Don Francks

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Don Francks
Don Francks.jpg
Francks in 2014
Born(1932-02-28)February 28, 1932[1]
DiedApril 3, 2016(2016-04-03) (aged 84)[1]
Other namesIron Buffalo
OccupationActor, musician, singer
Years active1954–2016
Nancy Sue Johnson
(m. 1962; div. 1967)
Lili Clark
(m. 1968)
Children5, including Cree Summer and Rainbow Sun Francks

Don Harvey Francks (February 28 1932 – April 3 2016),[1] also known by his stage name Iron Buffalo, was a Canadian actor, musician and singer.


Don Harvey Francks[1] was born on February 28, 1932, and shortly after his birth he was adopted. His mother worked at a music store and his father was an electrician. As a child, he performed on Vancouver radio doing imitations of singers. After dropping out of high school at age 15, he worked in several jobs. In 1955 he won a recurring role on the CBC-TV program Burns Chuckwagon from the Stampede Corral. After guest appearances on television shows during the late 1950s, he received his first lead role in the 1959–60 CBC-TV program R.C.M.P., playing Constable Bill Mitchell.

During the 1960s he had roles on the US television programs Mission: Impossible, Jericho, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Wild Wild West, and Mannix. His most famous film part was in Francis Ford Coppola's adaptation of Finian's Rainbow. He acted on Broadway in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever and Kelly. In 1969 he rejected an offer to work with Katharine Hepburn in Coco, her only stage musical.[citation needed]

In 1962, Francks led Three, an avant-garde jazz trio with Lenny Breau on guitar and Eon Henstridge on double bass. The band performed regularly in Toronto and New York City and appeared in the National Film Board documentary Toronto Jazz.[2]

In 1963, Franks released No One in This World Is Like Don Francks, his first solo album, 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, with 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 released in 2014.

Personal life[edit]

In 1962, Francks married Nancy Sue Johnson. They had a son, Trane, and a daughter, Tyler, before divorcing in 1967.[citation needed] 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 on May 4, 1968.[citation needed] Francks 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".[citation needed]

An avid motorcycle rider, he had a collection of twelve antique cars, mostly Model-T Ford racing cars from 1912 to 1927.[3] He was a poet, native nations champion, author, and peace activist. He supported Greenpeace[1] and the Tibetan independence movement. After quitting alcohol at the age of 21, Francks smoked marijuana, performing 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 Red Pheasant First Nation in Saskatchewan.[5]

Later in life, Francks had a son, Bentley Clay Francks-Slaughter, who died in a house fire late in 2008.[6][7]

Francks died in Toronto on April 3, 2016 of cancer.[8]


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[9] (Kapp, 1963). In New York City he recorded Lost...and Alone (Kapp, 1965).[3]

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 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. 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.[10] 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 US series The Adventures of Tugboat Annie (actually filmed in Toronto, Ontario), 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.[11] In 1968 he co-starred with Fred Astaire and Petula Clark in the film version of Finian's Rainbow.[1]

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 2 August 1983).[12]

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.[1]


Francks played Archie Goodwin with Mavor Moore as Nero Wolfe for a 1982 series on 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[13] or Gabriel Dell[14] 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. He also voiced both Thomas "House" Conklin & Sergeant Carl Proctor on the 1988 Police Academy animated series.[5]

Selected filmography[edit]


Year Title Role Notes
1968 Finian's Rainbow Woody Mahoney
1981 Heavy Metal Grimaldi / Co-Pilot / Barbarian (voice) Segments: "Grimaldi", "B-17", "Taarna"
1981 My Bloody Valentine Chief Jake Newby
1983 Rock & Rule Mok (voice)
1987 The Big Town Carl Hooker
1995 Johnny Mnemonic Hooky
2005 Lie with Me Joshua
2015 He Never Died The Man with the Goatee Final role portraying Death himself


Year Title Role Notes
1978 Star Wars Holiday Special Boba Fett (voice) Television film
1983 Inspector Gadget Big M.A.D Agent / M.A.D Agent / Dr. Claw (voice) 65 Episodes
1985-1986 Star Wars: Ewoks Umwak / Dulok Shaman (voice)
1985 Star Wars: Droids Jann Tosh / Kybo Ren / Boba Fett (voice) 13 Episodes
1988-1989 Police Academy Proctor / Thomas "House" Conklin (voice) 64 Episodes
1991 Swamp Thing Anton Arcane (voice) 5 Episodes
1992-1996 X-Men Sabretooth / Graydon Creed Sr. / Puck / Shaman / Phalanx (Sabretooth) (voice) 17 Episodes
1996 Goosebumps Swamp Hermit Episode: "The Werewolf of Fever Swamp" Parts 1 & 2
1997-2001 La Femme Nikita Walter 96 Episodes
1998 Donkey Kong Country (voice)
1998 Silver Surfer Kalok (voice) Episode: "The Origin of the Silver Surfer: Part 1"
1998 Sam & Max: Freelance Police Santa Claus (voice) Episode: "Christmas Bloody Christmas"
2010-2011 The Adventures of Chuck and Friends Deep (voice) 2 Episodes


Year Title Role Notes
1996 X-Men vs. Street Fighter Sabretooth
2000 Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes Uncredited
X-Men: Mutant Academy
2001 X-Men: Mutant Academy 2


  • ACTRA Award for Best Dramatic Performance, Drying Up the Streets and The Phoenix Team, 1980 and 1981[9]


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

Lost...and alone reached #4 in Canada.[15]


  • 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 c d e f g h i Gardner, David. "Don Francks". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Toronto: Historica Canada. Archived from the original on August 29, 2018. Retrieved 23 May 2013.
  2. ^ "Toronto Jazz". National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
  3. ^ a b Bennest, Jack. "[Untitled Don Francks biography]". Museum of Radio in British Columbia. Archived from the original on 29 August 2018. Retrieved 23 May 2013.
  4. ^ Mackay, Susan (16 May 2018). "Singer, actor Don Francks was a fountain of endless creativity". The Globe and Mail. Canada. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d e Wilkerson, Cynthia. "Interview with Gene Glazer". Cyn by the Sea. Archived from the original on 9 March 2019. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
  6. ^ Loriggio, Paola (23 December 2009). "Oakville boy, 5, dies in fire". The Toronto Star. Canada. Retrieved 23 December 2009.
  7. ^ "Bentley Clay Francks-Slaughter". The Toronto Star. 12 January 2009. Archived from the original on 17 July 2019.
  8. ^ Vlessing, Etan (4 April 2016). "Actor, Jazz Musician Don Francks Dies at 84". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on 15 August 2018. Retrieved 17 September 2019.
  9. ^ a b Bearden, Jim; Linda Jean Butler (August 1980). "Don Francks Full Circle". Cinema Canada. p. 30. Retrieved May 23, 2013.
  10. ^ Forbes-Roberts, Ron (2006). One Long Tune: The Life and Music of Lenny Breau. University of North Texas. p. 124. ISBN 9781574412307.
  11. ^ "RCMP Constable Bill Mitchell". Retrieved 23 May 2013.
  12. ^ "This Land". CBC Radio. Archived from the original on October 4, 2011. Retrieved 23 May 2013.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ "Cartoon Characters, Cast and Crew for The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)". The Big Cartoon DataBase. Archived from the original on 26 May 2018. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
  15. ^ "RPM GMP Albums - June 28, 1965" (PDF).

External links[edit]