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
Died April 3, 2016(2016-04-03) (aged 84)
Toronto, Ontario
Cause of death Lung cancer
Other names Iron Buffalo
Occupation Actor, singer, jazz musician
Years active 1954–2016
Spouse(s) Lili Francks
(1966-2016; his death)
Children 4 (including Cree Summer and Rainbow Sun Francks)

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


Don Francks was born on 28 February 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 Katherine Hepburn in Coco, her only stage musical.

In addition to his acting career, he performed regularly as a jazz vocalist. In 1962 he was part of the Lenny Breau Trio, which performed regularly in Toronto and New York City. Francks and the trio feature prominently in the 1962 National Film Board documentary Toronto Jazz.[1] In 1963 he recorded 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 23 April 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.

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 4 May 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 1912-27.[1] He was a poet, native nations champion, author and peace activist. He supported Greenpeace[2] 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."[3]

As a spokesman for Other Voices (Canadian TV series) in mid-1960s, he investigated a boy's murder at Saskatchewan Red Pheasant First Nation.[4]

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


Francks composed songs, and played the trombone, drums, and flute. He performed in many jazz clubs including George's Spaghetti House in Toronto, and the Village Vanguard in New York City, there taping the LP quoting Jackie Gleason for the title Jackie Gleason Says No One in This World Is Like Don Francks,[5] (Kapp KRS-4501), in 1963. In New York, he recorded "Lost... and Alone" (1965, Kapp KS-3417).[1]

In August 1962, the Don Francks Trio with Lenny Breau debuted at Toronto's Purple Onion. In 2004, Art of Life Records released a four decades-old recording as Live at the Purple Onion. A National Film Board documentary called Toronto Jazz includes rehearsals and performances of two other groups.[2][6]

In 2010, he performed on CJRT-FM and recorded a podcast for the station called Jazz Genesis. In January 2013 he completed mixing a double live CD to be released in the fall of 2013. He performed in Toronto jazz clubs seasonally, including an annual stint for The TD Toronto Jazz Festival.[citation needed]


Francks's 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.[7] In 1968 he co-starred with Fred Astaire and Petula Clark in the film version of Finian's Rainbow.[2]

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.)[8]

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.[4]

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.[2]


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.[4]

Francks was the first actor to voice the role of Boba Fett, a Mandalorian bounty hunter in Star Wars Holiday Special and reprised the role 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.[4]

Selected filmography[edit]


  • 1980 and 1981 - Don Francks won ACTRA Awards for Best Dramatic Performance for his roles in Drying Up The Streets and The Phoenix Team.[5]

Selected discography[edit]

Year Title Catalogue
1963 No One in This World Is Like Don Francks Kapp 4501
1965 Lost... and Alone Kapp 3417
2014 21st Century Francks

In 2004, Art of Life Records issued an album of previously-unreleased recordings made by the Lenny Breau Trio at the Purple Onion in Toronto in August 1962, as At the Purple Onion.


  • 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. pp. 100-05; ISBN 0-9787625-0-9.
    In-depth conversation with Don Francks about his role as Walter on La Femme Nikita, along with numerous stories from his lengthy acting and musical career.


  1. ^ a b "BC Radio History Bio". Retrieved May 23, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c "Canadian Encyclopedia entry". Retrieved May 23, 2013. 
  3. ^ "The Globe and Mail entry". Retrieved March 19, 2017. 
  4. ^ a b c d e ""Skunk" voice in Simmons' "My Dad the Rock Star"". Retrieved May 28, 2013. 
  5. ^ a b Bearden, Jim; Linda Jean Butler (August 1980). "Don Francks Full Circle". Cinema Canada: 30. Retrieved May 23, 2013. 
  6. ^ Forbes-Roberts, Ron (December 19, 2006). One Long Tune: The Life and Music of Lenny Breau (Paperback). University of North Texas. p. 83. ISBN 9781574412307. Retrieved May 23, 2013. Live at the Purple Onion 
  7. ^ "RCMP Constable Bill Mitchell". Retrieved 23 May 2013. 
  8. ^ "This Land, CBC TV series 1070-1986". Archived from the original on October 4, 2011. Retrieved May 23, 2013. 

External links[edit]