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May 14, 2007

Media Guru Norman Frank Passes

TV Producer, Public Relations Pro was 82

Norman Frank, a media executive and public relations strategist whose career spanned the early days of the television industry to the highest levels of municipal politics, died May 11 near his home in Miami. He was 82.

Legendary Police Union Campaign Fends Off
Establishment of Civilian Review Board

In his native New York City, Frank achieved recognition in 1966 when he engineered a campaign on behalf of the city’s police union that helped the labor organization to successfully thwart an attempt by Mayor John V. Lindsay to create a civilian complaint review board.

Lindsay had sought to establish an independent civilian board to investigate citizens’ complaints about police conduct, but the union successfully sued to overturn the order. The union argued that subjecting the police force to civilian authority required a public referendum on a City Charter amendment.

Frank, a key advisor to John Cassese, president of the police union president at the time, framed the union’s argument in terms of public safety: The specter of eventual civilian scrutiny could cause a police officer to hesitate before acting, which would potentially endanger citizens.

Frank conceived a persuasive ad campaign on behalf of the union position, and when the amendment came to a vote it was defeated by a two-to-one margin. As a result of his close relationship with the union, Frank was sometimes referred to in the press as “the voice of the P.B.A.”—the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association.

Frank embarked on his own mayoral campaign in 1969, but was unable to oust Lindsay, who was reelected.

Frank Helps Found Television Academy's New York
Counterpart with Ed Sullivan and colleagues

Prior to his work as a media strategist, Frank enjoyed a successful career in television. In addition to his various broadcasting achievements, he was a founding member of the New York-based Television Academy, which was established in 1955 by Ed Sullivan in emulation of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences founded in Los Angeles in 1946.

Frank was born Norman Joseph Fetrod in Manhattan on February 18, 1925. He changed his name for professional reasons.

After graduating from DeWitt Clinton High School, Frank worked as a clerk at a Manhattan law firm. He then enrolled at Michigan State University, but left college to join the Army Air Corps. His missions in the Pacific during World War II included participation in the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in 1945.

After the war, Frank gravitated to the advertising business, specializing in radio and television commercials. This led to his involvement in the television industry in the early 1950s. He was a producer and director of Star of the Family, a variety series in which relatives of celebrities were interviewed before performances by their family members. The program aired on CBS from 1950-1952.

Wide Wide World Brings Global Live Remotes to TV

Frank was also a producer for Wide Wide World, an Emmy-nominated documentary series, hosted by Dave Garroway, which pioneered the use of live remotes from around the world. The 90-minute series, which aired Sundays on NBC, included the use of as many as 40 cameras and 12 mobile production vans, with segments originating from such distant locations as London, Havana and Bimini, and is credited with broadcasting the first live footage of the Grand Canyon.

In addition, Frank produced and directed The Jonathan Winters Show, which aired on NBC in 1956.

Over the course of his personal and professional life Frank crossed paths with numerous celebrities, including baseball legend Jackie Robinson, with whom he attended high school, as well as journalist Barbara Walters and columnist Liz Smith, whom he helped in the early stages of her career.

Frank was married to Joyce Seigenfeld, who died in 1994. He is survived by his daughter, photographer Dana Frank, who may be contacted for information about her father at danafrank@gmail.com.

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