Don Francks

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Don Francks
Don Francks 1966.JPG
Francks in 1966
Born Donald Harvey Francks
(1932-02-28)February 28, 1932
Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
Died April 3, 2016(2016-04-03) (aged 84)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Other names Iron Buffalo
Occupation Actor, singer, jazz musician
Years active 1954–2016
Lili Francks (m. 1966)
Children 4, including Cree Summer and Rainbow Sun

Donald Harvey Francks (28 February 1932 – 3 April 2016), also known as Iron Buffalo, was a Canadian actor and musician.


Professional career[edit]

Don Francks was born on February 28, 1932 and shortly after his birth was adopted. Francks's mother worked at a music store and his father was an electrician. As a child, Francks performed on Vancouver radio doing imitations of singers. After dropping out of high school at age 15, Francks worked several jobs. In 1955 he received his major break, winning a regular part on the CBC Television programme Burns Chuckwagon from the Stampede Corral. After guest appearances on several other television shows throughout the late 1950s, Francks received his first lead part in the 1959-60 CBC programme R.C.M.P., playing Constable Bill Mitchell.

Franck's television career took off in the 1960s as he began to appear on numerous American programmes. These included Mission: Impossible, Jericho, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Wild Wild West, and Mannix. His most famous film appearance was in Francis Ford Coppola's adaptation of Finian's Rainbow, in which he played Woody Mahoney. Francks's acting career also included many Broadway appearances, including in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, and the flop Kelly. In 1969 he turned down an offer to appear alongside Katharine Hepburn in Coco, her only stage musical.

In addition to his acting career, he performed regularly as a jazz vocalist. In 1962 he fronted the avant-garde jazz trio "Three" (with Lenny Breau on guitar and Eon Henstridge on acoustic bass), which performed regularly in Toronto and New York City. This trio is featured prominently in the 1962 National Film Board documentary Toronto Jazz.[1] In 1963 Franks released his first solo album, No One in This World Is Like Don Francks, recorded at the Village Vanguard in New York City. The title of the album derived from a remark made by Jackie Gleason when the trio performed on the April 23, 1963 The Jackie Gleason Show playing "Bye Bye Blackbird". Two years later he recorded his second album, Lost... and Alone, featuring orchestral arrangements by Patrick Williams. He recorded his final album, 21st Century Francks, in 2002 at the Top o' the Senator in Toronto. The album was not released until 2014.

Personal life[edit]

In 1962 Francks married Nancy Sue Johnson. They had a son, Trane, and daughter before divorcing in 1967. While filming Finian's Rainbow Francks met Lili Clark, a dancer from San Francisco. After persuading her to travel with him to the Red Pheasant First Nation in Saskatchewan, the two married there in a field on May 4, 1968. Franks and Clark had a daughter, Cree Summer (born 1969), and a son, Rainbow Sun (born 1979). During the 1970s Francks and Clark lived at Red Pheasant. During this time the Cree chief King Bird Baptiste gave Francks the name Iron Buffalo, meaning "someone who is strong, who knows where to go, and who provides well for his family".

An avid motorcycle rider, he had a collection of 12 antique cars, mostly Model-T Ford racing cars from 1912 to 1927.[2] He was a poet, native nations champion, author and peace activist. He supported Greenpeace[3] and Tibet. Having quit drinking alcohol at the age of 21, Francks was "a fan of" marijuana, and used to perform a song called "Smoking Reefers".[4]

As a spokesman for Other Voices (Canadian TV series) in mid-1960s, he investigated a boy's murder at Saskatchewan Red Pheasant First Nation.[5]

Don Francks died in Toronto on April 3, 2016 of lung cancer.


Francks composed songs and played trombone, drums, and flute. He performed in jazz clubs such as George's Spaghetti House in Toronto and the Village Vanguard in New York City, where he recorded the album Jackie Gleason Says No One in This World Is Like Don Francks[6] (Kapp, 1963). In New York City he recorded Lost...and Alone (Kapp, 1965).[2]

In August 1962 his avant-garde jazz group Three debuted unrehearsed at the Purple Onion coffeehouse in Toronto, Canada. Francks, Lenny Breau, and Eon Henstridge were joined on stage by tap dancer Joey Hollingsworth. The evening was recorded live by Breau's manager, George B. Sukornyk, but wasn't released until 2004 under the name Live at the Purple Onion (Art of Life, 2004). A National Film Board documentary called Toronto Jazz included rehearsals and performances by Three and two other groups.[1] Francks and Breau briefly reprised Three in early 1968 in Toronto with bassist Dave Young in place of Eon Henstridge who had died the year before.[7] In 1999, Francks appeared in the documentary The Genius of Lenny Breau.


Francks' acting career began with CBC Television as a regular on Burns Chuckwagon from the Stampede Corral (1955–55) and Riding High (1955), then in the drama The Fast Ones (1959). In 1957 he had a part in the American series The Adventures of Tugboat Annie (actually filmed in Toronto Canada), then back to Canada in 1958 for Cannonball and Long Shot (1959). In 1959–60 he starred in the CBC-TV series R.C.M.P., playing Constable Bill Mitchell.[8] In 1968 he co-starred with Fred Astaire and Petula Clark in the film version of Finian's Rainbow.[3]

This Land (1970–86) was a CBC-TV documentary series on Canadian nature, wildlife, natural resources, and life in remote communities. Francks was the narrator. He portrayed writer Grey Owl, returning fifty years after his death to be disturbed by the ecological deterioration. (Episode "Land of Shadows" first aired 1983-08-02.)[9]

From 1997 to 2001, he played "Walter" in La Femme Nikita (TV series). Early television credits include: Mission: Impossible, Wild Wild West, and several other episodic television appearances. In the 2015 six-part series Gangland Undercover on the History Channel, he played "Lizard". His film work includes The Big Town, My Bloody Valentine and Johnny Mnemonic.[5]

On February 16, 1964, he appeared on Broadway in the title role of the musical Kelly, as a daredevil planning to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge. The show was the first on Broadway in a generation to close on opening night.[3]


Francks played Archie Goodwin alongside Mavor Moore as Nero Wolfe for Canadian radio. He provided the voice of "Skunk" in Gene Simmons' animated television show, My Dad the Rock Star.[5]

According to differing sources, either Francks[10] or Gabriel Dell[11] was the uncredited actor providing the voice of Boba Fett, a Mandalorian bounty hunter, in the Star Wars Holiday Special. Francks, credited, voiced the role of Boba Fett in an episode of Star Wars: Droids. He voiced several characters in Inspector Gadget, along with his daughter, Cree Summer, who voiced Penny during the first season of the show. He provided the voice for Mok Swagger in the 1983 Canadian animated film Rock and Rule, and the voice of Sabretooth on X-Men.[5]

Selected filmography[edit]


  • ACTRA Award for Best Dramatic Performance, Drying Up the Streets and The Phoenix Team, 1980 and 1981[6]


Year Title Catalogue
1963 Jackie Gleason says... "No one in this world is like Don Francks" Kapp
1965 Lost... and Alone Kapp
1988 Mesa: The Four Directions Books for Ears
1991 Bob's Favorite Street Songs ("Put Down the Duckie" only) A&M
1999 Jazzsong unissued
2000 The Insanity of One Man Books for Ears
2004 At the Purple Onion Art of Life
2014 21st Century Francks Iron Buffalo Productions


  • Heyn, Christopher. "A Conversation with Don Francks". Inside Section One: Creating and Producing TV's La Femme Nikita. Introduction by Peta Wilson. Los Angeles: Persistence of Vision Press, 2006. p. 100–105; ISBN 0-9787625-0-9.


  1. ^ a b "Toronto Jazz". 
  2. ^ a b "BC Radio History Bio". Retrieved May 23, 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c "Canadian Encyclopedia entry". Retrieved May 23, 2013. 
  4. ^ "The Globe and Mail entry". Retrieved March 19, 2017. 
  5. ^ a b c d e ""Skunk" voice in Simmons' "My Dad the Rock Star"". Retrieved May 28, 2013. 
  6. ^ a b Bearden, Jim; Linda Jean Butler (August 1980). "Don Francks Full Circle". Cinema Canada: 30. Retrieved May 23, 2013. 
  7. ^ Forbes-Roberts, Ron (2006). One Long Tune: The Life and Music of Lenny Breau (Paperback). University of North Texas. p. 124. ISBN 9781574412307. 
  8. ^ "RCMP Constable Bill Mitchell". Retrieved 23 May 2013. 
  9. ^ "This Land, CBC TV series 1070-1986". Archived from the original on October 4, 2011. Retrieved May 23, 2013. 
  10. ^ Britt, Ryan (November 17, 2016). "38 Years Ago Today, Boba Fett Was Spotted for the First Time". Inverse. Archived from the original on May 26, 2018. Retrieved May 26, 2018. 
  11. ^ Star Wars Holiday Special at The Big Cartoon DataBase Archived from the original on May 26, 2018.

External links[edit]