A true Hollywood character was celebrated on February 5 with comedy, songs, and tributes at the historic El Portal Theatre. That’s how my husband, my VIP Valentine, Frank Barron was honored by friends and family on what would have been his 99th birthday.
Like Forrest Gump, Frank Barron walked through this world with history swirling all around him, as this reporter described in Part One of my tribute last week.
Frank lived a long and remarkable life for almost a century and passed away just three months ago. His life was certainly not cut short, and he embraced every moment with few regrets—if any at all. How many of us would love to say that at the end of our journey?
The secret to his longevity is not a big secret—he loved to laugh. He loved entertainment that would lift his spirits. That helped him throughout life but especially at the end.
Uplifting entertainment was in the spotlight on the El Portal stage thanks to the comedy brilliance of Fritz Coleman, and the extraordinary singing talents of Becky Lythgoe and Elizabeth Brackenbury.
Fritz Coleman took on the emcee duties as well as giving everyone the gift of laughter with excerpts from his hilarious one-man show Defying Gravity. Longtime fans of Fritz’ comedy, two decades ago Frank and I were invited to the old KCET studios for a taping. It was for Coleman’s show It’s Me Dad, a funny and poignant show about things we should know about loved ones before they pass.
About a year ago, Fritz’ Defying Gravity was the last great show Frank and I saw at the El Portal together. Frank thought it was the funniest show because it was about aging and remembering how things “use to be.” It made Frank laugh and brought back great memories that emerged through his increasing moments of dementia. Yes, it proved what we all know to be true—laughter is the best medicine.
Inspiring music also makes your spirits soar, and that was certainly the case with Becky Lythgoe singing the Bob Dylan anthem “Forever Young” with such intensity it overwhelmed everyone. The greatness of her performance cannot be understated, a mighty voice making the lyrics come alive, framed by the sweetness of her smile as she sang to the parade of Frank’s pictures during his younger years.
Elizabeth Brackenbury was luminous passionately singing Frank’s favorite song “Memory” from the musical Cats. I have no doubt that Brackenbury will star on Broadway one day, as her powerful voice filled the otherwise empty stage with emotion. Goosebumps and tears were observed throughout her performance.
There were tributes by family members whose lives were greatly impacted by Frank, always for the better: Howard Feldman and his wife Marjorie, and Barry Allen. The guys were like sons to him. At the end of the celebration, Frank’s favorite nephew Darren Krewson came out to be the last breath of Frank and blow out the birthday candle and make a wish. I made a wish too. That everyone could have such a long and wonderful life filled with music and laughter, because laughter is the best medicine.
There are important thank yous for the VIPs that made the “Forever Young: the remarkable life of Frank Barron” show possible. If it weren’t for Pegge Forrest and Jay Irwin who helm the historic El Portal Theatre, the celebration never would have happened. My helpers from The Tolucan Times, including publisher Mardi Rustam and his incredible wife Sarah. Frank, former editor of The Hollywood Reporter, was just as proud of being a longtime Tolucan Times contributor.
The theater was filled with lots of journalists, publicists, friends, neighbors, comedy legend JoAnne Worley, and the most important VIPs—members of Frank’s caregiving team from the VA. Bless them.
If you’d like to see the celebration, my filmmaking friend Dyana Carmella made a short movie of it. Just go to YouTube and search “Forever Young: The Remarkable Life of Frank Barron” and enjoy a life well lived.
Margie Barron is a member of the Television Critics Association and has written for a variety of top publications for more than 35 years, and was proud to be half of the husband and wife writing team of Margie and Frank Barron.