Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Whatever happened to Gary Frank (Willie on Family)?

Do you remember Gary Frank, the actor who played Kristy McNichol's big brother on Family, the one with the curly blond hair?  Despite numerous guest appearances and TV movies since Family, Gary seems to have faded into obscurity.  Now 74 years old, he has been out of the spotlight and under the radar for years.

Gary Bruce Frank was born on October 9, 1950 in Spokane, Washington, U.S.A.  HIs father was in real estate and the family moved quite often, relocating from Washington to Oregon to California.  Gary studied drama at high school and college.  In 1969, he continued his studies at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute, becoming a member of the famed Actor's Studio.

In 1973, Gary Frank landed the role of Mark Simpson, a bedridden patient, on the daytime drama General Hospital.  Gary was to be paid $300 dollars a show for eight or nine shows.  He began work on a Monday and wasn't scheduled to work again until the following Monday.  To celebrate, he went for a drive along Mulholland Drive in the Hollywood Hills.  Unfortunately, his car sit a soft shoulder and plunged down a cliff..  Gary fractured a bone in his lower back and also broke his nose.  He spent a week in the hospital, but his injuries did not prevent him from showing up for work the next Monday, albeit wearing a brace.

Gary's career on film was launched in 1974, when director Richard Donner cast in the television movie Senior Year.  Senior Year later became the CBS TV drama series Sons and Daughters, co-starring with Glynnis O'Connor The two played high school sweethearts in the California in the mid-1950s.  Gary portrayed Jeff Reid and Glynnis played Anita Cramer.  CBS aired just nine episodes of the series, which never caught on with viewers.  It didn't help that Sons and Daughters shared the same Wednesday night time slot as NBC's popular Little House on the Prairie.

Glynnis O'Connor and Gary Frank

Gary was a contract player with Universal Studios until the cancellation of Sons and Daughters.  However, two days later, he was cast by director Mark Rydell and producer Mike Nichols to play Willie Lawrence on the critically acclaimed drama Family.  Family aired on the ABC network from 1976 until 1980.  The series chronicled the ups and downs of the Lawrence family of Pasadena, California.  
In 1977, Gary won an Emmy Award for  Best Supporting Actor for his role as Willie, the only son in the Lawrence household.  Kristy McNichol also won an Emmy that year for her portrayal of Willie's sister, Letitia "Buddy" Lawrence.

Gary and Kristy with Emmys in 1977

Of his time on Family, Gary told TV Guide, "The first full season was wonderful.  My enthusiasm never faltered.  The second season was interesting because I had a lot to do.  The next year I did less and my interest waned."  For Family's fifth and final season, ABC chose to make it the fall guy for Monday Night Football, rather than finding a a new time slot for the still-popular show.  It was not seen on the air until Monday Night Football had finished..

Below is a photo of Gary as Willie Lawrence in a scene from Family with his TV parents, James Broderick and Sada Thompson (Doug and Kate Lawrence).  As you can see, Willie enjoyed munching on apples.

Prior to his role on Family, Gary guest-starred on Ironside (1975), Medical Center (1975) and The Streets of San Francisco (1976).  He later co-starred with Glenn Ford and Julie Harris in the 1979 TV Christmas movie The Gift.

After Family ended its successful five-year run, Gary made guest appearances on many major TV series in the 1980 and 1990s. He appeared in episodes of  Charlie's Angels (1980), T.J. Hooker (1982), Matt Houston (1982), Fantasy Island (1982), Hart to Hart (1983), Trapper John, M.D. (1983),  Hill Street Blues (1983), Hotel (1984), Murder, She Wrote (1986), Remington Steele (3 episodes, 1983, 1985 1986), Scarecrow and Mrs. King (1986), Hunter (two-part 1988 episode), and Matlock (2 episodes, 1986, 1989).

In the 1990s, Gary appeared in episodes of Dragnet (1991), Picket Fences (1993), L.A. Law (1994), Under Suspicion (1995) Pacific Blue (1997), and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1997).

Gary played portrayed Major Thomas Ferebee in the 1980 made-for television movie Enola Gay: The Men, the Mission, the Atomic Bomb.  Ferebee was the bombardier aboard the B-29 Superfortress, Enola Gay, which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945. Gary's other made-for-TV movie credits include Getting Up and Going Home (1992), Deliver Them from Evil: The Taking of Alta View (1992), Nurses on the Line The Crash of Flight 7 (1993), Untamed Love (1994), Death in Small Doses (1995), and most recently Like Father, Like Santa (1998).

Gary quit acting in the late 1990s.  There doesn't seem to be any online information about his recent activities.  

On August 21, 1976. Gary married producer Caroll Newman.  Caroll is the daughter of Academy Award winner Lionel Newman (1916-1989), a prominent composer, pianist and conductor.  Lionel retired as senior vice president of the music department at 20th Century Fox studios, where he had worked for 45 years.    

Caroll Newman
Lionel Newman

Caroll was the associate producer of 45 episodes of Family, from 1976 to 1979.  Caroll and Gary have a daughter, Jessica Newman Frank.  Jessica, an actress, writer and producer, was born in Los Angeles, California on August 2,1985.  In  May of 2007, she graduated from  the University of Southern California (UCLA). with a Bachelor of Arts in Production in the School of Cinematic Arts.  In 2008, she became Executive Director, Digital Marketing at Lions Gate Films.


Ethnically, Gary Frank is he son of a German Jewish father and an Irish Mormon mother.

* Gary portrayed  Lieutenant Dalton in the 1989 sci-fi action action flick Deadly Weapon, starring Rodney Eastman.

* Gary is the uncle by marriage of film and TV composer Joey Newman.  Joey is the grandson of Lionel Newman.

* Gary was the host of champion figure skater Dorothy Hamill TV special, entitled Dorothy Hamill's Corner of the Sky.  In the one-hour special, which aired in 1979, Dorothy returns to Lake Placid in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York, where she trained for the Olympics.

NOTE TO GARY FRANK:  I completely understand if you wish to remain private.  However, I would be delighted if you would email me a brief update on your life and recent activities for your fans.  It would be very much appreciated.

SOURCES:  TV Guide, "I hardly ever hit anyone anymore: Family' s Gary Frank now saves his best shots for his acting," by Arnold Hano, March 15, 1980; Wikipedia; Internet Movie Database (

- Joanne

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