Frank Bonner is an American actor and director, with a career spanning nearly 40 years. Born Frank Woodrow Boers, Jr., to musician parents in Arkansas, he adopted the screen name “Frank Bonner.” He was known by his screen name for most of his career. Following high school, he worked with the ‘US Navy’ for 4 years, before moving to Los Angeles and beginning his acting career with stage plays. He received his first professional break with the play ‘The Only Bathtub in Cassis’ but his real break came with him being cast as the outrageous ‘Herb Tarlek’ in the 1978 TV series ‘WKRP in Cincinnati.’ He has numerous acting and directorial projects to his credit, including ‘Sidekicks,’ ‘Head of the Class,’ ‘Just the Ten of Us,’ and ‘City Guys.’ However, his portrayal of ‘Herb’ would remain his best-loved and best-known role for decades. Such was its popularity that it even inspired a song and music video by the Canadian band ‘Rheostatics.’
Childhood & Early Life
Frank Bonner was born Frank Woodrow Boers, Jr., on February 28, 1942, in Little Rock (Pulaski County), Arkansas, to Frank Woodrow Boers and Mamie Grace (née Dobbins).
Both his parents were musicians. His father was a saxophonist, and his mother was a singer who had a prominent career in the 1930s and the 1940s. He has three siblings: a sister, a brother, and a stepbrother.
Growing up in a Catholic household, he attended the ‘St. Edward’s School’ and ‘Our Lady of Good Counsel School,’ finally graduating from ‘Malvern High School’ in 1960, after his family moved to Malvern (Hot Spring County).
Following his graduation, he joined the ‘US Navy’ and spent 4 years with them (1961–1965). He was stationed in San Diego, California. He then moved to Los Angeles and began acting in community and regional theater, while supporting himself by working for an engine rebuilding company.
He received his first break in 1969, when he was cast in ‘The Only Bathtub in Cassis,’ a play originally written for Bill Bixby, an established actor, director, and producer.
He made his film debut with the role of ‘Jim Hudson’ in the eventual cult classic ‘Equinox’ in 1970. He was credited as “Frank Boers Jr.” This was a remake of the 1967 student-made experimental horror film ‘The Equinox…A Journey into the Unknown.’ Following this, he began to receive many minor film and TV roles.
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Bonner has worked consistently as an actor and director and has had a career spanning nearly 40 years, covering theater, films, and TV.
He is a member of the ‘Screen Actors Guild,’ the ‘American Federation of Television and Radio Artists,’ the ‘Actors' Equity Association,’ and the ‘Directors Guild of America.’
Bonner’s earned his first big TV role when he was cast as sales manager ‘Herb Tarlek in the American sitcom ‘WKRP in Cincinnati’ in 1978. Received well by both audiences and critics, the show continued till 1982. It was about a struggling fictional radio station in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Created by Hugh Wilson, the show and many of the characters and plots were based on his real-life experiences of working in ad sales at ‘WQXI,’ a top radio station in Atlanta.
‘WKRP in Cincinnati’ was important for Bonner because of the recognition it brought him as an actor and also because this was where he launched himself as a director. He directed six episodes of the series, between 1980 and 1982. Since then, he has juggled his acting and directorial careers.
In 1982, he directed an episode of the popular ‘NBC’ series ‘Family Ties,’ titled ‘No Nukes is Good Nukes.’
The years 1985 and 1986 were busy for Bonner, with roles in the TV series ‘Scarecrow and Mrs. King’ (1985), ‘Night Court’ (1985–1986), and ‘Sidekicks’ (1986). The last series featured him in a recurring role. He also directed the series ‘Head of the Class’ (1986 and 1990).
In 1988, he directed an episode of the well-received ‘CBS’ series ‘Frank’s Place.’ Around the same time, he directed and acted in several episodes of the ‘ABC’ sitcom ‘Just the Ten of Us’ (1988–1990). It was a spin-off of the show ‘Growing Pains’ and featured him in the recurring role of ‘Father Hargis,’ the headmaster of a Catholic school.
Bonner has directed an episode of the series ‘Who’s the Boss?’ (1989). He has directed the TV series ‘Evening Shade,’ between 1990 and 1993, also appearing in one of its episodes.
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The reprisal of his role ‘Herb’ in ‘The New WKRP in Cincinnati,’ between 1991 and 1993, did not go too well, as the show failed to connect with fans the way the original had. It was consequently canceled in 1993.
From 1994 to 1997, he acted in and directed several episodes of the ‘NBC’ sitcom ‘Saved by the Bell: The New Class.’ Following this, Bonner directed all the episodes of ‘City Guys,’ a teen-friendly Saturday morning sitcom aired on ‘NBC,’ which ran from 1997 to 2001. He also appeared in one of its episodes.
One of his more recent acting projects was the film ‘Under the Hollywood Sign’ (2014), which featured him as ‘Larry.’ He has also directed the TV series ‘Desire and Deceit’ (2010).
Bonner has also done some voice-over work on radio and TV.
Bonner is best known for his portrayal of ‘Herb Tarlek’ in the 1978 ‘CBS’ TV hit ‘WKRP in Cincinnati,’ which ran till 1982. He was cast as ‘Herb’ when he was still mostly unknown. The series had him sharing screen space with stars Loni Anderson and Howard Hesseman. Soon, he became such a crowd favorite. His character, ‘Herb,’ began appearing in pop culture references.
The show ran for four seasons, spanning 90 episodes. After going into syndication, it became even more successful. It became one of the most popular sitcoms in syndication in the next decade, beating programs that had enjoyed more success on primetime TV.
‘Herb’s character was an amalgamation of outrageous faults and flaws, which the writers of the show exploited to its full comedic potential. ‘Herb’ was not good at his job and had very little common, moral, and sartorial sense. ‘Herb’ was basically a sordid, unsavory, double-dealing ad salesman caricature.
Bonner stated of his character, “Herb is the kind of guy who gets so drunk at a business dinner that he forgets to make the deal. He is tasteless. Look at the clothes he wears, and the pinky ring. He’s a redneck, a bigot and a hypocrite.”
The show’s writers apparently loved writing scripts for ‘Herb,’ who could be put through hellish trials and still emerge with his inflated sense of self-worth intact. A layer of humanity occasionally emerged in his relationship with his wife and with his “frenemy” Les Nessman, the station newsreader.
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Bonner reprised his role in the 1991 spin-off, ‘The New WKRP in Cincinnati,’ co-starring with Gordon Jump. However, the series did not recapture the popularity of the original and was canceled in 1993.
Reruns of the original ‘WKRP in Cincinnati’ have been aired on ‘Me TV,’ ‘WXIX-TV,’ ‘WKRC-TV,’ ‘Nickelodeon,’ ‘Antenna TV,’ and ‘WGN.’
Bonner also contributed to the soundtrack of ‘WKRP in Cincinnati.’
Awards & Achievements
Bonner received the ‘Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award’ for his work in the play ‘The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window.’ Written by Lorraine Hansberry, the play dealt with themes of race, suicide, homosexuality, and the manner in which individuals navigate through life.
Family & Personal Life
Bonner got married to his high-school sweetheart, Gayle Hardage, on July 28, 2006. He is a father of four and has been a foster parent to abused and neglected children.
He was previously married to Sharon Gray (from 1966 to 1971), with whom he has a daughter, Desiree. He has also been married to Mary A Rings (from 1972 to1975), actor Lillian Garrett-Groag (from 1977 to 1980), and Catherine Sherwood (married in 1981).
Bonner lives in Los Angeles, California, in a home rebuilt at the same spot where the Northridge earthquake had previously flattened his original home in 1994.
Bonner’s ex-wife Lillian Garrett-Groag has guest-starred in his hit TV series ‘WKRP in Cincinnati’ (1978).
The character ‘Herb Tarlek’ became immensely popular and even began to make its presence felt in pop culture. A band from Michigan named itself after ‘Herb,’ and most notably, Canadian indie rock band ‘Rheostatics’ wrote a song about him titled ‘The Tarleks.’ Bonner enjoyed the song so much that he featured in their music video, playing ‘Herb.’