Mary Frann was an American actor and was primarily known for her work on TV. She is mostly remembered for her portrayal of ‘Joanna Loudon,’ wife of ‘Dick Loudon’ (played by Bob Newhart), in the ‘CBS’ sitcom ‘Newhart.’ Born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, she began working in the entertainment industry as a child model. She won the title of ‘America’s Junior Miss’ and earned a scholarship at the ‘Northwestern University.’ However, she did not complete her studies and began working at the local TV station instead. Moving to Chicago, she hosted a morning TV show and joined the local theater. Later, she relocated to Los Angeles and made guest appearances in popular series such as ‘That Girl,’ ‘The Wild Wild West,’ ‘Days of Our Lives,’ ‘The Rockford Files,’ ‘Fantasy Island,’ and ‘Darkroom.’ She appeared in the series ‘My Friend Tony,’ but it was short-lived. Frann received recognition and appreciation with her role of ‘Joanna Loudon’ in the hit series ‘Newhart.’ The series ran for eight seasons. She also appeared in a number of TV movies. She was married to TJ Escott, but they divorced later. Frann died in her sleep at the age of 55.
Childhood & Early Life
Frann was born Mary Frances Luecke, on February 27, 1943, in St. Louis, Missouri, to Harry Luecke and his wife, Adele Katherine Luecke. Her mother was Irish. She had two sisters, Patricia (Sauve) and Jacqueline (Rogers), and a brother, Harry Luecke.
Frann began modeling during childhood and appeared in a few local TV commercials. She studied at the ‘Nerinx Hall High School,’ a Roman Catholic girls’ school in Webster Groves, Missouri. She continued to model in her teenage years. By then, she had gained a keen interest in acting, and at 16, she began appearing in musical revues at St. Louis’s ‘Crystal Palace.’
Frann won the title of Missouri’s ‘Junior Miss’ at 18, and in 1961, she became ‘America’s Junior Miss.’ The title earned her a scholarship to study drama at the ‘Northwestern University.’ She also got a role in the educational film ‘Prom: It’s a Pleasure’ by Jam Handy. During her university days, she worked as a weather reporter for ‘NBC’s St. Louis station.
Frann left the university after a year. At that time, she was engaged to be married. Thus, in order to be near her playwright fiancé, she applied to ‘Yale University’ and was accepted. She then decided to take up a job at the St. Louis radio station, to earn some money for her upcoming wedding. Somehow, she did not join ‘Yale’ and never went back to her playwright fiancé.
Later, Frann went to Chicago to work at an ‘ABC’-affiliated TV station, as a host of a morning show. She also joined Chicago’s local theater productions.
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In 1964, Frann made her TV debut with an episode of ‘NBC’s ‘Kraft Suspense Theater.’ She also worked alongside Carroll O’Conner in the crime thriller TV movie ‘Nightmare in Chicago’ (1964).
Frann’s debut film was the low-budget 1966 musical ‘Nashville Rebel,’ in which she co-starred with Waylon Jennings. She also appeared in the feature films ‘Woman in the Rain’ (1976) and ‘Fatal Charm’ (1990).
In 1968, Frann went to Los Angeles to make a career in acting and stayed with actor Joan Van Ark. She made guest appearances in hit TV series such as ‘Get Smart’ (1968), ‘That Girl’ (1968), and ‘The Wild Wild West’ (1968–1969).
In 1969, Frann got a role in the ‘NBC’ crime series ‘My Friend Tony.’ On her agent’s suggestion, she changed her name to “Jennifer Douglas.” However, the series ran only for one season. She then started using her earlier name, “Mary Frann.” She worked in many TV series and in a number of stage productions in Los Angeles and New York. She participated in theater productions at ‘Mark Taper Forum.’ In 1970, she appeared in the ‘Broadway’ play ‘Story Theater.’
In ‘Days of Our Lives,’ one of the longest-running scripted soap operas, Frann played ‘Amanda Howard’ (1974–1979). She also appeared in other TV series, such as ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’ (1972), ‘Return to Peyton Place’ (1973–1974), ‘Quincy M.E.’ (1977), ‘The Rockford Files’ (1975–1978), ‘Fantasy Island’ (1978), ‘WKRP in Cincinnati’ (1981), and ‘Darkroom’ (1981). She also appeared as ‘Sandy’ in the TV movie ‘Portrait of an Escort’ (1980).
In the night-time soap opera ‘King’s Crossing’ (1982), Frann starred with Linda Hamilton. However, due to low ratings, the series had a short run. In 1982, she was cast as ‘Joanna Loudon’ in the ‘CBS’ sitcom ‘Newhart,’ a role for which she is still remembered. Her performance as the wife of an inn-owner from Vermont (played by Bob Newhart), received accolades. The hit series ran for eight seasons, from October 1982 to September 1990, and earned nominations for 25 ‘Emmy’ awards and five ‘Golden Globe’ awards.
Following this, Frann portrayed the role of ‘Clementine Duke’ in the TV miniseries ‘Lucky Chances’ (1990), which was based on novels by Jackie Collins. This role showcased her versatility, as it was far removed from her earlier characters. She also appeared in the TV movies ‘Gidget’s Summer Reunion’ (1985), ‘Eight is Enough: A Family Reunion’ (1987), ‘Dance ‘til Dawn’ (1988), and ‘I’m Dangerous Tonight’ (1990). She also worked in the thriller ‘Fatal Charm’ (1990).
Frann actively participated in charity work. As a part of ‘Los Angeles Mission,’ she helped rehabilitate women with issues related to drugs, alcohol, or prostitution. She was one of the members who helped form ‘Celebrity Women’s Action Committee’ along with a group of female TV stars.
In 1995, she founded ‘America’s Junior Miss Council.’
Family & Personal Life
On August 17, 1973, Frann married actor and businessman TJ Escott. The two separated in 1982 and divorced in 1983. Some references mention the year of the divorce as 1985. The couple did not have any children.
Frann died in her sleep on September 23, 1998, at her home in Beverly Hills. Her body was found by her publicist and companion Jonathan Cookman Jr., whom she had been dating since a long time. An autopsy revealed that she had suffered from an undiagnosed lipomatosis with fibrosis or scarring of heart muscles. She was interred in the ‘Holy Cross Cemetery,’ Culver City, California.