Born Katherine Edwina Gibbs in Oklahoma City to a mother who had been a stage actress as a young woman and later went on to found vocational schools for women. During her childhood, however, her mother was still on the stage as an actress and singer under the name of Katherine Clinton; and being the child of a working single mother made her upbringing rather rough. She grew up constantly on the road with her mother, only attending school in intervals. At the age of 17 she got engaged to a man named James Dwight Francis; the two married in 1922; hence her last name. The marriage did not last. In 1925 she actually traveled all the way to Paris, France in order to obtain a divorce. When back in the United States she suddenly decided to follow her mother onto the stage; having the good fortune (due to real talent) to make her Broadway debut in 1925 in a modernized version of Shakespeare's Hamlet. She claimed that she got the part (probably as a tongue and cheek joke) by "lying a lot, and to the right people." One of these people was one Stuart Walker, who hired her to perform in his Portmanteau Theater Company in Dayton, Indiana and in Cincinnati. In 1927 she returned to Broadway, in the play Crime, in which a teen aged Sylvia Sidney claimed the lead role. Sidney later joked that Frances stole the show. She was encouraged to try out for a role in the full sound film Gentlemen of the Press (1929), which she got; but the audition brought her to attention of The Marx Brothers. They gave her a part in their film The Cocoanuts (1929), which came out before Gentlemen. Thus she technically made her film debut with The Marx Brothers. In all, she made 5 films in 1929 all of them some form of early talkie. Ironically, the last film she made, not the first, in 1929, The Marriage Playground, was only a partial talkie. In this she played at character called "Lady Wrench." She became known as the tallest leading lady in the business in the 1930's--standing at 5'9". During World War II, she did extensive touring in support of American troops. She passed away after a two year battle against breast cancer on the 16th of August in 1968 at the age of 63. She was cremated and her ashes were scattered.
|On a USO tour with Mitzi Mayfair during WWII.|