VINTON–Jerold Franks is one of those folks who came to Roanoke on a visit and decided to make it home. Over 30 years ago he and his wife helped a close friend relocate to the area and thought this would be the perfect place to retire. He returned in 2005 to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award and elected to stay, although he has yet to retire.
Franks now works as a substitute teacher at William Byrd Middle and High Schools. He is also directing the musical “Annie” for the William Byrd Players this fall.
Franks has been a prominent casting director in the film and television industries for many years, responsible for over 80 different productions. His first solo casting work was for the Emmy Award-winning television series “Barney Miller”.
He held the position of Executive in charge of Talent and Casting at both Columbia Pictures Television and 20th Century Fox Studios. He also served as Artistic Director for the Long Beach Civic Light Opera. Through the years, Franks worked for virtually every network and studio in Hollywood and New York.
Last spring, he was the assistant director for the production of “Grease” at WBHS, collaborating with Carol Webster, the theatre arts teacher at the school, who is also the Director of the Burton Center for the Performing Arts.
Webster has always done the directing duties herself for student productions, but their collaboration was so successful and their personalities so attuned that Webster asked Franks to direct the production of “Annie”.
Franks accepted the offer with the provision that Webster play the role of the villainous Miss Hannigan in the musical. This is the first time her theatre classes have performed “Annie” and her first time to perform onstage with her students.
Franks, Webster, and Matt Bartley, the assistant director and vocal director, who teaches at WBHS and WBMS, have assembled a cast which includes elementary, middle, and high school students, young children, and adults from the community—and even live dogs. They are supported by a crew of twenty.
“Casting is finding the right actor for the right role,” said Franks. “There is no difference in casting for a high school production and a Hollywood production. We are fortunate to have so many talented kids.”
Franks describes himself as a “very lucky man”. He grew up in a small town in New Jersey and then moved to California where he earned his BA, MA, and Ph.D. in psychology from California State University. He began working in show business in the tour division of a Hollywood studio while he was a college student studying to be a teacher. He also holds a Lifetime Teaching Credential in Theatre Arts and related technologies.
Franks has packed several lifetimes of experiences into one, with careers as special education teacher, counselor for the Veteran’s Administration working with veterans returning from Vietnam, theatrical agent, casting director, author, guest lecturer, college professor, and confidante of Presidents. He has now come full circle back to where he started in teaching.
“My heart has always been in the classroom,” said Franks. “I am happiest working with students, but when offered a fellowship with the VA working in psychopharmacology and psychiatry, I couldn’t turn it down.”
While he has received much acclaim during the course of his career in show business, Franks is most proud of the countless accolades he has received for his pro-bono work as a humanitarian.
He remains on the boards of Rx Laughter, a UCLA clinic for children with cancer, and the Pat Tillman Foundation, which raises funds to assist military veterans through educational scholarships. He is an ambassador to the Ronald Reagan Clinic, which works with returning veterans.
Franks says he is where he is because he learned early the counsel of his father who taught him, “to never repeat a confidence, think before you open your mouth, and don’t listen to gossip”–advice he has freely and routinely passed on to his children, grandchildren and students.
Franks seems to have never met a stranger or a person he doesn’t like, and he seems to treat everyone the same—celebrity or young child or high school student. His advice to young John F. Kennedy, Jr., who wanted a career in acting, was the same advice Franks gives to every aspiring actor, “have a back-up plan”, which led Kennedy to acquiesce to his mother’s plans for him to attend law school.
He has built lifelong friendships with the rich and famous. He counts a host of celebrities among his closest pals.
During one of the early Special Olympics at UCLA, Franks met Ethel Kennedy, which ultimately led to friendships with Presidents Ford, Reagan, Carter, and Clinton. Mrs. Ford recruited him to work with the Betty Ford Clinic in its early stages; Nancy Reagan for her “Just Say No” campaign. He also served as a speechwriter for all four Presidents and their First Ladies.
While Franks views his life as blessed, he has also endured tremendous heartbreak with the deaths of his wife and only son in an automobile accident at the hands of a drunk and drugged teenager.
He and his wife, a surgical nurse, were college sweethearts married for 23 years; his son was 18 at the time of the accident.
The most recent of his three books, the upcoming “Bruised Heart”, was spurred by the experience. In it he has gathered letters and suggestions from celebrities, politicians, and friends who have also dealt with the loss of a child.
“For any parent who has lost a child—we never get over the loss—we get through it,” said Franks.
Franks is a man of deep faith. For a time, he floundered after the accident until the birth of his grandson gave him a renewed focus in life. His daughter and grandchildren now live in Hawaii.
Franks appears to throw himself with vigor and enthusiasm into any situation he encounters. Often substitute teachers do not describe themselves as “fortunate” to hold that position, unlike Franks, who is proud to be working for Roanoke County Public Schools.
“I’ve worked in several school systems, here and in Los Angeles and Hawaii, and there is no Superintendent as ‘classy’ and as supportive as Dr. Lorraine Lange,” said Franks. “Her educators and administrators are a clear reflection of her values.”
He has recently served as a consultant on two national education committees but decries the current trends in education, which place individuals in leadership positions at the federal level who have not had their beginnings in the classroom and who lack administrative experience at the local level.
He is disgruntled with recent budget tightening constraints which put specialty programs such as FACS (Family and Consumer Sciences) and the Burton Center for Arts and Technology at risk.
“The FACS program gives students who opt not to attend college so many options,” said Franks. “My own nephew was going to drop out and took the FACS program. He is now a very successful caterer in California. It’s a very important program.”
Franks is now busy with rehearsals for “Annie” which will be performed at William Byrd High School from October 11-14 with five shows for the general public, and several exclusively for school groups. Performances on Thursday through Saturday evenings will be at 7:30 p.m. with matinees at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Tickets are on sale in the office at William Byrd High School from 8:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. and will also be available at the door. Tickets are priced from $6.00 to $8.00. More information is available online from Carol Lyn Webster at firstname.lastname@example.org. or by calling (540) 890-3090.