A man who has many irons in the entertainment fire, hirsutely handsome Canadian actor, vocalist and jazz musician Don Francks (also known as “Iron Buffalo”) was born Donald Harvey Francks on February 28, 1932, in Vancouver, British Columbia. One can, with confidence, add drummer, poet, motorcyclist, author and peace activist to his many lists of accomplishments. He grew up quite adept at athletics (soccer, lacrosse and rugby) and performed in vaudeville and in summer stock shows before relocating to Toronto. On stage from age 11, he landed an early job singing on the radio, then moved into television in 1954. While acting in both variety shows and dramas, he was also a writer and penned several documentaries and public affairs specials in both Toronto and Montreal. On the nightclub scene, Don was featured as a jazz vocalist, a DJ, a trombonist in a country western band and a member of a barbershop quartet called “Model-T Four”.
In the mid-1960s, he focused on small screen acting and racked up a number of rugged, adventurous guest-star turns on TV episodes of The Wild Wild West (1965), Mannix (1967), The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964) and Mission: Impossible (1966). A promising lead that could have led to stardom in the NBC series, Jericho (1966), was cut short when the show was bowled over by its ABC competition — Batman (1966) — and quickly canceled. He also appeared on- and off-Broadway, which included a stint with the musical, “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever”.
Don contributed one strapping co-starring turn in a big-budgeted musical film during his less-than-a-decade stay in Hollywood. As the robust “Woody Mahoney”, he dallied with the likes of beguiling Petula Clark, who played his lady love in Finian’s Rainbow (1968). Their enchanting and sensuous duet on “That Old Devil Moon” is only one of the film’s highlights. The film was not successful, however, in launching Don’s movie career.
Afterwards, he moved his family to the Red Pheasant Indian Reserve, near North Battleford, Saskatchewan, and is an honorary Cree and named “Iron Buffalo”. Since 1974, he has been living in Toronto with his wife, Lili Francks (Red Eagle), a member of the Plains Cree First Nation and also a dancer. Their children are voice artist and actress Cree Summer, best-known for her regular role on the TV sitcom, A Different World (1987), and actor/songwriter Rainbow Sun Francks.
In later years, Don gained some attention after being cast as “Walter”, an arms expert, on the hit TV series, La Femme Nikita (1997). More recently, he traveled to Montreal for a part in the film, I’m Not There (2007), filmmaker Todd Haynes’ meditative take on the famous singer-songwriter, Bob Dylan.
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