Anne Francine, the Broadway actress and cabaret performer who was part of Manhattan's cafe society heyday in the 1940s and 1950s, died in a Connecticut hospital Dec. 3 after suffering a stroke, according to friend Donald Smith.
Despite an earlier stroke six years ago, Smith said, Ms. Francine was a tireless nurturer of young cabaret talent and spent summers as a master class teacher evaluating cabaret performers at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center in Waterford, CT. Ms. Francine was 82, and lived in Old Lyme, CT.
Although she sang in famous international cabaret rooms that sound almost fictional to the modern ear -- Coq Rouge, The Persian Room, Club Cuba, Cafe Pierre, Copacabana -- Ms. Francine was also a respected actress in plays and musicals, appearing as a Vera Charles replacement in Mame in 1996 and as Vera in the Angela Lansbury Broadway revival in 1983. She memorably played a rich matron in the Lincoln Center revival of Anything Goes with Patti LuPone.
Born in 1917 Atlantic City to Philadelphia blueblood parents, Albert and Emilie Francine, the free-spirited Anne went against family wishes and took singing lessons and made her stage debut in Rodgers and Hart's Too Many Girls on the road in Detroit.
After stock theatre, she made her Broadway debut in Marriage Is for Single People in 1945. She played Flora Busch in By the Beautiful Sea on Broadway in 1954 and appeared in New York and on the road in The Great Sebastians. She also appeared as a replacement in Tenderloin on Broadway in 1960, and toured with Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. She was an Off-Broadway, Broadway, London, stock and regional performer in between her celebrated club dates. Ms. Francine was known for the comic ideas she brought to her club performances, sometimes adding physical gags to certain standard numbers. Crooning "Dancing in the Dark," for example, she clawed the walls for a light switch when singing the line, "looking for the light," cabaret advocate Smith told Playbill On-Line.
"The act was like going to a party," said Smith, who knew Ms. Francine for 35 years. "She was an original, one of the funniest."
Her signature songs included "The Lamp is Low" and "Raggedy Ann."
Smith remembers how Ms. Francine relished taking a curtain call at Lincoln Center for Anything Goes and then donned an evening gown and took a rented limo to her late-night engagement at the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel. She would sweep into the lobby and into her act.
She was a natural who developed her gift with vocal lessons, according to Smith, executive director of the Mabel Mercer Foundation. Ms. Francine and Mercer were friends. Ms. Francine never married.
"She was an enormously striking Garboesque woman, a real head-turner in those giddy days when there was a real cafe society," said Smith. "She played very big role in that."
Despite her upbringing and popularity, she was not a diva, said Smith: "She was the salt of the earth."
And she apparently did a smashing impersonation of Marlene Dietrich.
"She never left a room like most people do, she was always departing it," Smith said. "You were aware she was leaving. The personality commanded your attention."
A memorial will be planned.
-- By Kenneth Jones