He was born Stanislas Pascal Franchot Tone in Niagara Falls, New York, eldest son of Dr. Frank Jerome Tone, the president of the Carborundum Company, and his wife, Gertrude Franchot.
President of the Dramatic Club at Cornell University, he went to Hollywood in 1932, achieving fame in 1933, when he made seven movies in a single year. In 1935 he starred in Mutiny on the Bounty (for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor), The Lives of a Bengal Lancer and Dangerous opposite Bette Davis.
He was married October 11, 1935 in New Jersey to actress Joan Crawford; they were divorced in 1939. He married and divorced three more times: to fashion model turned actress Jean Wallace (1941-48, two sons; she next married Cornel Wilde), actress Barbara Peyton (1951-52), and actress Dolores Dorn (1956-59).
He worked steadily through the 1940s without breaking through as a major star. In the 1950s he moved to television and returned to Broadway, where he had begun his career. He co-starred in the Ben Casey series from 1965 to 1966.
He died in New York City. His ashes were scattered.
Franchot Tone has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6558 Hollywood Blvd.