Frank John Gorshin Jr. was born on April 5, 1933 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His father, Frank John Sr., was a railroad worker and his mother, Frances, was a seamstress. While in high school, Frank worked as an usher at the Sheridan Square Theatre and began doing impressions of some of his screen idols: Al Jolson, James Cagney, Cary Grant and Edward G. Robinson. At age 17, he won a local talent contest. The prize was a one-week engagement at Jackie Heller’s Carousel nightclub, where Alan King was headlining. It was Frank’s first paid job as an entertainer and launched his show business career. Frank attended Carnegie-Mellon Tech School of Drama and did plays and performed in nightclubs in Pittsburgh in his spare time.
In 1953, at age 19, he was drafted into the United States Army and was posted in Germany. Frank served for two years as an entertainer attached to Special Services. In the Army, Frank met Maurice A. Bergman, who would introduce Frank to a Hollywood agent when his hitch with Uncle Sam was up. Frank quickly landed a role in The Proud and Profane (1956) and other roles in television dramas followed. In 1957, while visiting his folks in Pittsburgh, his agent phoned him to rush back to Hollywood for an audition for Run Silent Run Deep (1958). For some odd reason, instead of catching a plane, Frank decided to drive his car to Los Angeles. Driving 39 consecutive hours, he fell asleep at the wheel, crashed, suffered a fractured skull and woke up in the hospital four days later. To add insult to injury, a Los Angeles newspaper reported he was killed, and the plum movie role of Officer Ruby went to Don Rickles.
Frank appeared in a number of lovable B-movies for American-International Pictures: Hot Rod Girl (1956) and Dragstrip Girl (1957), and everybody’s favorite, Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957). Frank finally got a substantial role in the A-movie, Bells Are Ringing (1960), with Dean Martin and Judy Holliday. He did a thinly-disguised Marlon Brando impression. Frank also appeared in Hollywood nightclubs, including the Purple Onion. He also did Las Vegas engagements, opening for Bobby Darin at The Flamingo. On television, Frank appeared on The Steve Allen Plymouth Show (1956) and had a dozen guest shots on The Ed Sullivan Show (1948). In 1966, Frank gave his breakout performance, performing what has become his best-known role: The Riddler on Batman (1966), for which he received an Emmy nomination. He also played The Riddler in the movie, Batman (1966), based on the television series. “I could feel the impact overnight”, Frank recalled later. Because of his nationwide recognition, he was given headliner status in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand, Sahara and Aladdin Hotels. He received more good reviews for his thought-provoking performance as Commissioner Bele in the 1969 Star Trek: The Original Series (1966) episode, Star Trek: The Original Series: Let That Be Your Last Battlefield (1969), for which he should have received another Emmy nomination.
In 1970, Frank made his Broadway debut as the star of “Jimmy”, for which he got rave reviews. He also starred in many touring company productions, such as “Promises, Promises”, “Peter Pan”, “Prisoner of Second Street” and “Guys and Dolls”. In the 1980s, Frank served as Honorary Chairman, Entertainment Division, for the American Heart Association. Perhaps recalling his early AIP films, Frank has worked recently with the legendary Roger Corman, appearing as Clockwise on the television series Black Scorpion (2001) and on Corman’s The Phantom Eye (1999). He had appeared in over 70 movies and made over 40 guest appearances in television series. Frank Gorshin died at age 72 of lung cancer, emphysema and pneumonia in Burbank, California on May 17, 2005.
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