Old Pal: Frank L. Lang

Frank standing in front of a neon sculpture — photo by D. Thomas

Frank L. Lang was my best friend throughout college. He was a singer, a songwriter, and a very good performer.

I met Frank in 1966. He had gone to Southwest High School and though I had gone to Southeast, there was a network of friends connecting the two schools and it was through that network that I met Frank.

I did not know much about music. I knew the Drifters, the Temptations, plus there was the music I heard on the radio and the music my dad played at home: Frank Sinatra, Cole Porter, among others. Frank expanded my horizon. He introduced me to Bob Dylan, musicals like the Fantastiks, the French songwriters Jacques Brel and Gilbert Becauld, other musical artists, as well. He also introduced me to a hobby I quickly adopted.

Taping Movies and Plays

AI image: “taping movies from television”

Frank taped movies directly from the television. Plug into the earphone outlet on the television and then directly into the recorder and you have a noise-free audio signal. Turn the recorder off during commercials and you have an uninterrupted movie soundtrack. I saved my money, purchased my own tape recorder, and taped movies, television specials, everything I thought might be worth saving. Before it was over, I had nearly a hundred movies on tape (you could get four movies on a single reel). Paul Newman movies, Gregory Peck movies, Cary Grant movies; I checked out plays from the library: thirteen Shakespeare plays, T.S. Eliot plays, George Bernard Shaw plays, plays by playwrights I had never heard of. I was not a committed student. I took a Shakespeare course but did not read the plays. But I did listen to them on tape, the characters brought to life by Richard Burton, Sir Lawrence Olivier, Sir John Gielgud. I will always be grateful to Frank for this wonderful way of taking in the world of movies and plays. It gave me an education I would not have had otherwise (see Postscript).

Lifeguarding and the second side of Abby Road

During summers in college, I worked at a swimming pool, first as a lifeguard, then as the assistant manager and then, my last two years as pool manager. Those last two years I hired Frank as my assistant manager. I can’t begin to convey how much fun we had those summers, the evenings after the pool closed, the pool all to ourselves and our friends.

AI image: “lifeguarding at the Red Bridge pool”

Our last year in college, Frank and I rented a house—4747 Charlotte, next to Volker Park and the campus of the University of Missouri at Kansas City. It was in that house that Frank introduced me to psychedelics and the second side of Abby Road.

Vista and the Magic If

One night (December 1, 1969), I arrived home from my part-time job anxious to find out how the first draft lottery had gone. It turns out that I had received a relatively low draft number whereas Frank had received a high number. My number meant that I was likely to be drafted and, in fact, was drafted. However, since I had applied months before to Vista, I (like others in the Vista/Peace Corp application pipeline) was given a deferment for the period of time I would be in Vista.

Frank and I headed in separate directions. I went into Vista and off to Pueblo, Colorado. Frank became a singing waiter at Tiffany’s Attic, a dinner theater in Kansas City, MO. Within a few years, along with others at Tiffany’s Attic, Frank co-founded a musical variety group called the Magic If. The Magic If moved to California and performed in San Diego, Los Angeles, Lake Tahoe, and many other places. They were wonderfully entertaining, performing both their own material as well as the material of other artists.

I saw the Magic If perform on several occasions (in San Diego and Colorado Springs) and Frank and I stayed in touch to the degree we could. However, it wasn’t until the last five or so years of his life that we spent a substantial amount of time together, not in person but over the phone. That, however, has me ahead of myself as it is here that the story takes a difficult turn.

Magic If pictures courtesy of Dave Marchant

Frank lived the life of a musical performer. The Magic If would perform and afterwards, the members of this musical theater group (all friends) would celebrate and wind down. For Frank, this meant alcohol. For the rest of his life, alcohol was his drug of choice. Once, when my girlfriend and I went to LA to, among other things, attend a Gil Scott Heron concert, we invited Frank to join us. Though he showed up at the venue, he was too intoxicated to take a seat. He sat on the stairs outside the auditorium and then simply had to leave.

The Magic If disbanded and Frank held other jobs (jobs outside the entertainment field), but the role that alcohol played in his life never diminished. Once, Frank’s life partner, Christie, and his long-time friend, Paul Peterson, performed an intervention. This had its effects but they were not lasting. Eventually, Frank drifted back into his relationship with alcohol, a relationship that by then had caused lasting physical damage.

As a result of a conversation with Christie—I did not know Christie well but we did talk at length one evening about Frank’s condition—I started calling Frank on Sunday evenings, every three weeks or so. We talked for hours and seemed to never tire of talking about old times: the pool, the beautiful girl lifeguards who tolerated us, Wimpy’s Italian Steak Sandwiches with extra sauce, the house we rented, our past-time of recording and listening to movies. I loved those conversations, and it was clear to me that Frank did, as well. Occasionally, I would hear the sound of ice in a glass but for the most part I found myself talking to an old friend who was as clear-headed as ever.

Road Trip 

AI image: “road trip”

In September 2019, I took a month-long road trip. I headed south to Lawrence, KS, then west to Denver, Aspen, the Oregon Coast, Olympia, Hood River, San Rafael, the Esalen Institute, Los Angeles, Laguna Beach, San Diego, Santa Fe, and Pueblo. I saw people I had not seen in forty years, thirty years, fifteen years and, of course, I saw sights I had never seen. It was a wonderful trip. With less than a week left, I pulled into San Diego and followed Frank’s directions to his home. I was shocked when I saw him. It had been over twenty-five years but what I saw was not the ravages of time but of alcohol.

Sadly, and tragically, Christie had died a few weeks before I arrived, and Frank was left to himself. We walked to the cottage at the back of the lot where Frank lived (Christie had lived in the main house at the front of the property). We spent nearly three hours together discussing, among other things, his plan to move to Minneapolis to live near his sister and her family. He naturally worried about getting all his stuff packed up. And he talked about how sometimes, while driving (he should not have been driving) he would look to his right to say something to Christie and realize again that she was gone.

I saw pictures on the wall and an assortment of items that I would have recognized as Frank’s from years before. Frank talked about how he missed drinking but it was his plan to make the move and start a new chapter. That, at least, is what he told me. I should add that though his body was a shambles, his spirit came out and there were moments between us that seemed like old times. I was very glad we had the time together. Frank walked me to my car and we said goodbye. Later, his friend, Brent Lagergren, told me that Frank asked him if I had visited.

Never met anyone who didn’t like Frank

I continued to call after I got home from my trip and we talked a few more Sunday evenings. Then, starting in December, my phone calls were not returned. When I saw that Brent was calling, I knew the likely reason. Frank told Brent that it had become too painful, that among other things he missed drinking.

The neighbors noticed that Frank’s mail had remained untouched for a few days and they called the police. It’s hard to know exactly what day Frank died. It was in December, perhaps three months to the day following my visit.

I don’t think I ever met anyone who did not like Frank. He was quick to laugh. He loved a good story and he was good at telling stories. And he was talented, though he never rode his talent as far as many of his friends thought it might take him.

Sunday night

I have always hated Sunday night. This goes back a long way. It’s associated with the weekend ending and my homework still not done. It’s the same feeling I had at the end of the summer with the pool closing, the same feeling that comes with a milestone birthday: turning forty, fifty, sixty. Now, on Sunday night, I think I should give Frank a call. Talk about the fun we had at the Red Bridge YMCA pool when it was out in the middle of a field, with its swimming meets, its synchronized swimming team, the traveling carnival that for two weeks each summer set up its attractions in the field next to the pool. It was a magical place. We watched the lunar landing from the deck of the pool: The Eagle has landed. All of this before the pool was pinned in by high-rise apartment buildings and then demolished, a brick building enclosing an indoor pool now standing in its place. What a loss!

F. L. Lang at the Hollywood Bowl

David Thomas, PhD


It gave me an education I would not have had otherwise. Thank you, Frank!

Movies (from television)

Marriage Italian Style, Soldier in the Rain, Darling, Advise and Consent, The Pawnbroker, Bell, Book and Candle, Charade, The Mouse that Roared, Billy Budd, Sunrise at Campobello, The Great Imposter, Two Women, Guns of the Navarone, The Lion in Winter, Arabesque, Viva Zapata, The Next Voice You Hear, Joan of Arc, Can Can, Saint Joan, The Hustler, The Long Hot Summer, Hud, Sweet Bird of Youth, Moby Dick, Public Enemy, The Rainmaker, Grapes of Wrath, I’ll Cry Tomorrow, Cool Hand Luke, Charley, Citizen Kane, The Stalking Moon, Intermezzo, Jane Eyre, A Thousand Clowns, Inherit the Wind, The Day the Earth Stood Still, To Kill a Mockingbird, How To Murder Your Wife, Help, The Jolson Story, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Seventh Seal, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Adam’s Rib, Ten North Fredrick, The Miracle Worker, The Fugitive Kind, The Carpetbaggers, The Bad Seed, The Seventh Seal, An Affair to Remember, My Cousin Rachel, Come Blow Your Horn, The Grass is Greener, Five Fingers, Becket, Zorba the Greek, The Train, Exodus, Fantastic Voyage, Mutiny on the Bounty, Shenandoah, On The Town, 3:10 to Yuma, Gunfight at OK Corral, Invitation to a Gunfighter, Shane, Tom Jones, On The Beach, African Queen, Casablanca, Vertigo, Rear Window, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Mirage, They Died With their Boots On, The Spirit of St. Louis, The Manchurian Candidate, The High and the Mighty, Picnic, Wuthering Heights, People Will Talk, Blackboard Jungle, Born Yesterday,

Shakespeare plays (records checked out from libraries)

The Merchant of Venice, All’s Well That Ends Well, King Henry V, Romeo and Juliet, Measure for Measure, Lover’s Labor Lost, As You Like It, King Richard II, King Richard III, Othello, The Taming of the Shrew, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Antony and Cleopatra

Other Plays and Readings (records checked out from libraries)

Swann in Love (Marcel Proust), Tristan and Iseult, The Family Reunion (T.S. Eliot), The Cocktail Party (T.S. Eliot), Finnegan’s Wake (James Joyce), Cyrano de Bergerac, The Stories of Kafka, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (James Joyce), The Wolf Men, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, John Brown’s Body, The Andersonville Trial, Brave New World (Aldous Huxley), A Profile in Courage (JFK), Churchill and Contemporaries, The Quare Fella (Brendan Behan), Walden (Thoreau), A Thurber Carnival (James Thurber), Mark Twain Tonight (Hal Holbrook), Death of a Salesman (Arthur Miller), The Importance of Being Earnest (Oscar Wilde), After the Fall (Arthur Miller), Don Juan in Hell (George Bernard Shaw), War of the Worlds (Orson Wells), The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde), The Happy Prince and The Devoted Friend (Oscar Wilde), Caesar and Cleopatra (George Bernard Shaw), Murder in the Cathedral (T. S. Eliot) The Hostage (Brendan Behan), The Questions ( John Hawkes), A Small Rebellion (S. Lee Pogostim), Le Morte D’Arthur (Sir Thomas Malory), Paradise Lost (John Milton), USA (John Dos Passos), The Three Penny Opera

Television programs/news/music

Too much to bother listing… Eisenhower’s funeral, Nixon’s resignation, the Beatles, Edward R. Murrow “I Can Hear It Now”, the Christmas message from Apollo 8 astronauts orbiting the moon.


Dave and Sue Marchant were long-time friends of Frank’s. Upon reading the above, Dave sent me the following note. It expresses wonderfully why we so liked and appreciated Frank.

“It will come as no surprise to you that I scrolled through the TOC of the gallery and was rewarded with seeing one of our mutual best friends represented there.  It was an added surprise and bonus that I got more info about your early years as pals and co-conspirators.

“I first met Frank in about 1970 when we both found ourselves members of a folk/rock band in KC called the Missouri Unemployment Service.  From those days he never stopped being a significant part of my life until his death.  I miss him often and deeply and loved him like a, well-better than a brother.  I spent more hilarious, memorable moments with FLL than I ever did with my own flesh and blood.  To the end he was also one of the most honest people I have ever known.  Frank was brutally frank about himself even when we were talking about his inability to shake off the abuse of his favorite pastime.  Having experienced the lies and broken promises an alcoholic parent deals in on a daily basis, I had to respect him for not just telling the truth about his addiction, but doing so in such a way that it was clear he had little to hide from the world.  He owned his shortcomings like no one I have ever known.

“One of the best live performers I have ever seen and been privileged to work with, his comic timing was often nothing short of  genius.  He was a natural and gifted storyteller who constantly reminded me of everyone from Mark Twain, to Will Rogers to Garrison Keillor, albeit with a bit more spice in his narratives!  Were you privy (or part of) an incident with a Canada goose while working for KC parks?  As I recall, he was given the task of dispatching one such animal who was suffering some disease to put it out of its misery.  The story is equal parts horror, pathos and Three Stooges misadventure.  I’d love to know if you have heard, or were part of this story.

“I will continue to peruse the treasures of your website and will happily comment and inquire where necessary.  Thanks again for including us both.  Sue was very fond of our friend Frank as well.”