Everyone has their gifts, and with those gifts come benefits and challenges. Advent Christian Village member Francine Stratton’s gift was her beauty. In fact, in a New Yorker article written about her, Alison Rose wrote that Francine was “unnervingly beautiful”. While Francine has lived a life full of glamour because of her outer beauty, she has not let that glamour diminish her inner beauty.
Francine’s mother, Frances, was also extremely beautiful — she and her four sisters. A governor of Georgia once referred to Francine and her mother as “the Eighth Wonder of the World.” Despite their poor upbringing in the hills of Tennessee, Frances and her sisters knew their beauty would one day rescue them — and it eventually did for all of them.
Frances married her high school sweetheart and Francine was born in Nashville, but the family soon moved to Atlanta since her father was in the navy. Her parents divorced when Francine was very young. Her mother moved to New York, taking Francine with her. Francine lived at the exclusive Rose Haven School for Girls while her mother attended Parson’s Design School. She eventually became an extremely successful interior designer in Atlanta.
Friend and author, Alison Rose writes, “Francine’s mother kept Francine in strict beauty training all her life” because her mother felt her happiness and success depended upon her beauty. But Francine remained positive, heeding her mother’s instruction and using it to live in a world where people stared at her at all times, and men lined up to spend time with her.
Frances had many strict beauty tips for her daughter, such as “never let a drop of sun fall on your skin, or one drop of water on your face (washing your face washes your skin away)” and “never go out without being fully dressed or without makeup.” Frances also stressed that Francine should always act like a lady. “A man will walk a million miles for a good woman,” she used to tell her daughter.
Francine loved to dance and danced every day. She had been in the Atlanta Ballet Company for five years when her mother sent her to finishing school at La Châtelainie in Gstaad, Switzerland. Unfortunately, ballet was not taught there, so Francine took a train every week to Montreux to continue her training.
One of Charlie Chaplin’s daughters danced with Francine in Montreux. Francine performed a ballet solo, and at a reception afterward, Chaplin came up to her and, although his daughter had also performed, said, “You were the best ballet dancer here today.”
One summer, Frances arranged for Francine to meet Alfred Hitchcock. While he initially thought she was a journalist, he still spent hours talking with Francine. He apologized that he could not help her break into show business. He explained that he had “just spent a million dollars on Tippi Hedren”.
After two and a half years in Switzerland, Francine moved back to the US and attended Marjorie Webster Junior College near Washington, DC, where she majored in speech and drama. Then she studied acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York.
It was while living at the famous Barbizon Hotel for Women in New York City that she met Alison Rose, who became her best friend and in 1997 wrote the story of Francine’s life entitled “Tales of a Beauty” for the New Yorker.
After successfully landing roles in many plays in Atlanta, Francine relocated to Los Angeles with her mother. It was the 60s and LA was full of thrills and excitement. One of her good friends during this time was Elia Kazan, the director, producer, writer and actor described by The New York Times as “one of the most honored and influential directors in Broadway and Hollywood history.” Kazan is responsible for classics such as On the Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire.
Francine met Elvis Presley when she accompanied a girlfriend who had been invited to his home. Elvis insisted Francine dance with him, so she jitterbugged with him to “Blue Suede Shoes”. Francine didn’t like Elvis. “There just wasn’t anything that appealed to me about him whatsoever,” she said. After her visit, he called her a few times, but she never saw him again.
Around that time, Francine met and married her first husband, Paul Brian Burke. He was the son of actor Paul Burke who starred in several television shows and movies such as Valley of the Dolls. The couple had a daughter they named Francesca, but the marriage ended when she was just a few months old.
Francine later married a Texas oil millionaire and gave birth to another daughter, Zoe. Francine’s father was in real estate and purchased for her a building near Austin in which she opened a ballet school, enjoying every moment of it. When her marriage dissolved after eight years, she returned to Atlanta.
After several more moves, Francine settled in Sarasota, Florida. Eventually, she decided she wanted to move to a senior living community. She knew a friend of the editor of Guideposts magazine and asked if she had any suggestions. The editor suggested Advent Christian Village, and Francine moved to Dowling Park in 2014.
Alison Rose writes, “Francine had a lot of fun being a beauty. While she lived in New York, she went to countless formal balls and was always out dancing. She used to come back to the Barbizon to change clothes for the night’s second or third date. She thought all that was fun.
“She may not have learned it at home, but Francine has always had an inner beauty, which made her actual beauty about a million times as forceful and divine as maybe it even was.” So far, Francine has received 14 proposals, many from heirs. At one time, she was courted by Prince Friedrich of Prussia.
What Francine is most proud of, however, is the extraordinary life she’s lived, her ballet and most of all her daughters and granddaughter. Francesca lives in New York and runs a design company and Zoe is a vice president of Zoo Atlanta. Both daughters are very beautiful, but Francine did not raise them to focus on their beauty the way she was raised. Her granddaughter Sylvie, also a beauty, is a ballet dancer like her grandmother.