Rivaling Sellers with one of The Party's stand-out performances: Steve Franken as the increasingly inebriated butler, slathering on a layer of slapstick to the proceedings with his incontinent antics. Franken's interaction with his vexed supervisor, his drunken stroll through the shallow indoor pool, his struggle to rescue the roast chicken perched precariously atop a bewigged socialite's bouffant hairdo: all comedy gold.
Steve Franken, the son of a Hollywood press agent, was born in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. He graduated from Cornell University in 1953. His first screen role was in 1958 as "Willie" in the episode "The Time of Your Life" on the CBS anthology series, Playhouse 90. Another early role was as "Bully" in the 1961 episode "The Pit" of the ABC western series, The Rebel, starring Nick Adams. He also played the lead guest-starring role in the 1961 episode "The Case of Willie Betterley" in the crime drama, Lock Up. In 1962, he was cast as Dunc Tomilson in "The Yacht-Club Gang" on the CBS crime drama, Checkmate. He appeared as Jerry Allen in two episodes of the NBC education drama, Mr. Novak. In 1964, he appeared the SciFi B movie, The Time Travelers.
Producer Rod Amateau saw him in a Los Angeles stage production of Say, Darling, and cast him as playboy dilettante Chatsworth Osborne, Jr., on the CBS sitcom, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, starring Dwayne Hickman. Franken appeared as a recurring guest in numerous episodes beginning midway through the first season and continuing through the fourth and final season, from 1960 to 1963. He attributed the character's look of pained condescension to an ulcer he himself had suffered since the age of fourteen, when his own mother had died. He appeared in 1963 on Petticoat Junction as the son of the villain, Homer Bedlow, played by Charles Lane.
Feeling typecast, Franken sought out villainous roles, but played another rich wastrel on the short-lived sitcom Tom, Dick and Mary, and went on to a long career as a television and film character actor. Franken appeared in the famous 1963 Perry Mason episode, "The Case of the Deadly Verdict" as Christopher Barton, who turned out to be the actual murderer.
Immediately after Dobie Gillis was cancelled Franken was cast as Lieutenant Samwell "Sanpan" Panosian in the Gary Lockwood series The Lieutenant, the first television series created by Gene Roddenberry. He played other military roles, such as a decorated U.S. flier turned arms-dealer and traitor in "The Gun Runner Raid" episode of The Rat Patrol, and as a P.O.W. lieutenant in the Fred MacMurray film, Follow Me, Boys!. From 1966 to 1971, he appeared in various roles in at least six episodes of ABC's Bewitched.
Franken appeared as the drunken waiter Levinson in the 1968 Blake Edwards film, The Party, alongside Peter Sellers. One Journalist, writing on the fortieth anniversary of the film, said:
From 1970 to 1973, he appeared five times on ABC's Love, American Style. He appeared as Officer Albert Porter in three episodes of NBC's Adam-12 from 1971 to 1972, as well as "Ralph Salisbury" in the 1971 episode "The Ferret."
In 1972, he appeared as Jonas Lasser on the season three episode, "The Courtship of Mary's Father's Daughter", on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
He appeared on Barney Miller in 1975 (episode: "The Arsonist") and again in 1981 (episode: "Resignation"). In 1979, he starred as Tom Voorhies alongside Michael Constantine in Disney's The North Avenue Irregulars. He appeared again opposite Peter Sellers in 1980's The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu.
He acted and directed in various episodes of the religious television anthology series Insight. He appeared in small roles in such contemporary television series as Murphy Brown, The King of Queens and Seinfeld. From 2002 to 2003, he provided voices for Law & Order computer games. He voiced Professor Eugene Atwater in the short-lived 1996 Warner Bros. animated series Road Rovers. He voice-acted as Rundle in the 1993 Batman episode “The Mechanic” and was Mr. Beal in Detention episodes “Little Miss Popular” and “Comedy of Terrors” (both 1999). The following year, he voiced the role of "Mr. Janus" in the episode “Grounded” of Static Shock and also provided voices in Smurfs (1981), The Adventures of Don Coyote and Sancho Panda (1990), and Spawn (1997).
Franken died on August 24, 2012, at a nursing and rehabilitation center in Canoga Park, California, of complications from cancer, aged 80. He was survived by his wife, Jean Franken; and three daughters, two of whom are from his previous marriage to Julia Carter.