Steve Franken, actor in ‘Dobie Gillis,’ dies at 80

Steve Franken, a character actor whose long career included playing the spoiled young millionaire Chatsworth Osborne Jr. on the popular sitcom “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” in the early 1960s, died Aug. 24 at a nursing center in Canoga Park, Calif. He was 80.

His wife, Jean Franken, said he had cancer.

(20TH CENTURY FOX) - A publicity shot from "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis" by 20th Century Fox TV shows (from left to right) Dwayne Hickman as Dobie Gillis, Bob Denver as Maynard G. Krebs and Steve Franken as Chatsworth Osborne, Jr.

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In a career of more than 50 years, Mr. Franken appeared in scores of TV shows and several movies, including “The Party,” “The Americanization of Emily,” “The Missouri Breaks” and the Jerry Lewis comedies “Which Way to the Front?” and “Hardly Working.”

But many TV fans may best remember Mr. Franken as Chatsworth Osborne Jr. on “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.”

The series, which aired on CBS from 1959 to 1963, starred Dwayne Hickman in the title role of the girl-crazy grocer’s son, whose beatnik friend, Maynard G. Krebs, was played by Bob Denver.

Mr. Franken joined the series in 1960, replacing the young actor who had played Milton Armitage, the show’s original rich kid: Warren Beatty.

“Warren Beatty did about four or five shows and wanted to go do movies,” Hickman told the Los Angeles Times. “Once he had done that, he wasn’t going to come back and do ‘Dobie Gillis.’ But because he was gone, we got Steve, and he was wonderful.”

As the snobbish Chatsworth, “he wore clothes that were expensive, polo outfits and a polo stick and all that,” Hickman said. “He was a great character. He was the only person to call me ‘Dobie-do.’ Chatsworth Osborne Jr. — what a great name. And, of course, everything was grand, and he was so rich. Steve played it very well.”

Hickman said that when he appeared at an autograph show with Mr. Franken a few years ago, “Steve told me people were still coming up to him on the street asking for his autograph and calling him Chatsworth.”

But Hickman said Mr. Franken did many things in his career and was “a very serious actor.”

Jean Franken said her husband was especially proud of his performance in director Blake Edwards’s film “The Party,” a 1968 comedy starring Peter Sellers, in which Mr. Franken played a drunken waiter who never speaks a word.

“He and Peter Sellers worked out most of the improvisations themselves for that,” she said. “Blake let them go.”

Stephen Robert Franken was born in Queens on May 27, 1932. He graduated from Cornell University and launched an acting career against his parents’ wishes.

“They wanted him to go to medical school, but he went straight to New York,” his wife said. “He was obsessed with the idea of being an actor.”

Mr. Franken studied at the Actors Studio in New York and later appeared in many theater productions in Los Angeles. Despite chemotherapy treatments, his wife said, Mr. Franken continued to audition for TV and movie roles and to work in theater until a month before he died.

In addition to his wife of 25 years, survivors include their daughter, Anne; two daughters from a previous marriage, Emily Franken and Abigail Glass; and two grandchildren.

— Los Angeles Times

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