The School of Drama mourns the passing of distinguished alumnus, Danny Franks
Born November 29, 1923
Resided in NYC on the upper west side with his wife of 63 years, Ruth Franks
Danny Franks, whose television lighting design career spanned over 50 years, passed peacefully in his home, surrounded by family, on July 13, of natural causes. He was 96.
Born in Mobile, Alabama and raised in Montgomery, Danny developed a love of movies and photography at a young age. Winning a Kodak photo competition, with his “brownie” camera, inspired what would become an extensive career in television that began during TV’s “Golden Age”.
After World War II, he attended Carnegie Mellon University, then known as Carnegie Tech, via the GI bill where he received his BA and Masters. He later went on to teach at Yale University.
Danny’s love of movies and the cinematic aesthetic drove his creative approach to early television lighting, which was in its infancy when he started work at ABC in NYC in 1950. His approach of creating “a three dimensional look, in a two-dimensional field” broke new ground at the time. Lighting live dramatic and variety show broadcasts, Danny took risks and created looks that were unique. He established an aesthetic that would become the standard for television lighting.
Danny’s freelance career began after leaving ABC in 1960. Over the next 40 years his extensive work included television productions of The Elephant Man, The Oldest Living Graduate (starring Henry Fonda), and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, to name but a few. He designed the lighting for many iconic music, dance, and variety shows including the Johnny Cash Show, and adapted numerous Broadway plays and musicals for television including Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woods, and You Can’t Take it With You, starring Jason Robards.
Danny brought vibrancy, kindness and humor to all he did, and was beloved by not only his family, but everyone who had the pleasure of working with him. Always fearless, intrepid and full of zest, he was a master of light and creativity.
He is survived by his 6 children, grandchildren and a great grandchild.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a contribution to the Daniel P. Franks Scholarship Fund he created at Carnegie Mellon University.
Danny truly embodied the spirit of Carnegie Mellon graduates. He was passionate, creative, curious, and always wanted to give back to the school he loved. Danny taught the students about television lighting during a workshop at WQED. He and his wife Ruth never missed the graduating student showcase in NY, going around the room to comment on every student’s work. For many years Danny generously supported students in financial need with a scholarship. It wasn’t in name only. He would continue to stay in touch with each student, following their careers, and offering advice. The School of Drama and the lighting design community lost a treasured icon with Danny’s passing, but for me I lost a special friend and mentor.
– Cindy Limauro, University Professor, Lighting Design