Frank Cady was born and raised in Susanville, California in 1915, and although he appeared in a few high school plays, he worked after school and summers on Susanville's leading weekly newspaper, The Lassen (County) Advocate. His ambition was to someday be a great newspaper reporter.
But although enrolled primarily in journalism courses at Stanford University, he was asked in his sophomore year to write a skit and a song for his fraternity, which creation became part of the annual student musical show, the Big Game Gaieties.
He also appeared in the Gaieties as an actor -- and this turned out to be the end of his newspaper ambitions because the lure of the stage was too strong to resist. Upon graduation in 1938, he launched his career as an actor. (Incidentally, the lead singer in that Gaieties and many other Stanford musicals was Shirley Jones -- the original Shirley Jones, as her friends call her. She and Frank celebrated their 57th wedding anniversary this past June.)
Forty years later, he moved out of Los Angeles and out of the business. Almost. Frank's latest acting role, since "retiring" in 1978, is in his old part of Sam Drucker, the storekeeper, in Return to Green Acres, a 2-hour film for TV, which he completed in March of 1990. Between 1963 and 1970 he portrayed that character in 145 episodes of Green Acres, 152 episodes of Petticoat Junction and 11 of The Beverly Hillbillies.
He swore his last appearance would be in an After Mash episode in 1984. After that, he was offered two new series (the latest in 1989), but he turned them down and, in doing so, he says, "I guess I may have burned my last bridge to Hollywood." Well - almost.
His retirement might have ended in 1983, when he agreed to make a pilot for CBS called Sutters Bay, on which he played the town doctor. For better or worse, the pilot didn't sell.
An earlier series with which Frank was associated was The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, in which he played the recurring character of Doc Williams, a neighbor, over a period of 12 years, beginning in 1953.
Frank's first appearance as a television actor was on the BBC, London, England, in the winter of 1938. Following his graduation from Stanford in the Speech and Drama Department (now only Drama), he served an apprenticeship at the Westminster Theatre, performing classics by Shakespeare, Strindberg, Molnar and others. Frank was appearing in the production of Eugene O'Neill's Marco Millions when the entire production was transported, sets and all, to the Alexander Palace and televised live. Her received a one-pound note for his services -- a piece of paper he still has.
He appeared in some experimental TV in New York in 1939 and made his West Coast television debut sometime in the 40s doing those terrifying, no-retake live shows, such as CBS's Studio One, Life With Father and others long forgotten.
The list of TV credits, piled up through the years, included such oldies as The Alaskans, Broken Arrow, December Bride, O,Susanna, GE Theatre (with a guy named Ronald Reagan), Andy Griffith, Perry Mason, Rawhide, Hawaiian Eye, Guestward Ho, Maverick, The Investigators, Pete and Gladys, The Joey Bishop Show, You Are There, Glynis, Make Room For Daddy, Grindle, Dennis The Menace, The Untouchables, Jane Wyman Theatre, Cheyenne, The Best Years, Sugarfoot, The Virginian, The Deputy, The Real McCoys, Desilu Playhouse, Wagon Train, Hazel, Great Adventures, and some more recent ones such as The Practice, Gunsmoke, and Hawaii Five-O.
Just before leaving Hollywood in 1978, he filmed several ABC-TV Weekend Specials, including the 3-part Winged Colt, for which he received an Emmy nomination.
Although he made his first feature film in 1946, Frank points to Zandy's Bride (Warner Brothers 1973), in which he co-starred with Liv Ullman, Gene Hackman and Eileen Heckart, playing Hackman's snarling "Pa", as possibly being the performance he enjoyed the most. The picture was directed by Jan Troell, creator of The Emigrants and The New Land. He also likes the sharply contrasting part he played in The Bad Seed.
Other major motion picture credits: Rear Window, The Big Carnival, The Asphalt Jungle, When Worlds Collide (now a sci-fi classic), Hearts of the West, The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao, the Girl Most Likely and perhaps 20 or 30 other pictures best left undisturbed.
As mentioned earlier, Frank began his acting career at Stanford University where, before graduating, he acted in, wrote for, or directed perhaps 20 or 25 stage productions, readings, etc.
From there, he went to an apprenticeship with a repertory company at the Westminster Theatre, London, where he stayed until 1939, appearing in Marco Millions, Troilus and Cressida, Dangerous Corner and The Farewell Supper.
A season of summer stock in Brattleboro, Vermont, followed in 1939 and then he returned to Stanford for two years of graduate work, a year as a teaching assistant to Prof. Elizabeth Buckingham in Shakespearean interpretation and he also appeared in many more plays.
The academic life was not for Frank and he abandoned plans to teach, taking a job as a radio announcer at KGDM in Stockton and later moving to KYA and subsequently KGO in San Francisco as announcer-newscaster and editor.
From 1943 to 1946 he was with the USAAF in England, France and Germany and, with hostilities at an end, was able to appear in The Road To Rome with James and Pamela Mason, in the Wiesbaden Opera House.
Following his discharge in 1946 he appeared in two plays in Hollywood, which led directly to a beginning in motion pictures.
A season of 8 plays in professional stock at Laguna Beach and more plays in Hollywood, La Jolla and Pasadena, led up to the year 1953 when an appearance in The Square Needle caught the eyes of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson and his TV career was launched in earnest.
From 1970 to the Present
Following the demise of Petticoat Junction and Green Acres, Frank received many offers to play storekeepers. That prospect was not enticing, so he turned the offers down, concentrating his efforts on a few films and work in commercials, particularly a four-year stint as spokesman for Ralston Purina's Fit and Trim dog food, which contract did not end until November of 1980.
He returned to the theatre in 1972, performing What Are You Doing After The War? with the Center Theatre group and later appearing in,Henry IV, Part I at the Mark Taper Forum, playing first Northumberland and later Worcester.
He was also active with ANTA West, appearing as Cassius in Julius Caesar and playing in Born Yesterday and others.
In 1977 Frank discovered what seemed to him his own private Camelot on California's central coast and he and his wife, Shirley, decided that was to be their home. By January of 1978, they had moved into their new house and abandoned Los Angeles and environs, "for good", except for a couple of projects to which he already was committed.
Except for one or two minor backslidings, the vow to retire and stay retired has been kept. Frank has busied himself with his private business interests and found relaxation and recreation in writing for the local newspaper, hiking in the Swiss Alps, and taking off whenever asked to play in his beloved celebrity golf tournaments in cities throughout the country.
Frank and Shirley moved to Oregon in September of 1991, primarily to be nearer their daughter, Catherine, who lives in Olympia, Washington. Their son, Steven, lives in Truckee, California.
Until January of 1995, Frank stuck with his retirement game plan. But the Chris Cusick of Portland Agency sent him out on two auditions and, on both, he came out on top. the first was for an Oregon Lottery commercial and the other was for an industrial film for Hewlett-Packard. (The H-P film is "in house" and was not broadcast, which he regrets because his part, a college professor, was well-suited to him and, as he modestly admits, "I was very good in it.")
The biggest thrill of his acting career? It was getting a part in a picture that was never made. While living in Cambria, his agent asked him to come down to Hollywood because Orson Welles wanted to see him! It seems that Orson knew his work, felt that Frank was just right for a film Orson had written and would direct. After an hour's talk at Wells' home, Frank was cast in and given the script to The Cradle Will Rock, which was the story of how the play of that name was produced years ago. The picture was to shoot in Italy in a few months. Unfortunately, production problems developed, resulting in the picture's postponement and, before it could be re-activated, Orson died. End of a story that could have had a much happier ending.
What comes next? "Probably nothing," says Frank, "unless some feature film or TV show decides to do some principal casting in Portland, instead of Hollywood." Otherwise, it's back to golf, travel, hiking and whatever else the old body can put up with.
Dated November 1997