Bainbridge Island arts icon Frank Buxton dies at 87
Michael C. Moore, ***@kitsapsun.com
Published 1:14 p.m. PT Jan. 3, 2018 | Updated 1:52 p.m. PT Jan. 3, 2018
Frank Buxton was a gift to Bainbridge Island who just kept on giving.
Buxton, a veteran of television, movies and radio and a familiar and beloved face on the Kitsap arts scene for more than a quarter of a century, died Tuesday morning. Buxton, who moved to Bainbridge Island with his wife, Cynthia Sears, in 1989, was 87 and had been battling health issues for two years.
"The Bainbridge community was everything to him," said John Ellis, who got to know Buxton when both were students in an improvisation class at Bainbridge Performing Arts — the beginning of a beautiful friendship. "He was not just a performer, he was an all-around guy."
Despite Buxton's long career in Hollywood as an actor, writer, producer and director, Ellis said it wasn't surprising that he would turn up as just another student in his new hometown.
"He never stopped being a student," Ellis said. "He never stopped learning."
During his long career, Buxton acted alongside Buster Keaton (in "Three Men on a Horse") and had roles in "What's Up, Tiger Lily" and "Overboard," among others. He worked extensively in a number of capacities in television, and created, wrote, produced and directed the Peabody Award-winning series "Hot Dog" for NBC, working with a cast that included Woody Allen, Tom Smothers, Jonathan Winters and JoAnne Worley.
In 1995, Buxton was one of the cornerstone members of the longstanding improvisational comedy and music troupe The Edge, founded by Ellis and Ken Ballenger. The group has performed monthly at Bainbridge Performing Arts almost without interruption since then, and has occasionally taken the act on tour to venues in Seattle and other points east of Puget Sound.
"I think the two big things in his life were laughing and making other people laugh," said Chris Soldavilla, a professional actor and improviser who joined The Edge when he moved to the island about a decade ago. "If there was a spotlight, it was just that much better.
"He was equal parts your contemporary and friend, and the dad you wanted to impress," Soldavilla said. "He didn't ask to command respect. He just did."
Despite his ill health, Buxton performed with The Edge as recently as November.
"He was always looking for humor, all through the health issues," Ellis said. "We've been laughing for the last two years through this."
Ellis, in a note to TV and comic book writer Mark Evanier, told of a Christmas Eve visit by friends to Buxton's hospital room.
"We sang some songs, and at the end of the last song, (Frank) closed his eyes, dropped his hand from his chest, opened his hand and whispered, ‘Rosebud,'" Ellis wrote. "We all laughed, including Frank. As far as we know, that was his exit line."
"His comic timing was perfect," Ellis said. "That ‘Rosebud’ line (a reference to the Charles Foster Kane's death scene in ‘Citizen Kane') was an example. We all knew exactly what he was doing, and it was perfect."
Buxton apparently slipped into a coma soon after the Christmas Eve visit and passed quietly, surrounded by friends, on Tuesday morning.
Frank Buxton, R.I.P.
Published Tuesday, January 2, 2018 at 6:43 PM.
This is a tough one for me. Actor-writer-director-producer and all-around great guy Frank Buxton died this morning at 11:45, surrounded by family and friends.
Frank was born February 13, 1930 in Wellesley, Massachusetts. He was a self-described "child of the Golden Age of Radio" and quite the expert on the period. In fact, he authored the definitive book on old radio, Big Broadcast, 1920-1950. It's currently out of print but well worth tracking down if the subject interests you in the slightest. Here's a quick clip from a 1969 episode of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson on which Frank appeared to promote the book. Earlier in the program, they'd done a re-creation of a script from the Superman radio show and you can see Bud Collyer, who played the title role on that series, sitting on the couch…
Frank was all over TV in the fifties and sixties, hosting this and that, including a game show or two. I still can't quite wrap my brain around the fact that I am friends with the guy who presided over the TV show Discovery when I was ten. Discovery, which aired in the late afternoon Monday through Friday on ABC, was one of the few truly entertaining "educational" programs ever done — like another from many years later called Hot Dog. Frank was also responsible for Hot Dog, which won a Peabody Award in 1970. He was also heard as a voice on many cartoon shows, most notably Batfink on which he played…Batfink.
Frank was also an actor on stage and screen. He used to tell me stories about how at the age of 19, he appeared in a production of Three Men on a Horse with Buster Keaton and later spent a year touring Australia playing the Dick Van Dyke role in Bye Bye Birdie. He had a great many other credits but the one you may know best is that he was one of the perpetrators, led by his friend Woody Allen, of the movie, What's Up, Tiger Lily? Here he is a few years later interviewing Woody in the trailer for the film, Bananas…
Frank continued to act in regional theater but his main occupation became writer, director and producer of situation comedies including Love, American Style, The Odd Couple, Happy Days and Mork & Mindy. That's right: He directed Robin Williams, which he described as both a joy and a helluva challenge. When Mr. Williams passed, Frank wrote me a note about that experience.
For years, I assumed that the Frank Buxton who worked on all those sitcoms was a different Frank Buxton from the guy I enjoyed watching on Discovery. It simply didn't occur to me that one man could be so diverse and so talented. I soon learned they were one and the same and that he was one of the nicest, cleverest people I would ever meet. We became good buddies and whenever we were recording Garfield cartoons and Frank was visiting Los Angeles from his home up north in Washington, I would drag him in to join our voice cast. It made the show better and I got to spend more time with Frank.
Frank's close friend John Ellis just wrote to tell me…
He'd been struggling with heart issues for some time but had gotten stronger with a lot of work and support from his wonderful family and community. Things had been pretty damn good until very recently. He even got back on stage with The Edge in November, and a week before his final trip to the hospital, he was singing up a storm at a workshop.
His exit line was perfectly Frank! We sang some songs Christmas Eve and at the end of the last song, he closed his eyes, dropped his hand from his chest, opened his hand and whispered, "Rosebud." We all laughed (including Frank) and we left his room, but as far as we know that was his exit line.
The Edge is an improv troupe on Bainbridge Island in Washington. It was founded by John and Frank in 1993 and was among the many joys of Frank's life and, I'm sure, John's as well. Frank was always doing something — always writing something, always acting in something, always surrounding himself with wonderful, talented people. I want to go like he did…and I think I'll even steal his exit line. He was truly one of my heroes and it was an honor to know him.