By Steve Oney
Playboy, July 1995

A couple of hours before the sight of his naked, middle-aged fanny began filling television screens across America, Dennis Franz sat in his trailer on the Twentieth Century Fox lot in Los Angeles replaying a cassette of the soon-to-air footage. The actor had filmed the scene without makeup after convincing himself that a tiny scar from a spider bite was dramatically plausible. (His character, Detective Andy Sipowicz, had been shot in the wallet in NYPD Blue’s pilot episode.) But now that the moon, so to speak, would soon be rising, Franz was less sure, and he kept scrutinizing the image of his nether region, searching for that pinprick of red until the absurdity of it all dawned on him and he asked: “What kind of guy am I? I’ve got a beautiful woman in the shower with me, and I’m rewinding the tape to look at my ass?”

The woman was Sharon Lawrence, who in the role of Sylvia Costas shares this moment with Sipowicz, baring not just her own derriere but an area of her lover’s psyche that has long been off-limits. At first, Sipowicz tries to push Costas away, protesting: “I usually shower alone.” Then, when she not only persists but also begins sudsing what can only be his most private parts, he flat-out balks: “Whoa, whoa. I usually wash myself down there.” Finally, however, he submits, allowing tentatively: “Boy, that’ll sure be clean.”

As Sipowicz’ lines suggest, his character’s nudity is almost secondary to something else, a story that has been unfolding on NYPD Blue since it premiered in September 1993, the story of an angry cop recovering elements of his humanity. “Sipowicz hadn’t been devoid of sex in the past,” noted Franz, “but those were financial transactions. When he wanted it, he paid for it. Last year, he admitted he hadn’t had sex sober in 20 years. Now, he’s having to learn how to play, to be naughty—like an adolescent. That’s part of the charm of his character. It’s rare to see a man his age, with his outward gruffness, act in that sort of manner.”

Yet for all that, it was Franz’s behind that would tonight be exposed before a nationwide television audience. He was understandably thinking less about Andy Sipowicz’s demons than about the fact that he was joining an exclusive club, the handful of TV actors—most of them courtesy of NYPD Blue—who’ve revealed on camera as much of their anatomy as network strictures allow. Call it full dorsal nudity. On the one hand, he was flattered that someone might want to see his less-than-svelte self in the altogether. “Back when we were conceiving the show,” he remarked, “I was asked if I had any qualms, and I said, ‘If they want to see it, they’re welcome.’” By the same token, however, he was aware that he was opening himself to ridicule, confiding: “I know that my friends, my family, my loved ones—people I don’t ordinarily show my rear end to—are going to see it. I imagine tomorrow I’m going to be the rear end of a lot of jokes.”

With that, Franz emerged from his trailer, which is moored next to the soundstage that houses NYPD Blue’s sets, and stepped across the lot to the space where his Jaguar was parked. All he could do now was await the outcome at home.

Predictably, the calls started coming the next morning, yet the day was nearly over before the rump roast commenced in earnest. As it happened, it was Thanksgiving eve, and Franz and his longtime inamorata, Joanie Zeck, were up baking, the TV tuned to The Tonight Show, when Jay Leno plunged into his opening monologue.

“So, Dennis Franz bared his butt on NYPD Blue,” Leno began.

Pause. Then: “Did they think we needed to see that before Thanksgiving? I guess a lot of people won’t be eating white meat.”

Laughter. Encore: “Franz intended this as a public service ad: this is your butt. This is your butt on Twinkies.”

Like Leno’s studio audience, Franz and Zeck found this to be genuinely amusing. For an actor, Franz is surprisingly devoid of vanity, and he appreciated the broad comedic target his posterior offered. Which was lucky. The episode scored one of the best ratings in NYPD Blue history, making it the week’s fifth-highest-rated show and meaning that 16.7 million households, more than a fourth of the viewing audience, had seen Franz’s buns of molten steel au naturel.


That it would be the unveiling of Dennis Franz’s bottom—and not that of his decidedly more buff former sidekick, David Caruso, or present partner, Jimmy Smits—that sent NYPD Blue’s Nielsens through the roof seems, at first blush, astonishing. As Franz will willingly confess, he’s not exactly matinee idol material.

Fifty years old, weighing 210 pounds, and standing just over 5’11”, Franz is the very picture of a Rust Belt man. Though he doesn’t carry much fat, his physique can best be described as lumpy, and he admits that when it comes to dieting, the most he ever does is “occasionally pass up a doughnut.” (Indeed, in contrast to the preparation of other actors, Franz didn’t try to get in shape before his NYPD Blue nude scene.) Then there’s the mug—balding, of course, and jowly, with a beak of a nose, mustache and cartoon eyebrows. To learn that Franz was born Dennis Schlachta in an ethnically balkanized Chicago suburb (his stage name, which rhymes with prawns, was his father’s first name) comes as no surprise.

“In Sipowicz, we’ve created a very edgy character, in many ways a bigot, loaded with biases. But endlessly leaking through the cracks of that facade is Dennis’ goodness.”

But whether he looks the part or not, Dennis Franz is a star, a sex symbol even, who receives indecent proposals in his fan mail, is accorded “heartthrob” status by the National Enquirer and pops up on the cover of People magazine’s Valentine’s Day issue. And not only that, there has been exceptional critical acclaim. For his work on NYPD Blue, Franz took home both the 1994 Emmy and the 1995 Golden Globe for best actor in a dramatic television series.

The reasons for Franz’s success are many. For starters, he’s a legitimately skilled performer. Steven Bochco, who, along with David Milch, created and produces NYPD Blue, has been using Franz ever since he cast him as the fiendish Sal Benedetto in Hill Street Blues 13 years ago. Bochco speaks of Franz’ “big, big engine” and his “meticulous” work habits. Then there’s the fact that NYPD Blue was basically written for Franz. “When David and I conceived the show,” recalls Bochco, “the first thing I did was hire Dennis. We didn’t even have a script.” Yet finally, there’s something else, something specific to Franz as a man.

Spend time around those who know Franz and they will invariably volunteer that he’s that rarest of items, a virtuous soul. Bochco, who’s not the sort to sing false praises, vows: “He has a genuinely good heart. He’s fiercely ethical. That’s what I respond to. My dad was that way.” David Milch echoes this sentiment: “Dennis is a gentleman—civil and sweet-spirited.” Actor Joe Mantegna, whose friendship with Franz dates back to when they started out together in Chicago theater in the early Seventies, goes even further: “If I had to choose three human beings to watch my backside if such an occasion arose, Dennis would be one of them. It’s that Midwestern mentality—no pretense, no hidden agendas. You always know where you stand with Dennis. If he’s your friend, he’s your friend.”

Considering that acting is a profession dependent on artifice, the link between Franz’ decency and his power on-screen may seem unclear—but not to Bochco. “To use Milch’s word,” he says, “there’s an interesting ‘doubleness’ about Dennis. You’re always attracted to his blue-collar toughness. But inevitably, as his characters progress, his goodness begins to emerge through that blue-collar toughness.”

It’s this inner aura, Bochco believes, that draws viewers to the outwardly repugnant Andy Sipowicz. “In Sipowicz, we’ve created a very edgy character, in many ways a bigot, loaded with biases. But endlessly leaking through the cracks of that facade is Dennis’ goodness. The trap for us as writers, in fact, is not to give in to it. It’s important to take Sipowicz back to that darker side.”

The dark side, of course, is from whence Sipowicz sprang in all his glory in NYPD Blue’s pilot. Alcoholic, misogynistic and armed, Sipowicz announced himself to the world—and to Costas, the assistant D.A. who later becomes his lover—by grabbing his crotch and snarling: “Ipso this, you little bitch.”

And it is the dark side that has informed countless subsequent Sipowicz outbursts. Not since Archie Bunker has anyone voiced as many insulting or off-color sentiments in prime time. But whereas Bunker delivered them in the form of armchair rants, Sipowicz serves them in your face.

Like Bochco says, there’s not a lot on the surface to love. And yet the audience loves Sipowicz, and that it does is a testimony to Franz.

During the course of NYPD Blue’s two seasons, Sipowicz has unleashed a number of memorable verbal sallies. Some are shots across the bow of polite sensibility. For instance, his crack to an aging, gay screenwriter who wanted him to estimate the value of an Academy Award statue stolen by some rough trade: “Mr. Rickman, I’d love to sit here with you figuring out what someone would pay to whip his skippy while he looks at your Oscar, but we’re working a multiple homicide right now.” Likewise, his crack to a wife-killing chiropractor who asked about Sipowicz’ bad back: “Maybe I can get over it thinking of you in Ossining getting acupuncture up your dirt chute.” Others, however, are blows at political correctness, particularly a tirade he unleashed at an obdurate black man named Futrel who believed he was being interrogated in a murder investigation solely because of his skin color:

SIPOWICZ: “Hey, pal, I’m trying to find some assholes before they murder another innocent family. It so happens that these particular assholes are black. Now, how do you want me to go about this? You want me to put the questions, ‘I’m sorry for the injustices the white man has inflicted upon your race, but can you provide any information? I’m sorry your people have been downtrodden for 300 years, but did you discuss the layout of the Sloan house with any of your friends?’”

 

FUTREL: “Yeah. Do it that way.”

 

SIPOWICZ: “OK. I know that great African American George Washington Carver discovered the peanut, but can you provide the names and addresses of these friends?”


Like Bochco says, there’s not a lot on the surface to love. And yet the audience loves Sipowicz, and that it does is a testimony to Franz. Admittedly, NYPD Blue’s writers have endowed Sipowicz with enough saving grace to give the actor a starting place. How could a hardened cop who collects tropical fish not tug at heartstrings? And the romance between Sipowicz and Costas has softened a few edges. But finally, it’s Franz who furnishes the transformative magic. “The dimension and subtlety and depth Dennis brings to that character are something to see,” says David Milch, who scripts the bulk of Sipowicz’ dialogue.

To illustrate his point, Milch described a moment he witnessed when NYPD Blue was filming in New York. In the episode, Sipowicz probes the sexual violation and murder of an immigrant boy as he comes to grips with the distance between himself and his estranged son. During the course of his investigation, he visits the dead boy’s parents, who in their grief embrace the belief that their son’s soul has taken residence in a bird perched on their windowsill. They want to know what Sipowicz thinks. It was a difficult scene for Franz—because of the conflicting perspectives Sipowicz brought to it as father and cop, because central to Sipowicz’s persona is a disdain for self-delusion, and because Milch was still rewriting, handing Franz his lines on the back of an envelope.

“Dennis was able to convey Sipowicz’ impatience with the parents’ mendacity,” Milch recalls, “yet express his empathy by looking at the bird and telling them he thinks he can see a light coming out of it. It was amazing. There were a lot of ways to do the scene badly, but Dennis found a way to do it well.”

In short, the light radiated from Franz. What made the light so strong was not just its beneficence but its authority, too, an authority forged during a traumatic time the actor rarely discusses.


On a rainy morning several days after he received his Golden Globe, and several weeks after the nation got its look at his backside, Franz was padding around his spacious home in Bel Air. The house where television’s fiercest lawman lives, it turns out, looks more like an antique shop than a precinct station. Over the years, at swap meets and estate sales, Franz and Joanie have amassed a sizable trove. Much of it goes under the heading of Country Cute—old railroad signs, cow tchotchkes, bottle racks, American flag pillows, vintage radios, an enameled turn-of-the-century stove. All of it means something to its owners, most particularly an upright piano they bought for $35 at an auction in Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, loaded into a U-Haul trailer and drove home through a blizzard only to discover it would cost $1,600 to refurbish. Suffice it to say, six years later the piano sits on the porch, untouched.

In the midst of his tour, the doorbell rang and Franz answered. Congratulations for the Golden Globe were still pouring in—this one in the form of a bottle of Cristal champagne from Ted Harbert, president of ABC. Considering everything NYPD Blue has done for the network, the champagne seemed a rather paltry gesture.

After scanning Harbert’s note, Franz puffed out his chest, cocked an eye and let loose a barrage worthy of Sipowicz: “This is all I’m worth to you, Ted? This is it? Where are the car keys?

“This is nice, but what happened to the days when they gave you a car? I could use a new four-wheel-drive vehicle.”

Unlike so many actors, Franz does not revel in self-revelation. Though not exactly guarded, he is neither insecure enough to seek validation through confession nor egotistical enough to presume others are really that interested.

For an instant, Franz seemed genuinely perturbed. But then he smiled, for he knew that ABC would begin expressing its gratitude two mornings later. A limousine would whisk him to the waiting Learjet in which he, Bochco, Jimmy Smits and Bill Clark—the former New York cop who works as NYPD Blue’s technical advisor—would fly to Miami for a Super Bowl weekend that would include dinner with Diane Sawyer and other network notables, a round of golf with Harbert, nonstop soirees and, almost as an afterthought, a football game. The Cristal was merely a prelude.

After pouring coffee, Franz walked into the den where his dogs, Bigelow and Gallagher—mammoth husky mixes, one of whom had recently lost a leg to cancer—were lolling around. Outside, visible through a sliding door, rain danced across the dark surface of a swimming pool.

Unlike so many actors, Franz does not revel in self-revelation. Though not exactly guarded, he is neither insecure enough to seek validation through confession nor egotistical enough to presume others are really that interested. Yes, he has tales to tell, but he doesn’t force them on you, especially if they involve Vietnam.

In much the same way that Franz’s friends are in accord that he is a prince among men, they’re also in accord that, to a one, they didn’t learn about his service in Vietnam until years after they met him. With Milch, who’s worked with the actor on NYPD Blue, Hill Street Blues and the short-lived Beverly Hills Buntz, it took a decade. Even then, he says, Franz was cryptic about it all. With Joe Mantegna it took three years, and the conversation was likewise brief. It ended when Mantegna, who’d opposed the war, realized he had no frame of reference from which to respond. “What could I say?” he asks. “Bummer?”

When apprised of his friends’ unanimity on the subject, Franz seemed somewhat taken aback. But then he admitted: “It’s not something I preface a relationship with. I don’t say, ‘Hi, I’m Dennis Franz and I went to Vietnam.’ But if I’m asked, I don’t hold back. It was a terrifying, life-altering experience, yet I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”

It was 1968, and Franz had recently graduated from Southern Illinois University with a degree in drama and speech. His student deferment up, the draft board calling, he enlisted. After basic training at Fort Dix he entered officer candidate school. Franz takes pains not to paint himself as a would-be hero but as a confused and terrified young man whose actions were predicated on a desire to avoid combat. “It was strictly out of fear,” he said. “I did not want to get shot. The plan was to get into special services and somehow entertain the troops.”

Franz’s illusions, however, were soon dashed. There was no hope of hoofing his way through the war—the Army wanted its second lieutenants at the front. And Franz realized he wasn’t cut out to be a leader of men. So three weeks into officer candidate school, he requested reassignment to infantry duty. The next day, he was ordered to Vietnam—orders, he confides, he almost disobeyed. “I was due to ship out of Oakland, but I had a friend living in San Francisco, and there couldn’t have been a worse choice in 1969 than between Haight-Ashbury and Saigon. I was three days late reporting. I toyed with the idea of going AWOL. But it’s not in my makeup. I couldn’t disgrace my family. I couldn’t live a life always looking over my shoulder.”

In country, Franz was assigned to a recon unit of the 82nd Airborne and was soon immersed in the fighting. “Our primary function was to set up ambushes along enemy trails,” he recalled evenly. “At night, we went out in 15-man teams and stood in rice paddies with the water up to our waists. We received fire and dispersed fire, sometimes into darkness, sometimes at targets.”

After five months in the Mekong delta, the 82nd pulled out. Franz was detached to a unit of the 101st Airborne, which was patrolling wooded terrain. There, he saw his worst action.

“I had a couple experiences I remember pretty vividly,” he said, pulling Bigelow between his knees.

“One time, we were walking down a road. That was wrong. We usually went down the sides. But we’d been climbing up through trees, and it was a luxury to walk down a road. I was next to the last man in line. We’d all passed this point. I was carrying my rifle at the ready, and the guy behind me yelled, ‘Denny, why you carrying your rifle like that? Sling it over your shoulder and enjoy the walk.’ Fifteen seconds later, there was a huge explosion, and I saw the guy who had just spoken to me ten feet in the air, his leg going in the other direction. He’d stepped on a land mine. He lost a leg, an arm and his eyesight. The most frightening thing about it was that we’d all just walked over the same point. We had all walked over the mine. He was just behind me.

“There was another occasion,” Franz went on, “where we were in a village conducting a cordon search for VC. It was daytime, and we were going from hut to hut looking for any info indicating they were there—guns, bullets, military clothing. We were quite unsuccessful, but they were there. That night, our position came under attack. I was in the dirt, trying to crawl right into the dirt, holding my rifle over my head and firing. Next to me I heard people getting hit, screaming. Bullets were going right over my head. I was shaking involuntarily, but I kept firing, not necessarily to kill anyone but because that was the only way to make it stop. I had to make it stop. The next day, we returned to the village, and it was like the day before. No sign of them. That was the frustration of the war.”

Upon the completion of his tour of duty, Franz was honorably discharged. Back in Chicago, he experienced some of the difficulties that afflicted other Vietnam vets. “Having subjected yourself to all that to save others—or so we naively thought—and come back and try to adjust to the hostility directed at us was hard,” he said. “I had to try and understand that behavior and in some cases forgive it. I spent a year not doing much.”

But Franz’ re-entry problems notwithstanding, he returned from Vietnam unscathed. While he may not have relished the war, he relished having served. “I did it. Stood up to it. Came back,” he said. “I left my youth behind. I was no longer a boy. I had earned a certain sense of manhood.”

With that, Franz rose from the sofa and walked into the kitchen for another cup of coffee, a man who will talk about Vietnam after all but doesn’t need to. Which, not to profane the sacred, breeds the kind of confidence that most actors would kill for.


Whatever confusion Franz felt those first few months back from Vietnam, he was on his feet by 1972, making a concerted effort at launching his acting career. Initially, he worked the Chicago dinner-theater circuit, appearing in such period pieces as Luv. Then, in his life’s pivotal creative turn, he landed a part in the Organic Theater’s production of Ray Bradbury’s The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit.

Headquartered in Chicago’s tough Uptown section, the Organic was at the time the city’s premiere art-theater company, a precursor to Steppenwolf. Here, director Stuart Gordon—who would later become known for writing Honey, I Shrunk the Kids—assembled a cadre of talented actors and staged numerous original works. The most notable production was Bleacher Bums, the story of a group of long-suffering Chicago Cubs fans that went on to a profitable second life as a touring show (it ran for 11 years in Los Angeles) and was made into a PBS movie.

The Organic attracted the usual pot-smoking, war-protesting artistes. Except Franz. “He was very solid, Mr. Status Quo,” recalls Joe Mantegna, who was one of the ensemble’s mainstays. To begin with, Franz owned a car—not any car but a new Chevy, on which he made monthly payments. If that wasn’t far out enough, he had a day job as a security guard at the Pick-Congress, a downtown convention hotel. In other words, the latest recruit to this band of counterculture gypsies was a house dick.

“There comes a time when metabolism, numerical age and enthusiasm all mesh,” he reflects. “For me, it didn’t happen when I was 20. It’s happening now.”

Yet, no matter how out of place Franz might have seemed initially at the Organic, he soon established himself as one of its stars, winning numerous excellent notices, particularly for his work in Bleacher Bums (for which he also received a writing credit). Moreover, he began developing the acting style that would sustain him, a style that plainly lent itself to portraying policemen.

“There was just something about him,” remembers Mantegna. “One of the plays we did together was called Cops. As research, we would drive around the neighborhood in an old Buick to get a sense of what it was like to be on patrol. We’d pull up to a group of hookers on the corner, and all Dennis had to do was roll down the window and stare at them, and they’d squeal, ‘We ain’t doing nothing.’ Dennis would say, ‘Just watch yourselves.’ And it sounded authentic.”

After five years at the Organic, Franz was ready to take a shot at Hollywood. So, too, was Mantegna, and they drove west together. Mantegna and his wife towed Franz’s car behind their own, while Franz drove the U-Haul truck that carried the two households’ belongings.

On the coast, Franz found that his gritty stage presence was a double-edged sword—it got him work, but it also got him typecast. The cop in Brian De Palma’s The Fury (1978)—that was Franz. The detective in De Palma’s Dressed to Kill (1980)—that, too, was Franz. The airport security chief in Die Hard 2 (1990)—Franz again. In all, Franz has played 28 different lawmen. Still, as confining as the roles may often have been, it was while playing a cop that he entered Steven Bochco’s orbit.

Though Sal Benedetto skulked through only a few episodes of Hill Street Blues, he was one of the most idiosyncratic characters ever to be written into a show famous for idiosyncratic characters. Bad to the bone, a disgrace to his shield, he came to a grimly memorable end. Caught in the process of trying to rob a bank, he went mano a mano with a bomb-squad robot. Then, as Officer J.D. LaRue (Kiel Martin) urged him on, he committed suicide.

Bochco and company immediately regretted dispatching Benedetto—not so much because they missed him as a character but because they missed working with Franz. And from that day forth, they cast the actor whenever they could. In the short-lived baseball drama Bay City Blues, Franz appeared as pitching coach Angelo Carbone. Then, when MTM productions fired Bochco at the end of Hill Street’s fifth year, his replacements—Milch and Jeffrey Lewis—brought back Franz as Norman Buntz, an oleaginous, polyester-clad detective whom Milch characterizes as “Benedetto benignly mutated 20 percent.” Buntz, who was accompanied almost everywhere by a trusty snitch named Sid (Peter Jurasik), proved to be such a hit that when Hill Street finally came to an end in 1987, Milch and Lewis gave Franz his own series, Beverly Hills Buntz. The spin-off, though, did not win a wide audience and was canceled after 13 episodes. Yet Franz emerged untarnished, and when Bochco and Milch reunited to do NYPD Blue, he was, of course, at the top of their list.

Franz obviously relishes the success of NYPD Blue and relishes playing Andy Sipowicz. “I’m riding this thing until the end,” he maintains. “I think so much of the writers, the producers and the show. There’s so much still to explore with Sipowicz.” Yet he adds that if he never portrays another cop, it won’t be too soon. And he may not have to. With the recognition and the ratings come, of course, opportunities. In February, Franz played attorney Richard “Race-horse” Haynes in the miniseries Texas Justice. In May, he hosted Saturday Night Live. Meanwhile, he’s been cast as one of the three leads in Tristar’s forthcoming feature production of David Mamet’s American Buffalo.

Quite simply, it’s been a sweet year for Franz. “There comes a time when metabolism, numerical age and enthusiasm all mesh,” he reflects. “For me, it didn’t happen when I was 20. It’s happening now.” And the best part of it had nothing to do with Hollywood.


To characterize Franz’ romantic life as unsettled wouldn’t be exactly right. He and Joanie Zeck have been together for 13 years. To say that he’s had a problem with commitment would also be in error, as he has not only lived under the same roof with her for most of that period, but also has acted as a father to her two daughters. And yet Franz had never given any sign of being the marrying kind. Indeed, throughout the relationship’s first decade, he kept his own apartment in Los Angeles’ Fairfax district. True, he never spent a night in the place, using it chiefly as a retreat where he could read scripts and listen to music. Yet he held on to it defiantly, much as a man might hold on to an unrealized fantasy. It was a last bastion of independence.

Late in 1993, however, Franz gave up his bachelor pad, prompting friends to nod knowingly. No one, however, was prepared for what he would do at his 50th birthday party a few months later. Least of all Franz.

Joanie, a tough, redheaded fireball who’s in the corporate promotions business, had rented a room for 200 at a San Fernando Valley restaurant, transforming it into an homage to Franz. The walls were covered with blown-up photographs from his childhood. The tables were topped by chocolate centerpieces shaped to resemble TVs, the screens filled by a likeness of the birthday boy. And as a final touch, a Hirschfeld caricature of Franz had been etched into the champagne glasses at the head table.

All of Franz’s family and friends were in attendance, as were most of the gangs from Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue: Steven Bochco and David Milch, Jimmy Smits, Sharon Lawrence, Nick Turturro, Peter Jurasik, Charlie Haid, Bruce Weitz, Joe Spano.

Not surprisingly, there was much drinking, much dancing and, at the end, much toasting—most eloquently from Joe Mantegna.

“Schlachta is 50,” Mantegna exclaimed as an opener.

Then, more solemnly, he saluted Franz as a friend, actor and “the man who 30 years ago, when we were smoking pot and saying what a horrible country this is, was running around in rice paddies on the other side of the world so that today, we could all sit here together in this beautiful room.

“Dennis, if you were my brother, I couldn’t love you more.”

With emotions running high, a sharply attired but nervous Franz took the stage.

“Joanie, come up here,” he began, and she did.

Then, with Joanie by his side, he said: “This is gonna knock me out. I’m totally unprepared for this. I don’t have anything in my pocket, but—in front of all of you—will you marry me?”

There was, of course, bedlam. Not until the pandemonium died down was Franz again able to be heard: “She said yes.” Six months later the two exchanged vows.

And so in the same year, Dennis Franz—a man not given to exhibitionism, a man for whom restraint is still a virtue—had twice bared all. To the television audience, he’d shown that part of himself upon which the sun does not shine. To his wife-to-be, he’d exposed his heart. In each instance, the response had been profoundly affirming. At 50, Franz had chosen the exact right moment to reveal both the man within and the man without.


This story is collected in A Man’s World.

Print Article