Jonathan Frakes' career started when he got killed off a soap opera

The future Star Trek star once recalled his first major TV role on The Waltons.

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Jonathan Frakes, known for playing William Riker on Star Trek: The Next Generation, got his first major TV role on The Waltons
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Today, Jonathan Frakes is best known for playing William Riker in Star Trek: The Next Generation and subsequent movies.

But Frakes didn’t adopt Riker’s beard until the 1980s. Before that, he was just like any other actor trying to make it, first in New York, and then in Hollywood.

Frakes’ first TV role came on a Seventies soap opera filmed in New York, The Doctors.

He played a character named Tom Carroll, whose shady background shifted depending on where the series headed next, starting as a Vietnam soldier haunted by his past, then morphing into a disruptive school teacher, then an untrustworthy bank teller and finally a scoundrel husband and father.

In short, he was a soap opera villain, and though he liked the steady work on The Doctors, he was happy when writers made the decision to kill off his character.

"They killed me off in the soap," Frakes told The Morning Call in 1979. "They had me crushed by a falling beam in a fire, which was great – a great way to die."

Cut free from the soap opera, Frakes left New York for Hollywood on April Fool’s Day, hoping he wasn’t making a foolish move.

"I started auditioning, trying to get used to L.A., the freeways, and the smog, and the guacamole, and the margaritas, and then it started to click, and I started to get a lot of work," Frakes said.

After The Doctors, Frakes took on minor parts on hit shows like Fantasy Island, Charlie’s Angels, and Barnaby Jones, where he geeked out sharing scenes with Ricardo Montalbán, Cheryl Ladd and Buddy Ebsen.

During this time in the late Seventies, Frakes caught the eye of Aaron Spelling, who tried to cast him in a failed TV pilot called Beach Patrol.

Frakes considered his casting in Beach Patrol a major misstep, calling it "the most absurd casting."

"I was the only comic relief – and I’m really not that funny," Frakes said.

Instead of starring in Beach Patrol, Frakes pivoted back to the world he knew best: drama.

He landed what he considered his biggest guest role yet on The Waltons in 1979.

Across two episodes in the seventh and eighth seasons, Frakes played Ashley Longworth Jr., who becomes one of Erin Walton’s boyfriends.

In "The Legacy," he’s introduced as the son of a former beau of Miss Emily Baldwin, who starts losing her sense of reality and confusing Frakes’ character with her lost love.

Then in "The Lost Sheep," Frakes returns to the Mountain to ask for Erin’s hand in marriage, however their contradictory views on marriage keep them from following through with the proposal, making him in Frakes’ eyes sort of a bad guy on the series.

"I did a lot of TV," Frakes told Newsday in 1996. "Some good. Some not so good. That’s all I used to do, guest spots on TV shows. I was a big guest villain on all the hour dramas – The Waltons, Barnaby Jones, Quincy. I used to play drug dealers, father-killers, ne’er-do-wells."

Throughout the Eighties, Frakes seemed to be stuck in this guest star rut, unable to launch a series of his own to success. He was happy to be offered so many roles on TV, but he was seeking more stability.

"I thought they were great," Frakes said. "But they all ended in a week, those jobs."

Then in 1987, Gene Roddenberry saw in Frakes the perfect William Riker.

Frakes wasn’t sure about how to best play the character, though, and Roddenberry gave him very specific direction never to smile onscreen, seeing Riker as a Gary Cooper-type character.

Frakes said that direction made his first season playing Riker a little awkward.

"My nature is to smile, so I looked, or thought I looked, very uncomfortable – certainly in the first season – because I was playing Roddenberry’s wish," Frakes said.

Soon, though, there was a writers’ strike where Frakes said he started growing a beard simply because he hated shaving when he didn’t have to.

When Roddenberry saw the beard, he "fell in love with the beard, and the beard became a part of the character in a way that was, as Gene described it, was a nautical, decorative beard, which he took great pride in designing on my face."

After that, Frakes felt more comfortable making his own decisions about how to play the role, becoming one of the franchise’s most iconic characters, despite the fact that the actor admitted, "I’m not much of a sci-fi geek."

For Frakes, joining Star Trek at first was mainly about finally having another steady gig.

It’s no surprise that his performance as Riker was so memorable, though.

He’d been acting since he graduated high school, and because he loved the job so much, he felt it was his duty to always show up and do the best job possible.

"The actor’s responsibility is that you better be ready to work when they call on you," Frakes said. "You better be right there and in whatever kind of frame of mind you should be for the character, because it’s your mug that’s gonna go out, however it looked. It’s a great job, and there’s no reason for you to make it any harder on anybody."

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LorettaChampagne 24 months ago
My heart was given to a very handsome man named Phillip. We have been married 35 years now. There is a rival sharing that space, he showed up the first time "No.1 William Riker" wore that sexy beyond belief beard onto the set. My chiseled husband sported the same model for several years thereafter. Successfully I might add. This look served all 3 of us very well. Thank you Johnathan Frakes and Star Trek. 💈 LOL.
"♡~Hubba Bubba~♡" 🤩👅💋 Satisfaction in Alaska, Loretta.
Bernadette 26 months ago
I would love if he would do a guest apperence on General Hospital with his wife just once.
DebbieU60 Bernadette 25 months ago
Such a great idea. I wish in the article, they would have mentioned her.
LorettaChampagne DebbieU60 24 months ago
Click her name, she is also amazing and the children!
Zip 26 months ago
Q(to Riker): "You're so stolid! You weren't that way before the beard."
JeffBaker 26 months ago
It's always a pleasant surprise when Frakes shows up on a rerun of some 70s series. He's a fine actor and he stuck with STTNG which actually wasn't that good to start out with, but it soon clicked and became excellent and Frakes' performance was among the reasons why!
CaptainDunsel 26 months ago
Of course Frakes has had a very successful post-TNG career behind the camera, as a director. He started directing when on TNG (8 episodes), but has gone on to direct several features and dozens of TV series, both in sci-fi and many other genres.
Zip 26 months ago
"Frakes said that direction made his first season playing Riker a little awkward.
"My nature is to smile, so I looked, or thought I looked, very uncomfortable – certainly in the first season – because I was playing Roddenberry’s wish," Frakes said."

This makes a lot of sense to me, because I always thought that Riker seemed a little stiff, at least early on.
LorettaChampagne Zip 24 months ago
Yet to me, he played it well, looked like he was nervous serving under Picard's Reign. Rightfully so aboard the new ship.
cperrynaples 26 months ago
Fun Fact: Alec Baldwin [no relation to Miss Emily...LOL] was also killed off on The Doctors before going on to Knots Landing!
cperrynaples cperrynaples 26 months ago
BTW, Frakes is still playing Riker on Star Trek:Picard!
CDeniston 26 months ago
I was surprised no mention of the miniseries North and South that was a big deal when it came out and he had 1 of the lead rolls. I believe that's where he met and married Genie Francis.
Peter_Falk_Fan CDeniston 26 months ago
Frakes was good as the scheming brother of George Hazard in the "North & South" mini-series.
Runeshaper 26 months ago
Frakes was a great Riker! Really liked seeing him on Stark Trek: TNG.
Peter_Falk_Fan Runeshaper 26 months ago
I agree. Riker and Data were my favorites of TNG.
Runeshaper Peter_Falk_Fan 26 months ago
Good choices!
LoveMETV22 26 months ago
An enjoyable actor. Even though his character is portrayed in just the two episodes of The Walton's, the character name is mentioned in a few other episodes. From looking at Bio's he certainly has no shortage of roles. .
Pacificsun LoveMETV22 26 months ago
What you posted to me 2 hrs. ago (your 6:00am) wasn't found under the tree.

But if this is it, no worries!!
LoveMETV22 Pacificsun 26 months ago
No problem it was actually just a side comment to our other conversation I had googled the search term and found even more same subject mention. I decided to delete the comment as it's just the same result. Sorry about that
Michael LoveMETV22 26 months ago
Are you confusing the father, who wad a lerpetual lost love to Emily, with the son?

The son does get mentioned. The wedding is called off, but Erin corresponds with him in Europe. Until one day she gets a letter from him saying he's met someone. Erin is mad, and sad, I guess believing they had an arrangement. I don't recall the episode, but it turns her away from romance for a while. I think the lumberjack is the next suitor.
LoveMETV22 Michael 26 months ago
No I'm not combining the two characters. Just saying that his character name is mentioned on other episodes that he did not have appearances in.
Pacificsun Michael 26 months ago
I admire your extensive memory! It wasn't like The Waltons had a preset story-arc, beyond an initial starting point. It was a complicated show to write, giving time to so many characters. Remembering past and present. Introducing guest stars for a purpose. Maybe the fun of watching it, is trying to tie all the pieces together. I think it would've worked, until the actors started getting changed out. It changed the tempo and the chemistry. Because we don't just change out family members in real life.

Andybandit 26 months ago
I never saw him in anything other than Star Trek The Next Generation.
Pacificsun 26 months ago
I admire his acting philosophy and for paying in dues the hard way. But I never remember him in any role, except Riker, where he becomes unforgettable. Such a perfect addition to the ensemble and as a counter point to puffy Picard. Frakes brought a certain realism to the role, as much as can be expected for a Sci-Fi series. But I enjoyed that he never over-acted, and maybe that was his secret (JMO).
Michael 26 months ago
The Walton's episode is on Tuesday May 17th.

I guess this one comes after the episode where Erin is helping the Baldwins do their memoire, and in Papa's diary they find he deliberately ran Ashley Longworth off. Emioy never knowing what happened until this point. At least he left a ring in the tree for her, but Papa never gave her the note.

It's no wonder on the show's finale, the Baldwins say they've been mostly spectators.
Pacificsun Michael 26 months ago
Nice of you to post the airing!
Certainly a poignant episode and perfect for building sentiment around the Baldwin Sisters!
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