Sergeant Tibbs, the cat who saved the puppies in Disney’s 101 Dalmatians, is in Redwood Falls this week.
So is Larry Marvick, the 23rd century engineer who helped design the starship Enterprise on Star Trek.
Actually, they and many others are all here in the person of retired British actor David Frankham, who’s making a repeat visit to Redwood this week to visit friends.
“Redwood Falls is a very friendly place. It’s like a backlot set of a perfect little American town you’d see in a movie,” he said earlier this week, having lunch in a coffee shop.
If you’ve seen a lot of movies and TV shows shot in the mid-1950s through 80s, you’ve seen or heard Frankham.
Originally trained as an architect, Frankham was drafted into the British army during the last days of World War II.
To keep from going crazy with boredom while stationed in Singapore, Frankham became the base’s informal disk jockey, playing American jazz over the intercom system.
Through a chain of events involving poisonous snakes, nearly dying of typhoid fever, and impressing the head of Radio Malaya with his musical tastes, Frankham joined BBC radio in London in 1948.
His role: using his clear, mellifluous voice to read the news to a international audience of millions three nights a week.
In 1951, when portable tape recorders were invented, Frankham became one of the first journalists to interview subjects out in the field — sometimes literally.
“Once I interviewed a shepherd out on a hillside surrounded by sheep,” he said. “At the time, that was quite a big deal.”
While working on his own weekly BBC radio show in the early 50s, Frankham interviewed scores of famous actors, artists, and singers out on their own turf.
One of his favorite memories is of interviewing jazz great Ella Fitzgerald in a nightclub dressing room so tiny he had to balance the tape recorder on his knees, and his feet kept bumping against hers.
While meeting so many entertainers, Frankham slowly formulated a plan to try being an actor himself.
After being discouraged from his plan by Alec Guinness (“You’re almost 30? No, you’re much too old to become an actor,” Guinness said), Frankham quit his BBC job, sold almost all his belongings, and moved to Hollywood.
“There’s nothing like having someone squash your dreams to make you go out and try them,”?he said.
Within two months, aided by contacts he made in his radio days, Frankham got his first professional acting job ever — playing the lead in a live TV drama broadcast to an national audience of 25 million people.
“I was terrified, of course,” he said.
Page 2 of 3 - As a British character actor with BBC radio experience living in Los Angeles, Frankham had no trouble getting roles for the next 30 years, bouncing back and forth between movies, TV shows, commercials, and voice-over work.
Among the movies you may have seen or heard Frankham in are Ben Hur, King Rat, The Great Santini, Wrong is Right, and three horror/science fiction movies starring his friend Vincent Price: The Return of the Fly, Tales of Terror, and Master of the World.
(Frankham was fired from My Fair Lady after he corrected director George Cukor about how words would be pronounced in a British accent — ironic, given that’s the jumping off point of the whole story.)
However, most of Frankham’s work was in television, where he acted in, among many others, 77 Sunset Strip, Maverick, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Jack Benny Program, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Thriller, The Outer Limits, Dr. Kildare, Gomer Pyle, The Beverly Hillbillies, Medical Center, The F.B.I., McCloud, Cannon, The Six Million Dollar Man, and The Waltons.
Between movies and TV, Frankham appeared in dozens of national TV commercials for everything from Birds-Eye frozen vegetables and BOAC airlines to Stroh’s beer and Terryton cigarettes.
At the same time, Frankham and a business partner started a small firm to develop housing in southern California.
Frankham’s career took a hit in 1984, when he was misdiagnosed for a throat condition that cost him his voice for the next four years.
“I was reduced to communicating with notes. I couldn’t speak above a whisper,” he said. “You can imagine what that does for an actor trying to get work.”
Once he found the proper throat medication in 1988, Frankham returned to acting, but the thrill was gone.
“I was on the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful, and it was not fun any more. It was just a paycheck,” he said.
After retiring from acting, Frankham moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico and worked full-time with his housing company, a concern he only retired from in 2003.
Ironically, of the hundreds of roles he played over his years in Hollywood, Frankham’s acting career may be remembered best for two roles that didn’t mean much to him at the time.
Two years ago, several of Frankham’s friends contacted Disney and Star Trek websites to let people know the actor was still around and kicking, and would appreciate hearing from fans.
As a result, in the past two years he’s gotten scores of letters from Disney and Star Trek fans all over the world. Frankham also gained new fans in the last few years from DVD releases of classic TV shows such as Thriller, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and The Outer Limits.
Page 3 of 3 - “At the time, 101 Dalmatians and Star Trek were just acting jobs,” he said. “It’s astonishing to be getting fan letters about them now, in my 80s — astonishing, and very, very gratifying.”