James Grover Franciscus was born in Clayton, Missouri, to Lorraine and John Allen Franciscus, who was killed in action during World War II. In 1957, Franciscus received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and theatre arts from Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, from which he graduated magna cum laude.
His first major role was as Detective Jim Halloran in the half-hour version of ABC's ‘The Naked City’ television series (1958-1959). Franciscus guest starred on such TV series as ‘Whirlybirds’, ‘Father Knows Best’ and ‘The Rifleman’ (all 1959), ‘Wagon Train’, ‘The Deputy’ and Rawhide’ (all 1960), ‘The Americans’ (1961). CBS soon cast him in the lead in the 13-week series ‘The Investigators’ (1961). He played the insurance investigator Russ Andrews, with James Philbrook as a co-star. He appeared in a few feature films and television programs throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
Franciscus is best-remembered for his title roles in NBC's ‘Mr. Novak’ (1963–65) and ABC's ‘Longstreet’ (1971–72), and for his vocal performance in the big-screen version of Jonathan ‘Livingston Seagull’ (1973). Along with Lloyd Bridges, he served as host as the syndicated real-life adventure series ‘Waterworld’, which aired from 1972 to 1975. In 1976, he starred in his fifth television series, the short-lived ‘Hunter’ (as a secret agent).
His feature films in the 1960s and 1970s included such titles as “Youngblood Hawke” (1964), “Snow Treasure” (1968), “Marooned” (1969), his only Euro-western “The Valley of Gwangi” (1969) “Beneath the Planet of the Apes” (1970) “The Amazing Dobermans” (1976), “The Greek Tycoon”, “City on Fire” (1979) and “When Time Ran Out” (1980).
Over the years, Franciscus found film work with Italian cinema. In 1971, he accepted the lead role in Dario Argento's second film, “The Cat o' Nine Tails”. In 1979, he appeared in Antonio Margheriti's “Killer Fish”, and in 1980 he starred in director Enzo G. Castellari's Jaws-inspired “Great White”. When less important roles were offered, Franciscus turned to writing screenplays and producing. In 1991, the year of his death, he worked as an associate producer and screenwriter on the movie 29th Street starring Anthony LaPaglia and Danny Aiello; it was his final project. He died in North Hollywood, California on July 8, 1991.
Today we remember James Franciscus on what would have been his 80th birthday.