorial debut in 1949, helming episodes for the TV show Wesley.

He later directed more than 150 live dramas for such notable anthology series as The Ford Theatre Hour, Playhouse 90, and Studio One in Hollywood. For the latter program, he made more than 100 shows, including Twelve Angry Men (1954), which earned him an Emmy Award. He also won Emmys for directing and cowriting The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial (1955), which aired on the Ford Star Jubilee, and for directing (1961–62) several episodes of the weekly series The Defenders.

Schaffner’s other notable television credits include Person to Person, a weekly show in which Edward R. Murrow interviewed various news makers. In the 1950s, Schaffner helmed nearly 250 episodes of the program. In 1962 he directed A Tour of the White House, a TV documentary that featured Jacqueline Kennedy as the host; it received a Peabody Award. During that time he also directed (1960–61) Advise and Consent on Broadway.

In 1963 Schaffner helmed his first feature film, The Stripper (1963), which was based on William Inge’s play A Loss of Roses. Joanne Woodward starred as a struggling actress who accepts a job as a striptease performer, and Richard Beymer was cast as the wide-eyed teenager who is initially infatuated with her. 

Schaffner’s first big commercial success was Planet of the Apes, which vies with Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey for the best science-fiction movie of 1968. The classic film, which combined action and social commentary, starred Heston as an astronaut who lands on a planet ruled by civilized apes. Immensely popular, the film spawned a number of sequels.

Schaffner’s gift for incorporating majestic scope and historical detail into his films was fully evident in Patton (1970), his most-lauded film. A box-office and critical hit, the biopic about Gen. George S. Patton received an Academy Award for best picture, and Schaffner earned an Oscar for his direction; George C. Scott was named best actor, but he declined the Oscar.

Additional credits include the opulent historical epic Nicholas and Alexandra,(1971); Papillon (1973), which was based on the autobiography of Henri Charrière, a French prisoner who escaped from Devils Island starring Steve McQueen; Islands in the Stream (1977); and The Boys from Brazil (1978), a thriller based on the Ira Levin best seller.


More about Franklin:

F&M Library Franklin J. Schaffner Collection

New York Times Obituary: Franklin J. Schaffner Dies at 69; An Oscar-Winning Film Director