RIP Don Francks, 84


courtesy    Mon, 04/04/2016

Photo: Don Dixon Photo: Don Dixon

RIP: Don Harvey Francks, actor, jazz musician, environmental activist in Toronto on April 3, at age 84, of cancer. Born in Burnaby, BC, Francks was singing at age 6 and acting at 10. He worked briefly as a teen disc jockey in Vancouver before leaving school to join the merchant marine. During a long career as an actor for film and TV, he  made appearances in American TV series like Jericho and The Man from U.N.C.L.E, and in the Hollywood film version of Finian’s Rainbow (1968), in which he starred alongside Fred Astaire and Petula Clark.

Francks dropped out of showbiz to live on the Red Pheasant Reserve in Saskatchewan with his wife Lili Francks. He was adopted as a Cree, and named Iron Buffalo. He returned to the spotlight in the late ‘70s, narrating the CBC series This Land. He won 2 successive ACTRA Awards for performances in CBC’s Drying Up the Streets (1980) and The Phoenix Team (1981).

His extensive filmography included such TV series as Nikita, Kung Fu, Road to Avonlea, Top Cops, The Diviners, Flamingo Estates and Side Effects.

Notable film credits include The Drylanders, Ivy League Killers, The Tomorrow Man, Old Fish Hawk, Labour of Love, I’m Not There, Good Times at the Rainbow Bar and Grill (which also featured his daughter Cree Summer), The Big TownJohnny Mnemonic, and Paint Cans.

On the music side, Francks was a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, playing trombone, drums, and flute. He was most active musically in the ‘60s, playing such noted clubs as George’s Spaghetti House in Toronto, and the Village Vanguard in New York City. He recorded the early ‘60s albums Jackie Gleason Says No One in This World Is Like Don Francks and Lost… and Alone in NYC. Lenny Breau played as part of The Don Francks Trio then.


Gord Lansdell at his Vancouver Broadcasters site supplies a little more detail of Don’s radio & TV resume.

Starred in Burns Chuckwagon Show CBC Vancouver 1954-55; actor numerous stage/TV/screen productions 1959-2005 including Finian’s Rainbow 1968, McCabe & Mrs. Miller 1971 and My Bloody Valentine 1981; formed jazz trio appearing in Toronto and New York 1962; Iron Buffalo all-nights CKVN/CFUN Vancouver 1971-73; writer of documentaries and public affairs specials; ACTRA Award for Best Dramatic Performance 1980-81; host Round Midnight CHWO Toronto recently.



  1. I first heard of Don from my childhood chum’s dad who’d gone to school with him. At that time, in the mid ’60s, Francks scored steady work in Hollywood with episodic tv. His biggest break was co-starring in the big-budget movie Finian’s Rainbow. The movie wasn’t a complete flop, but didn’t launch Don to the upper echelons of film stars.

    Before long, Francks adopted a counter culture persona with , as noted above, a native Indian aura. Didn’t he and his wife live in a teepee and have a daughter, Cree Summer (who also went into show biz)?

    I do remember Don’s stint at CKVN where he joined Terry David Mulligan’s eclectic team, including the late Hal Weaver. Great radio, while it lasted.

    Think his longest stint on tv was playing a supporting role in Nikita with Roy Dupuis and PETA Wilson. Inspired by the differently casted movie La Femme Nikita, the series ran for several years.

    Wonder if he’s playing on any of the Lenny Breau albums re-mastered and issued by Randy Bachman’s label?


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