I know more about beauty than anyone in the world. I have that kind of ego; I believe that about myself. I am the man who showed women that they could compete with Jane Russell. I enlarged the breast line of America when everyone said that it couldn't be done.
DR. ROBERT A. FRANKLYN, PLASTIC SURGEON AND HORSE-RACING ENTREPRENEUR
The élan of Los Angeles is such that what may seem unusual elsewhere—or perhaps even absurd—somehow takes on an aura of the commonplace. For example, people do not think it terribly odd that L.A.'s Mayor Sam Yorty has hired his own cartoonist to take raps at the anti-Yorty Los Angeles Times on his television show. Nor do they view it as particularly extraordinary that Rudy Vallee, of reedy saxophone and Maine Stein Song fame, may run for Sam Yorty's job. And so it is understandable that around southern California racetracks people have become so accustomed to the vagaries of the L.A. crowd—movie stars, faith healers, professional mourners from Forest Lawn, various weirdos of undiagnosed dementia—that they have been only slightly curious about the sudden advent on their scene of Robert Alan Franklyn, 49, a plastic surgeon from Sunset Boulevard. He is a specialist in what he calls "beauty parlor" surgery, a fellow who has been labeled the Pygmalion of Hollywood, a kind of operating-room Rodin who works with scalpel and silicone instead of chisel and stone.
In the past six months Dr. Franklyn has acquired ownership or an interest in around $1.5 million worth of racehorses. Before that he owned no horses at all. Not one. His string includes the magnificent, British-bred 3-year-old, Vaguely Noble, which cost the doctor $342,720—paid with a common, everyday household check drawn on his personal account. Never before has so much money been paid at auction for a single horse in training, and Vaguely Noble probably would not even have been up for auction in December at Tattersall's Newmarket Sales if the family of the late owner had not needed cash for death duties on the estate. The London Daily Mirror called the purchase "a fantastic record," and the Daily Express came up with a near-perfect headline: HOLLYWOOD MAN GETS WORLD'S COSTLIEST RACEHORSE...IT'S DR. BEAUTY'S BEAST.
Around California tracks, some people call Dr. Franklyn "The Mystery Physician," a few wonder if he exists at all and many of the best-informed racing officials say that about all they know of him is what they read in the papers. Of course, since most people around racetracks (excluding the stars) don't go in much for breast-expansion or nose-barbering or even dimple-building, a specialist with Dr. Franklyn's talents would not come up during the course of an ordinary conversation in the daily-double window queue. Dr. Franklyn is a man who marches to quite a different trumpet than daily-double bettors. He is ambitious, self-confident and imaginative beyond the capacity of most run-of-the-mill mortals. He has an ingratiating zest and a genuinely refreshing and almost existential what-the-hell-do-I-have-to-lose insouciance about his entry into the expensive and complex world of racing horses.
February 19, 1968
"I wouldn't say I'm the Great White Hope for racing," says the doctor. "I'm not that egocentric. But I think we'll give everyone something to remember, and we'll have some fun doing it." Right. The color he wants for his Gemini Farms is gold. That's all, just gold. His horses will race on gold horseshoes ."Not solid gold," says Franklyn. "They would turn to nuggets and dust in half a furlong. We'll just put on a coating of gold. Why not? No one ever asked people if they really preferred aluminum-colored shoes, right? Well, we prefer gold."
The doctor also has this thing about round buildings. "They appeal to me, I suppose, because a circle is such a clean thing," he says. Right now Franklyn has his surgery practice in a spectacularly attractive round building on Sunset Boulevard. He is the sole occupant and has named it The Beauty Pavilion. It was designed by the brilliant Brazilian architect, Oscar Niemeyer, who also designed part of the United Nations complex and the major buildings in Brasília. Unfortunately, The Beauty Pavilion is located in a landscape of shamefully ugly urban rubble that is quite typical of Los Angeles—on one side, a hamburger joint named Alfie's and, on the other, a mammoth black sign with a huge red neon message pushing Hav-A-Kar rentals for $4 a day and 4¢ a mile. Franklyn has planted a large evergreen tree in front of the sign, but it doesn't help much. Nor is the doctor content with having just one round building in his life. Gemini Farms will be located on a 300-acre tract about 50 miles from L.A. Naturally, Franklyn is going to have himself a round home there. He is also going to put up a round barn with round stalls. It has never been done before, he says. Franklyn himself designed the new barn, Oscar Niemeyer not having expressed much enthusiasm for the project.
"Well, why not have round stalls?" asks the doctor. "They won't do the horses any harm, and they may even be good for them. A lot of horses hurt themselves because they lie down, then get trapped in the corner of a stall and get panicky when they can't get up."
Obviously, Robert Franklyn is an impressively creative man, as a cosmetic plastic surgeon should be. But what—beyond creativity and very delicate hands—makes a man a successful beauty surgeon? "Well, if I have one thing in the world going for me, it is my excellent good taste," says Franklyn. And, he might have added, my monumentally thick skin. "Most plastic surgeons sneer at cosmetic specialists," says the doctor. "The great majority are in strictly reparative surgery, and they reluctantly do a nose job or set back a pair of big ears. We need 10 times more cosmetic surgeons than we have. This is a beauty culture in America; all the magazines and television and billboards in the country constantly remind people that they should be beautiful, that success and beauty, health and beauty, sex and beauty are inseparable. This sort of thing can make plain people uncomfortable; it demolishes their vanity. And don't forget, vanity is probably the one major driving force in almost every human being. I have a great sympathy for most of the people who come to me. I may not be changing the course of the world, but my work is of inestimable value to the individuals I treat. Some of them are referred to me by psychiatrists, and sometimes they become totally different—and infinitely happier—people after an operation. I remember one mousy little kindergarten teacher who came to me, had her bust enlarged and became a very successful striptease dancer."
A beauty surgeon should also be utterly In as far as fashion changes go. Franklyn subscribes to everything from Harper's Bazaar to Geriatrics to a plastic-surgery journal published in Czechoslovakia. But, with all that emphasis on Good Looks and New Looks, on straight noses and pouchless eyes and streamlined ears and seamless brows, what should the well-received cosmetic surgeon himself look like?
Admittedly, prior to actually laying eyes on one, there is plenty of room for imagination in visualizing the appearance of a beauty surgeon—especially a beauty surgeon whose major domain of expertise lies along the frontal contours of female America. Somehow a combination of George Romney's leonine looks and Zachary Scott's devilish cosmopolitanism seems right, although it presumably would take quite a plastic surgeon to produce the cross. Or maybe something between John Wayne and Ernest Hemingway? Kyle Rote and Barry Goldwater? No matter. Dr. Franklyn does not look like that. Somehow he does not even look like a man who recently published a book called Developing Bosom Beauty, in which he printed several before-and-after photographs of his patients along with a batch of postoperative case studies with such provocative titles as, "The Nun's Sister," "The Nervous Congresswoman" and "The Lady Motorcyclist," whose opening line to the doctor was, "Hi, Mac, you fix flats?"
There is a kind of shambling, almost avuncular gentleness about Dr. Franklyn. He has the freckled-tan scalp with which southern California blesses all balding men. He is fairly short and quite stocky. He has a good, sound nose—not as hooked as Dick Tracy's and not as thick as Lyndon Johnson's—a firm outthrusting jaw and remarkable brown eyes that must have calmed many a troubled lady as she confessed her cosmetic problems to him. His voice has the flat, unflappable bedside sound of a country doctor, and his words are spoken with an understated, soft delivery that contrasts sharply with the substance of what he says: "I am a professional enthusiast.... I am the original optimist.... I have an infinite curiosity about other people's businesses.... When I decide to do something I want to do it now."
Despite the soothing voice and placid looks, Dr. Franklyn is a man of enormous energy, a hurry-up guy who admits, "I am the original short-cutter." Born in Newark ("absolutely the worst city in the world"), he graduated from high school at 14, got a degree with honors from New York University in just two and a half years, went to NYU's medical school and interned for a scant year and a half at Bellevue Hospital before choosing plastic surgery as his specialty. After assisting and studying with several excellent men in the field, he set out for Los Angeles in 1943, just another struggling plastic surgeon among the 100 or so then clustered near Hollywood, including a legendary doctor who breezed about town in a silver Rolls-Royce with a liveried footman.
"I was 25, and for a while I had to work nights in a defense plant making Liberty ships to pay my office expenses," Franklyn recalls. Although his fees do not fit most shopgirls' budgets, the doctor has done a fair amount of charity work over the years. And once, in the late '40s, Franklyn accepted an artist's portrait of himself, complete with a halo of noses and profiles around the doctor's head (page 50), in payment for an operation on the painter's girl friend. No sooner did the girl get a postoperative glimpse of her newly beautiful self, Franklyn recalls, than she turned to the painter, said, "Hey, I'm beautiful!" and walked out on him forever.
In 1960, when he was 41 years old, Dr. Franklyn published an autobiography, Beauty Surgeon, and a public-relations firm promptly spread the word to editors about the book, using the kind of florid flackery many medical men abhor: "Through the portals of his Sunset Boulevard office, where he performs his operations in the strictest of sanitary and private conditions, have walked the most famous people of show business," said one letter from the firm. "Dr. Franklyn's magic silver scalpel has given life and youth, glamour and beauty." In all, the doctor has published four books, including The Art of Staying Young. In it he recommends some fascinating recipes for complexion treatments, such as homogenizing a cucumber and three ounces of skim milk in an electric blender, then spreading the cool goo on one's face as a beauty mask. "Instead of feeding your stomach, you feed your skin," he explains.
He was once married to Actress Vanessa Brown, an ex-Quiz Kid who was the 11th Jane in the Tarzan series and starred in The Seven Year Itch on Broadway; they were divorced in 1957. The present Mrs. Franklyn, Wilma, is a handsome blonde, a former nurse who jokingly recalls that she was once voted "Miss Sportscar of 1957" at some long-forgotten Palm Springs rally.
Although the doctor gives himself a fair share of credit for encouraging bigger bosoms in the U.S., he traces the origin of the bust boom to Howard Hughes's advertising campaign for an undistinguished movie called The Outlaw. Billboards featured a huge picture of Jane Russell with the message, "There are two good reasons for seeing The Outlaw." A bit later Dr. Franklyn perfected an operation for enlarging women's breasts. Over the years he has improved his technique to a point where he can perform the surgery in 10 or 15 minutes. During the operation a gelatinlike substance called silicone is wrapped in Teflon, the no-stick synthetic material used on frying pans, then inserted through a small incision at the base of each breast. The doctor has done more than 15,000 such operations and he is proud that they are as simple as going to the dentist—"In in the morning and home for dinner." Also, he points out, it is a "reversible operation." If the day comes when America prefers something smaller in bosoms, Dr. Franklyn can undo what he has done.
The doctor says that he also created a method of making dimples, but gave it up because "dimpling didn't appeal to me." And "I was the man who taught the Japanese how to make Occidental eyes on Orientals." A few years ago Franklyn built a lavish "beauty hospital" called the Athena Marquesa, in the exclusive Bel Air section of Los Angeles. It had 80 beds, and he was the sole physician on the staff. "It got to be a little too much," he says. "I sold it." He also created an invention some time ago that was intended to "do something about our national obsession—obesity." It is a machine that blasts a powerful stream of air onto parts of the body that need reducing. The air causes fat and flesh alike to ripple and vibrate rapidly, and excess weight is literally shaken off. "I tried to patent it," he says, "but the Patent Office wrote back saying that the Kellogg who made cornflakes in Michigan had invented the same thing in 1900 or so. Anyway, the damned thing costs $35 every time we turn it on, because it uses so much current and requires a trained nurse to be there. We keep it around, and once in a while a movie star will come in to knock some flab off here or there."
The doctor is nothing if not versatile. For example, he is a "disillusioned oil prospector," who once took over an abandoned well in New Mexico, drilled to 2,800 feet and then applied a technique that called for dumping 1,000 barrels of oil into the hole to prime the flow of oil in the earth. "The stuff started just bursting out of the ground," he recalls, "so I left, convinced I was a rich man. When I went back later the well had gushed precisely the 1,000 barrels of oil we had put into it. And not a drop more."
Because he is a close friend as well as beauty physician to so many movie stars, Franklyn occasionally has been asked for his advice on scripts. "Most of that stuff was so bad that it made your head hurt. Once Marilyn Monroe asked me to look at a script for Moll Flanders. It was awful, and I told Spyros Skouras that. He said, 'If you can do better, go ahead.' " Franklyn said he took the story line from Daniel Defoe's achingly dull 18th century novel and in two nights of dictation turned it into a "wicked, sexy" script. The movie pros were unimpressed. They gave it to an Englishman to rewrite—which is really too bad, if for no other reason than that Dr. Franklyn had planned to give screen credit for the script to his favorite golden retriever, J. Brandle Berry-Bush Esq. But the dog is doing all right, anyway. He has his own savings account at a Los Angeles bank—"It took a meeting of the whole board of directors to approve it"—and J. Brandle Berry-Bush is also the legally registered owner of the Franklyn station wagon.
At one time or another the doctor also has been involved with high-powered cars ("We bought the first three XKE Jaguars shipped to this country"), architecture ("I started following Niemeyer's work in 1943 when he was nothing"), perfume ("I am known in Paris as one of the good noses in the business") and politics. He used to be a member of the Democratic Party's state finance committee. He was a casual acquaintance of John Kennedy and counted Adlai Stevenson as a warm personal friend. Indeed, on the night in July 1956 after Stevenson had been nominated for the presidency by the Democratic convention, Franklyn recalls that Vanessa Brown (then Mrs. Franklyn) phoned him from a hotel room in Chicago. "She was a delegate that year. It must have been 2 o'clock in the morning, and I was in a stupor when I answered," the doctor remembers. "She said, 'Bob, I'm here in Adlai's suite. Who should we have for Vice President?' I fumbled around trying to get my bearings and said Estes Kefauver should probably get it because he'd done well in the primaries that year. She said, 'O.K.,' and hung up." Franklyn chuckled and said, "To this day I'm not really sure that Kefauver wasn't picked over John Kennedy then because of what I said to Vanessa."
However unfamiliar Robert Franklyn's name may be in racing circles, he and his wife, whom he calls "Willie," are well known in the highly competitive world of dog shows. Over the years they have walked off with "enough ribbons, cups, trophies and Japanese ashtrays to last five lifetimes," he says. Their specialty is golden retrievers, and they have produced no less than 23 certified champions in the last few years. "We got started with dogs when the milkman gave Willie a mutt named Pierre," he says. "He swore that Pierre was a bona-fide golden retriever, and we figured he should know. Then one day we decided to find Pierre a golden-retriever girl friend, and we bought Lulu, who had papers and the works. But as Lulu grew it didn't take a genius to see that she was a different dog from Pierre. A lot different. I told Willie that I didn't think Pierre was quite what the milkman said he was and that it would be criminal to breed him with Lulu. So we ransacked the country and found a dog in Connecticut. That got us started."
Last month Franklyn showed several of his retrievers at the Beverly Hills dog show, the most noteworthy in the West, and when it was over he had a pocketful of ribbons, plus a peanut-dish trophy. "That," he sighed, "is that. We have proved our point, and we are now finished with dog shows. They are so boring."
Beside their champion retrievers, the Franklyns raise Scottish deerhounds, huge, gentle, shaggy beasts that are one of the rarest breeds known. There are no more than 150 in the world, says Franklyn, and he owns about 15 of them. "The breed goes back thousands of years, when some innovative guy (probably the Dr. Franklyn of his day) bred an Irish wolfhound to a mastiff. The deerhound was trained to track deer for miles and miles, then to bring them down." Deerhounds nearly vanished when deer grew scarce in the British Isles, and not until the late 19th century, when dog shows became popular, was there much interest in reviving the breed. A few years ago the Franklyns bought one of the best in the world, Fitzroy of Ardkinglas, and the doctor and Willie probably now have the finest deerhound kennel in existence.
The Franklyn home is a large yellow mansion north of Los Angeles. It was built in 1932 by a motion-picture executive for an opera singer who just had to have her own "Viennese castle" in southern California. The couple lived in the house for one year, then boarded it up and moved out, leaving a young Japanese boy in charge of the grounds. "We came across it in 1964," says Franklyn. "The place was full of brush and fallen trees, and there was this aging, bearded Japanese man. He had been there all those years. The opera singer had never come back."
Impressive as the house itself is, the single most remarkable element in it is the presence of dogs. It is alive with them. There are 14 full-time house dogs—none small—and the doctor says that he rotates all the kennel dogs in the house for a day every week. They are fine, friendly animals, who feel totally at ease around the house. Some sleep in the Franklyns' bedroom, some on their bed, and they occasionally gulp down steak or potatoes or a half-finished piece of cake off the table, before the human diners have left their seats. "We treat them like humans," says the doctor. "To us, each is an individual, and we know them all by name."
The horses of Gemini Farms, too, are going to get a man-sized portion of tender-loving humanitarianism. "We talk to our horses, whisper to them, ask them how their health is and how the world's treating them. They aren't Mister Eds, but it does keep them happier," says Franklyn, who speaks of his Thoroughbreds as "girls" or "guys." His affection for them is touching, even though his experience with them is, of course, next to nil.
The doctor admits that before he spent $73,200 last August at a Del Mar, Calif. auction for his first five yearling fillies, he knew the names of "precisely two racehorses—Man o' War and Fleet Nasrullah." So, armed with near-total ignorance, a supreme faith in his eye for beauty—"Only one man in hundreds can really see the configuration of a great horse"—and the "psychic computer" of Willie's womanly intuition, Dr. Franklyn set out to create what he calls "one of the elite stables in the country." At first the Franklyns thought they might do their own buying: "We double-checked, triple-checked, sextuple-checked every detail, then we added up all the facts. And, by God, do you know that everything canceled everything else out! We decided to give up on handicapping horses and try handicapping people who knew horses."
The human handicapping brought them to one Albert Yank, 50, a former citrus-fruit entrepreneur at Los Angeles' Farmer's Market. Yank had gone into the bloodstock business about 10 years ago, because "I chose to indulge myself in the finer things of life." As with so many things around Robert Franklyn, Yank is colorful and unusual, and almost as full of confidence as the doctor himself. Yank says he once bought the well-known West Coast stallion TV Lark by writing a worthless check for a couple of hundred thousand dollars. He quickly sold the horse to a Kentucky breeder before his check bounced over the moon. Last spring Yank made one of the more interesting trades of recent years when he exchanged a horse for a yellow Rolls-Royce convertible owned by a man in Detroit. "I love that car like a horse," says Yank.
When he is in the doctor's presence Yank speaks with a kind of granite formality, as if each sentence already had been engraved in the cement outside Grauman's Chinese Theater. "The doctor has given his confidence to me, and I, in turn, have made my talents and insight into the horse-racing business available to the doctor," intones Yank. "When the doctor asked me to come with him I asked, 'How big is your garbage can?' He told me, and I said, 'Well, it should be extremely large, because when you are done reading all of these books I want you to throw them in the garbage can. You cannot learn to buy and breed fine horses from books.' "
It was Yank who made the skyrocketing bids for Vaguely Noble in London last December, and most people assumed that Dr. Franklyn bought the horse alone. Since then, however, the doctor has insisted that there is a syndicate involved, something he jovially refers to as the Pas de Ca√Øque Syndicate. With a wink, Franklyn explains that the French words are really meaningless and that he is actually only gallicizing "patty cake." It is really, he says, the Patty Cake Syndicate that owns Vaguely Noble. But then he becomes rather circumspect about the actual membership of the group, mentioning the possibility of Frenchmen and Canadians and Texans and California horsemen and even dogs or horses being in it.
The facts now seem to be that originally the Patty Cake Syndicate included the doctor, Al Yank and good old J. Brandle Berry-Bush Esq., who may be the only dog to own a horse. But the makeup of the partnership has changed since then. During the Newmarket bidding the major competition for Vaguely Noble came from Nelson Bunker Hunt of Dallas, son of H. L. Hunt and a fellow who is superrich even by Texas standards. Bunker Hunt went along with Yank's bids, guinea for guinea, until he finally dropped out at 135,000 guineas ($340,200). Anyway, after thinking it over later, Hunt decided that he really had misjudged Vaguely Noble and that the horse was worth every penny of the price, probably even more.
In January, Hunt became a member of the Patty Cake Syndicate by buying one-half interest in Vaguely Noble. But the horse will race under the Gemini Farms colors.
For now, at least, the plan is for Vaguely Noble to run mostly in Europe and to train in Ireland with Paddy Prendergast. The doctor plans to enter the horse in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, which is run in Paris in October. Although Franklyn says he seldom bets at the track, he claims to have a "good-sized bet" on Vaguely Noble in that race. Franklyn says the horse will be entered in several major American events—including the Kentucky Derby, the Belmont and the Preakness—and, if invited, will probably run in the Laurel International.
There is more than a little doubt about whether Vaguely Noble will actually appear in all of those U.S. events, since most of them conflict with top European stakes races. Nevertheless, if the horse does turn up at the Kentucky Derby—for which he was officially entered last month—people will be fascinated to see his owners formally listed as Bunker Hunt and one "Lady Wilma Franklyn." She is, of course, the doctor's wife, and legal ownership of the horse is really in her name. The title, of rather vague nobility, was awarded to her by Albert Yank in filing the Derby nomination papers because, as he puts it, "The doctor's wife is ten times more of a lady than the English ladies I met in London."
"I call Vaguely Noble a veritable flying machine," says Franklyn. "This horse is going to be the Damascus of Europe." Nor has the doctor stopped acquiring horses. He has around 30 now and, he says, "I will stop buying when they stop breeding great horses." Indeed, his ambitions for Gemini Farms seem to have no ceiling at all. The doctor and another syndicate (not Patty Cake) were prepared to offer Mrs. Thomas Bancroft a flat $2 million—"in cash, C-A-S-H," says the doctor—for Damascus. "The idea fell through," says Franklyn. "The price is more like $6 million."
As for the rest of his stable, Franklyn has typically ambitious plans. He intends to breed his fillies "anywhere there are great stallions," and he talks about the possibility of putting Vaguely Noble to stud in California when his racing days are over, although that is by no means definite yet. "We'd like to make California the breeding state in the world," he says. He is involved with a number of horsemen who have founded what Franklyn calls a "mutual fund with horses instead of stocks," to share their wealth largely for breeding purposes. So far, however, most of the "great stallions" he talks about are either in Kentucky or Europe. And, as Franklyn admits, "We're actually filly-oriented. We think the girls are the key to good breeding, and we look for real female females, real feminine girls for our stock. We want beauty in our girls. Those big, strong fillies can't even throw a good midget half the time."
The doctor's ranch—and his personalized round buildings—will be used for raising his young stock. The young horses will be as free as wild animals, allowed to eat what they want and run when they want and where they want over the 300-acre spread. Once his horses go into training they will be turned over to either one of two Californians—Reggie Cornell, who the doctor says will get the Fleet Nasrullah horses, or Linwood J. Brooks.
At the moment the doctor has nine horses in training at Los Angeles tracks. There is some extremely fine blood running through his stock. He has three by Fleet Nasrullah, a half sister to Fleet Host and fillies by TV Lark, Chateaugay, Crimson Satan and Ribot.
When it comes to picking names for his horses, Franklyn has an inventive technique of which he seems inordinately proud. He uses the Pas de Ca√Øque ploy, Frenchifying a common English term. For example, he recently filed a list of a dozen names with the Jockey Club, including such choices as The End, One and Two, and Jack and Jill. Those names were rejected because someone had used them in the past. So Franklyn popped back to the Jockey Club with a list in Los Angeles French: Tiens De (for The End), Oh Anne Doux (for One and Two), and Chacun Gille (Jack and Jill). All were okayed.
"There is, you know, a great advantage to having a guy like me in this business," says Franklyn. "Some of the others have been around so long that they see things through smoky glasses. My view is clear. We may fall on our nose, but then again we may make a real mark on racing."
Obviously horse racing won't play Galatea to Franklyn's Pygmalion quite as readily as will the average aging beauty queen. And if Robert Franklyn is even slightly successful in his enthusiastic attempt at raising Thoroughbreds, the oldtimers around the tracks and stables and breeding farms of the world will find it awfully hard to believe that it happened. After all, what is a beauty-parlor surgeon doing messing around with horses, anyway? Well, if you are in Los Angeles you may as well do as the Angelenos do—make the unusual commonplace. Or, as Dr. Franklyn says, "I like to make things happen. If they've never been done before, so what? The world is what you believe it is. You can make it pretty much what you decide to make it." There, when you think about it, is the ideal—maybe the only—credo for a beauty surgeon, as well as for a man who believes he can breed the best horses that ever lived.