Part One: My tribute to Frank Barron, a true Hollywood character
When someone you love dies, you can mourn a passing or you can celebrate a life.
I’ve been enveloped in a fog of sadness since my husband Frank Barron passed about three months ago. The process of grief is painful, yet planning a celebration of his life has given me rays of happiness cutting through the gloom. Looking at photo albums from our wedding, travels, adventures and family gatherings has been a comfort as I pick out pictures that remind me of the good times we had over four decades.
On February 5th, my husband would have been 99-years-old. That was the ideal day to celebrate his life. Being busy pulling together a joyous event that honors Frank has been a cure for depression, even as extra pressures have been put on me.
Having our pictures made into posters and videos for the event, showing Frank happy and healthy during our years together, is a comfort. It is a great reminder that the last few years of him being unwell should not define how we remember him.
The historic El Portal Theatre was the site of the celebration, thanks to the thoughtfulness and generosity of Pegge Forrest and Jay Irwin who have helmed the theatre and great shows for nearly two decades. Although I am usually sitting in the audience enjoying the productions, I took the stage that night to tell a large gathering of friends and family that my life with Frank, married 37 years, was filled with sunshine and happiness. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
A longtime Tolucan Times contributor, Frank was a true Hollywood character when I first saw him in 1977. As a publicist, I’d go to The Hollywood Reporter and plant the trades, and he was this grumpy guy behind the editor’s desk. Eventually I discovered there was so much more to him.
He was from New Jersey and had to work at his pa’s store. I was from New Jersey and had to work at my mom and dad’s store. We bonded over that on our first date at the LA Playboy Club. He had a great sense of humor and I made him laugh, sometimes intentionally. Love blossomed, we got married in 1980, and surprising stories about his life unfolded over the next four decades.
Frank’s life could have been filmed by his dear friend Ken Burns because it encompassed many Ken Burns documentaries.
Frank was born in Elizabeth, NJ, but loved crossing the Brooklyn Bridge as a boy. Not to visit relatives, but to go to Coney Island at Surf and Stillwell to enjoy Nathan’s Hot Dog for a nickel. Prohibition ended in 1933 when Frank was 14, too young to drink anyway.
For Baseball, Frank loved baseball. As an adult, of course, he saw Jackie Robinson play, but as a kid, a family friend took him to Yankee Stadium and he saw Babe Ruth play. Frank remembered “The Babe could hit.”
For Jazz, Frank worked with Duke Ellington doing special material for the “Jump for Joy” show in the ‘50s. That was right before he created his western TV series The Man from Blackhawk, so that would include Ken Burns presents The West.
The War, the brilliant WWII documentary, was especially meaningful to Frank, a Master Sgt. During WWII, that was the Roosevelt era, and years later, when Frank was publicity director of KHJ radio and television, he escorted Eleanor Roosevelt around the studio where she was making an appearance.
Frank protested the Vietnam war in his own way, writing letters to politicians to remind them the horrors of wars they start, and the respect they should have for the men and women who serve.
The Civil War connection comes from Frank’s story as a boy working at his pa’s store. He saw a parade going by, probably on Armistice Day, with WWI soldiers marching up to the old graveyard at the top of Elizabeth Avenue. And at the back of the parade were old men wearing union caps marching along. That’s history.
One more, The National Parks. The Grand Canyon was established as a National Park on February 26, 1919, so Frank was older then the Grand Canyon by 21 days.
Next week — Part Two. I will report how Frank’s life was celebrated on his 99th birthday with laughter and entertainment.
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.