While the 1930s to 1950s were the heyday of movie stars being randomly ‘discovered’ at places such as Schwab’s Pharmacy on Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard, such serendipitous circumstances have continued to occur in the wacky world of Hollywood entertainment. One lucky recipient of almost instant fame was my friend Frank Silva.

Frank came from a theatrical background and had once longed – like so many other Hollywood hopefuls – to be a working film and TV actor. The stereotype of an actor sitting by the phone waiting for their agent to call is the reality faced by most individuals seeking a ‘break’ in the business. And, as is true of the vast majority of such hopefuls who find hunger and near-homelessness less than desirable, Frank eventually settled for a more reliable role as part of a film crew working behind the camera.

From the moment I met Frank in his home base of Los Angeles in 1988 on the set of the film Tap, it was clear that his larger-than-life personality and passion for living dramatically set him apart from most other crew members. Indeed, while Frank was kind and generous in most situations, he could be a force of nature when things didn’t go his way. It was impossible to be in a group without Frank quickly becoming the center of attention. Such was the exuberance of his demeanor.

In addition to his strong personality, Frank’s appearance was striking with his prominent facial features and thick shoulder length hair, tinted lightly with natural streaks of gray. Add his deep resonant voice to the mix and Frank surely possessed the qualities required to be a professional actor. Frank was proud of the Portuguese heritage and genes passed on from his parents and often talked about his formative years growing up in California’s Central Valley.

Frank Silva 1992

David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks”

By late 1989, Frank and I – along with several other close Seattle friends – were once again working together, this time on David Lynch’s 2-hour TV pilot Twin Peaks. On a work-related shopping trip to Vancouver, BC during the show’s pre-production period, Frank’s free-spirited nature was on full display.

The adventure began as Frank, costume designer Ron Leamon and I headed north from Seattle in a 15-seat passenger van. Frank was driving and the radio was cranked up full volume while Frank demonstrated his best dance moves as he also attempted to keep the huge vehicle within the confines of a single lane. As always, Frank’s intention was to entertain and let his freak flag fly.

As we approached the Canadian border check point, Ron and I advised Frank to remove his sunglasses because they made him look all the more like a drug dealer. He laughed and dismissed our concern with an exaggerated stroke of his right hand as he continued edging the van toward the small booth where a Canadian customs officer was waiting. The male officer took Frank’s passport, and with a cursory glance at the sinister-looking character behind the sunglasses, told him to pull over and park in front of the customs station.

After a one-hour interrogation inside the station about our purpose for traveling to Canada, and a complete search of our personal luggage and all the nooks and crannies inside our vacuous vehicle, we were allowed to continue on to Vancouver. Ron and I were not amused by the ordeal, but Frank once again just laughed it off as yet another adventure.

Filming on Twin Peaks took place during the gray winter months on location in North Bend, a small Washington State mountain town about 25 miles east of Seattle, and often meant being wet, cold and miserable. However, these difficult work conditions, along with the wacky nature of the script, served to bring the crew members closer together in a spirit of common purpose and support.

‘Discovered’ in Laura’s Bedroom

Having worked with director David Lynch in North Carolina in 1986 on his critically acclaimed (but difficult to categorize) film Blue Velvet, I was familiar with his collaborative way of working. David would often let the story unfold organically as production commenced and had a penchant for on-the-spot cast additions and other changes to scenes as they were being filmed. While this tendency unnerved some crew members – since it meant never being sure what set pieces or props might be requested on the spot – I found it to be a more interesting way to work that relieved the boredom which often accompanied hours of waiting around on set while lighting and other technical aspects of filming were adjusted.

Enter Frank. As the onset dresser, Frank’s production job was to arrange and move furniture, always making way for the camera to capture just the right aspects of a scene in each frame. It was a job that allowed him to use his creative talents and always be near the action while the cameras were rolling.

While setting up the camera angles for a scene in Laura Palmer’s bedroom, Frank busied himself with adjusting the covers on Laura’s bed. While crouching at the foot of the bed, David suddenly exclaimed, “Frank, stay there and look up at the camera!” It was one of those eureka moments and from that point on Frank was cast as the dark character Killer Bob who became the primary suspect in the murder of the teenage Laura. [For those of you who are unfamiliar with the 2-hour Pilot for the Twin Peaks series, the plot – filled with plenty of trademark Lynchian twists and turns – revolves around the mystery of who murdered a small town high school homecoming queen named Laura Palmer.]

Frank Silva crouches at the bottom of the bed in Laura Palmer’s bedroom on the set of the 2-hour Pilot for the TV series “Twin Peaks.”

At the time, none of us could have guessed that Twin Peaks would eventually become so critically acclaimed and garner such a devoted cult following in both the USA and abroad, particularly appealing to viewers in such disparate places as France and Japan.

Sketch of Killer Bob used in the Pilot of the TV series “Twin Peaks.” Original sketch created by Kristy Ewing 1989.

Soon after wrapping Twin Peaks, Ron and I worked again with Frank on a small independent film entitled One False Move, a project that took us from less than savory neighborhoods near downtown Los Angeles to the rural cotton fields of eastern Arkansas. While we talked often about the strange world of Twin Peaks, Frank’s fame had yet to be realized.

More “Twin Peaks,” plus Flamenco!

On another work odyssey to La-La-Land (as LA was known to those of us who found it necessary to work there occasionally but didn’t want to call it home), I joined some friends at Frank’s house for a dinner party. Like everything he did, Frank was a host who went to great lengths to entertain. He had moved from a small apartment to a lovely vintage stucco cottage in LA’s trendy Silver Lake neighborhood, a place where the monthly rental was almost surely out of reach for his intermittent pay checks.

Frank regaled us with stories about his sporadic appearances in the new episodes of the TV series and talked about the possibility of traveling to Japan with David Lynch to promote his Twin Peak’s character. On that evening, his antics produced reactions of both awe and hysteria as he entertained us with his newly acquired Flamenco skills.

I laughed so much that night while eating dinner that I was sick the next day, but the experience was worth every minute of discomfort. How absolutely perfect, I thought to myself, that this very flamboyant character should be studying such a passionate form of dance!

Frank Silva as Killer Bob in the TV series “Twin Peaks.” Photo courtesy of Twin Peaks TV.

Frank Silva as Killer Bob in the TV series “Twin Peaks.” Photo courtesy of Twin Peaks TV.

From Fame to Financial Ruin and Poor Health

Returning to my home base of Seattle, I lost touch with Frank for more than a year as work took me to other locations and Frank continued to enjoy the fleeting fame he had garnered as Killer Bob. I did hear from him a few times during this period; once to say he had indeed made the publicity trip to Japan – where all things Twin Peaks were adored – and again to say that he had been unsuccessful in finding more work as an actor.

By 1994, Frank was missing in action as his Los Angeles phone had been disconnected and mutual friends said they hadn’t seen or heard from him in ages. Unexpectedly, Ron and I both received calls from him on the same day. He relayed a story of financial and personal ruin, as his life had turned from one of hope and promise to dark depression and homelessness.

Frank told us he had been diagnosed as HIV-positive and was in the early stages of AIDS. As his health had deteriorated and work became increasingly scarce in LA, he had ended up being homeless for a period of time before returning to California’s Central Valley to stay with his aging mother. His voice was weak with an undisguised hint of desperation and his spirits low. It seemed clear that he wouldn’t last long in his current small town living situation where there were no services for those with AIDS.

Frank’s spirits immediately brightened when we asked if he would consider coming to Seattle to live. Washington State, and specifically Seattle, had been at the forefront of providing services for those stricken with this tragic disease and we felt sure this would be a much better situation where he could receive the care he needed plus have some degree of independence.

Ron and I, along with another local friend of Frank’s, Kristy Ewing – a graphic designer who had worked with Frank on Twin Peaks – set about putting the pieces of the puzzle together in order to allow Frank to take advantage of what Seattle’s organizations had to offer. Ron, above all, was instrumental in tracking down and plugging Frank into free meal programs, disability insurance, health cover and the final piece – a furnished apartment in a new building perfectly located near downtown that was heavily subsidized by the state. All Frank had to do was show up in person for the appointments.

Frank’s Final Year in Seattle

Seeing Frank again was quite a shock. I’d lost several friends to the ravages of AIDS so I was somewhat prepared for his gaunt appearance, but the saddest part was the near absence of his once exuberant spirit. It was as if the disease had robbed him of all the zest for life he once exuded in spades.

Frank settled into his new place and for the next year enjoyed having all the care he needed as his health continued to decline. Ron and I were both working on location out of state when we received a call that Frank had been found dead in his apartment.

While those of us who had been closest to Frank, including Ron and Kristy, were deeply saddened by his passing, he will forever live on in our memories as this audacious character who sought to squeeze every drop of joy out of his short existence on this planet.

Somewhere out there in this infinite universe, I can still feel the spirit of Frank Silva performing his most daring flamenco moves! Dance on Frank!

Finally, I’d like to express my deep gratitude to Washington State, the city of Seattle and numerous non-profit organizations for the generosity which enabled Frank to enjoy the last year of his life with full human dignity.

peace~henry

Posted by Henry Lewis

Unconventional artist, writer, videographer and teacher. Personal Quote: It isn't easy being me ;-)

34 Comments

  1. It’s a very moving article. It is true that some people we come across in life impress us more than others, it is sad that not all talents find their place in society. More precisely that all talents are not financially marketable, just as money seems to be the benchmark of success.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for your kind words. I feel that Frank’s story is a celebration of living life to its fullest. I also agree that the dominant culture’s obsession with material wealth is a very poor way to judge an individual’s sense of fulfillment in life.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. He sounds like a big character!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. He was indeed Ogden!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Interesting, but very sad story.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m sorry to make you sad Robert. It’s simply a story I wanted to share during this time. I view Frank’s life as a celebration of exuberance. He wanted to live every moment to its fullest. Perhaps Mies van der Rohe’s concept of ‘less is more’ in architecture can also be applied to the intensity and length of a human life. Take good care.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. What a wonderful tribute to your friend, Henry. It is full of love and many little surprises and even a little history (and of course I LOVED the David Lynch productions, which motivated many tv-watching get-togethers with friends and lots of debriefings!). I suspect it was an emotional roller coaster ride to re-live your friendship. Bravo.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Kim. Quite honestly, it felt therapeutic to write this during the time of a pandemic. I’ve lost many close friends over the past three decades – to accidents, disease, suicide, addiction – and I feel fairly fatalistic in my belief that people leave when the time is right for them. Maybe that’s just the voice of the Buddhist teachings I often turn to when things stop making sense here on terra firma. Take good care and enjoy each day!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Twin Peaks was my favourite TV series of the early ’90s.

    I had no idea you knew Killer Bob.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Dracul. Yes, I was on set at the moment Killer Bob was christened. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Thanks for the interesting story about Frank and Twin Peaks! Sorry he was taken by HIV, what a kind act of friendship you and Ron showed him by finding a place and medical care for him! I’m thinking you have quite a few tales from La La Land. And flamenco Frank, olé!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Rebecca,

      I thought you might enjoy the flamenco aspect of Frank’s story. Take care!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I did. 🙂 Thanks for sharing a personal story.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m sorry you lost a wonderful friend. Also happy he had such wonderful friends, who saw him through to the end.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you @hitandrun1964. I believe everyone deserves to live their last days with dignity and without worry that their basic needs will be met. Take good care!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree. Everyone needs friends who will make it happen, when they can’t do it themselves. That’s the important part. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  8. What a gorgeous face he had–and what a fine tribute this is.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. That was an interesting and touching story. Good that his last days were better. His memory will live long in your heart.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi Jim. Frank was an unforgettable character for sure.

      Like

  10. A captivating and touching story, Henry. Since very few of our talented actors become rich and famous, it’s ever more important to celebrate the lives of the many like your friend Frank who have touched our lives. How wonderful for him to have had friends like you and Ron!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Rosaliene. It’s true that the vast majority of professional actors are far from wealthy. They are typically paid union scale wages, and only for the hours/days they’ve worked. The jobs are often few and far between. The Tom Cruises of the world with their $20+ million salaries per film are a very small minority. Take care and enjoy the time with your sons.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Henry, it’s difficult to know what to add to the variety of comments above. Perhaps the importance of real friendships, and living life to the full as you never know what may be lurking around the corner. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Marios,

      Frank certainly exemplified the notion of living life to its fullest. Perhaps a more balanced, nuanced life would appeal to most, but to each their own. Thanks for commenting!

      Like

  12. A fantastic story, beautifully told. Thanks for that. I was a Twin Peaks fan from the start, so it’s lovely, if a little sad, to hear what Frank was like and how life worked out for him.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks @creandor. Frank had his moments of fame which I think were very satisfying for him. Everything in life is temporary and we’re all just passing through.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Definitely a life well lived and a celebration of all that makes each of us unique. Your loving tribute reminds me very much of my friend from college, Keith.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Hello Henry,

    I’ve come by way of Robert Vella’s blog, having clicked on your name and just randomly chose this story to read. What a lovely tribute to a real ‘character’ (he sounds like). I vaguely remember ‘Twin Peaks’ . . . I believe it was probably on TV when I was busy raising children, which means I probably didn’t watch it often. (or at all!)

    As so often happens, your story resonated with me because I have a friend dying of cancer. We were both born in ’57 and have been lifelong pals. He is also a bit of a character but has followed a very different path. He’s a teacher (like me) and became a school principal; he has touched many lives. I think what you said above is true. Everything in life is temporary – especially friendship, eh?

    Nice to ‘meet’ you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Carmen,

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. No worries for not being a fan of “Twin Peaks.” I must admit that I don’t own a TV and personally feel that life is far too short to spend a chunk of it being passively entertained by a black box.

      As for your friend, I would just say to try to spend as much time as possible with him so you’ll have those memories once he’s gone. By the way, I think a good teacher is worth their weight in gold. Take good care and ‘nice to meet you’ too!

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      1. Hello again Henry, I’m not sure what’s up with WordPress (gremlins?) but I didn’t receive notification of your reply and I can’t seem to subscribe. Every time I try, it tells me I don’t have a valid email address. .. the same one I’ve had since our children were teenagers! If you can do it at your end (I am a self-admitted dunce on computers) my email is clemclan@eastlink.ca, as I’d like to subscribe. . .

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I wish I could resolve your WordPress problem Carmen, but I have the same issues with some sites. When working on my Macbook, I can’t respond to anyone else’s blogs on WordPress and a graphic designer friend said she has the same problem at times. I have to use my old PC laptop for WordPress correspondence. However, I have full access to all things when using the WordPress app on my phone, in case that helps. Take care.

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  15. What a wonderful post about a life experience with a true friend. His soul lives on in your heart.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks John. Yes, some people’s personalities are simply too big to ignore or forget.

      Like

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