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Thread: Frank Bonner, aka Herb Tarlek of WKRP, dead at age 79

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  1. #1

    Frank Bonner, aka Herb Tarlek of WKRP, dead at age 79

    Hello everyone. I know that we have some WKRP fans here, so I figured I would make this announcement and include some inside information from Hollywood.

    Frank Bonner, whose real name was Frank Boers, passed away on June 16, at the age of 79. He was best known for playing sleazy salesman Herb Tarlek on WKRP in Cincinnati.

    Here was Frank in his WKRP days, wearing one of Herb's trademark ugly suits:

    Here's a more recent picture of him:

    Frank suffered from Lewy Body Dementia, which is the second most common form of dementia (behind Alzheimers). This is a pretty tough disease, as it ends up causing both major cognitive decline and physical symptoms. It is unclear how bad Frank's mental decline was, but apparently he was diagnosed three years ago. The average time of survival from diagnosis of Lewy Body Dementia is 7.5 years. I did observe that Frank did not attend the WKRP reunion event at the Paley Center in 2014. However, it should be noted that Richard Sanders and Gary Sandy also didn't attend, and they are still alive and in good health.

    Frank was a mostly likable guy, though he didn't have the most stable personal life, going through four marriages, producing five children. The last marriage, 21 years ago, was the only stable one, and remained until he died. He took a page out of Druff's book and went back to his early years in order to finally produce a lasting relationship. His final wife, Gayle, went to high school with him in Arkansas, and they had dated at the time. Frank reconnected with her in the late 1990s, when they were both in their 50s.

    Frank did suffer a personal loss, as his fifth child Michael passed away at some point. I do not have more info on this.

    Frank struggled to land a starring role in a major series after WKRP ended in 1982. He got lots of guest roles in major '80s shows, but the closest he came to another starring role was that of Father Hargis in Just the Ten of Us, in which he appeared 22 times. However, he was only a recurring character there, and never made the opening credits. After that show was cancelled, he went back to the familar, playing Herb Tarlek once again on the syndicated and critically-panned New WKRP in Cincinnati.

    Frank's heyday in Hollywood was a bit before my time, so I don't have any personal stories with him. However, I have spoken to contacts around in those days, and it was revealed to me that he suffered from typecasting. Herb Tarlek, with his loud jackets and sleazy mannerisms, was etched into people's minds. While showrunners were happy to bring him on for a few episodes as a character actor, partially for the novelty of the "oh I remember that guy" effect, nobody wanted to give him a major role and have the character corrupted by memories of Herb Tarlek.

    However, unlike other actors riding high on present fame, Frank saw the writing on the wall regarding the Herb Tarlek character, and the possible hindrance to a future TV acting career. While at WKRP, Frank asked executive producer (and creator) Hugh Wilson if he could try his hand at directing some of the episodes of the series, and Wilson gave him a shot. Frank directed 6 episodes of the series, mostly in the third and fourth season, and did well enough to where he was given sporadic directing jobs around Hollywood. He even got a guest director spot on "Family Ties" in 1982, and "Who's The Boss" in 1989. He directed 7 of the "New WKRP" episodes, 8 on "Just the Ten Of Us", and four on the cringeworthy "Saved By the Bell the New Class" in 1997. All in all, he directed 19 different TV shows between 1982 and 2003. His biggest directorial success was City Guys, which aired for four seasons on NBC, and Frank directed all of the episodes.

    After 2003, Frank was in his 60s and had difficulty finding work. He picked up a few bit parts over the next 10 years, and directed one 19-episode series which ended up going straight to video. Like many in Hollywood, the jobs simply weren't there for Frank in his golden years.

    I will give credit to Frank for getting into directing when he had the opportunity, which helped extend his long term viability in Hollywood, rather than simply attempting to coast on character roles. Frank himself told friends that his happiest memory of WKRP was his initial foray into directing, and that he looks upon those days fondly mainly because of that factor.

    Frank was apparently approachable and willing to sign autographs for fans. In fact, his daughter posted today on Facebook that her dad was signing autographs "up until a few weeks ago".

    Rest In Peace

  2. #2
    Owner Dan Druff's Avatar
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    Yeah I saw this in the news today. Dementia is a tough way to go.

    Herb Tarlek was a bumbling fool with women, clumsily trying to cheat on his Plain Jane midwestern wife (played by Edie McClurg), and always failing miserably. In one of my favorite episodes, "Hotel Ocean View", Herb finally found an attractive woman who seemed interested in having an affair with him, only to find out it was a dude he went to high school with, who had a sex change.

    So you'd think nobody would want advice on women from Herb, but when Andy Travis sarcastically asked Herb for such advice, it was shockingly good:

    I always liked that scene, and the advice still holds up well today, 40 years later. WKRP liked to throw in little complexities to its characters as the series wore on, and this was one of them. Perhaps Herb wasn't such a fool, after all.


  3. #3
    LBD is allegedly why Robin Williams Helsd himself.

  4. #4
    more like frank BOOMER


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