Frank Warren Buxton, passed away on Tuesday, January 2, 2018 at Harrison Medical Center in Bremerton, Washington. He was born on February 13, 1930 and was 87 years of age.
Frank Buxton was a gift to Bainbridge Island who just kept on giving.
Buxton, a veteran of television, movies and radio and a familiar and beloved face on the Kitsap arts scene for more than a quarter of a century, died Tuesday morning. Buxton, who moved to Bainbridge Island with his wife, Cynthia Sears, in 1989, was 87 and had been battling health issues for two years.
"The Bainbridge community was everything to him," said John Ellis, who got to know Buxton when both were students in an improvisation class at Bainbridge Performing Arts — the beginning of a beautiful friendship. "He was not just a performer, he was an all-around guy."
Despite Buxton's long career in Hollywood as an actor, writer, producer and director, Ellis said it wasn't surprising that he would turn up as just another student in his new hometown.
"He never stopped being a student," Ellis said. "He never stopped learning."
During his long career, Buxton acted alongside Buster Keaton (in "Three Men on a Horse") and had roles in "What's Up, Tiger Lily" and "Overboard," among others. He worked extensively in a number of capacities in television, and created, wrote, produced and directed the Peabody Award-winning series "Hot Dog" for NBC, working with a cast that included Woody Allen, Tom Smothers, Jonathan Winters and JoAnne Worley.
In 1995, Buxton was one of the cornerstone members of the longstanding improvisational comedy and music troupe The Edge, founded by Ellis and Ken Ballenger. The group has performed monthly at Bainbridge Performing Arts almost without interruption since then, and has occasionally taken the act on tour to venues in Seattle and other points east of Puget Sound.
"I think the two big things in his life were laughing and making other people laugh," said Chris Soldevilla, a professional actor and improviser who joined The Edge when he moved to the island about a decade ago. "If there was a spotlight, it was just that much better.
"He was equal parts your contemporary and friend, and the dad you wanted to impress," Soldevilla said. "He didn't ask to command respect. He just did."
Despite his ill health, Buxton performed with The Edge as recently as November.
"He was always looking for humor, all through the health issues," Ellis said. "We've been laughing for the last two years through this."
Ellis, in a note to TV and comic book writer Mark Evanier, told of a Christmas Eve visit by friends to Buxton's hospital room.
"We sang some songs, and at the end of the last song, (Frank) closed his eyes, dropped his hand from his chest, opened his hand and whispered, ‘Rosebud,'" Ellis wrote. "We all laughed, including Frank. As far as we know, that was his exit line."
"His comic timing was perfect," Ellis said. "That ‘Rosebud’ line (a reference to the Charles Foster Kane's death scene in ‘Citizen Kane') was an example. We all knew exactly what he was doing, and it was perfect."
Buxton apparently slipped into a coma soon after the Christmas Eve visit and passed quietly, surrounded by friends, on Tuesday morning.
In 2013, Buxton directed his own adaptation of "It's A Wonderful Life," which was performed at BPA as a staged radio broadcast. He also performed a readers-theater version of the two-actor play "The Gin Game" at Rolling Bay Hall with Academy Award-winning actress Lee Grant, directed by Grant's daughter, Dinah Manoff.
Soldevilla pointed out that he shared a birthday (Feb. 13) with Buxton, and was exactly 40 years his junior.
"I just hope to have as much energy and exuberance for life at that age as he had," he said.
Buxton got his start as host and producer of the ABC documentary series "Discovery" in 1962. In addition to his acting and voice-acting career, he also hosted the game show "Get the Message" and co-wrote "The Big Broadcast," a book about the golden age of radio, with Bill Owen (with whom he also co-wrote "Radio's Golden Age").
He worked as a writer, producer and director for Paramount Television, serving as story editor for the anthology series "Love, American Style," and wrote and directed episodes of series including "The Odd Couple," "Happy Days" and "Mork & Mindy." TV Guide named one of his "Odd Couple" episodes, "Password," as the fifth greatest TV segment of all time.
Since Buxton and Sears relocated to Bainbridge, he had been a constant presence in the island and Puget Sound arts scenes, acting in productions at BPA and with Island Theatre, performing in Jim French's legendary "Imagination Theatre" and other radio series and performing monthly with the Edge.
His philanthropic endeavors in the region were well known. The auditorium in the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art is named for him.
"I noticed that anywhere I'd go on the island, there'd be a plaque to Frank and Cynthia, thanking them for their generous donation to so many different things," Soldevilla said. "You couldn't help but be impressed by their generosity."
Evanier was a writer for the animated TV series "Garfield and Friends" when Buxton was in the voice cast.
"For years, I assumed that the Frank Buxton who worked on all those sitcoms was a different Frank Buxton from the guy I enjoyed watching on ‘Discovery,’" said Evanier, writing in his blog, "News From Me."
"It simply didn't occur to me that one man could be so diverse and talented," Evanier continued. "I soon learned they were one and the same and that he was one of the nicest, cleverest people I would ever meet. We became good buddies and whenever we were recording ‘Garfield’ cartoons and Frank was visiting Los Angeles, I would drag him in to join our voice cast. It made the show better and I got to spend more time with Frank."
"What always struck me about Frank was his kindness, his generosity of spirit, and what a consummate professional he was," Ellis said.
Frank is survived by his wife Cynthia L. Sears of Bainbridge Island, WA, daughter's Juliet Sears LeDorze of Bainbridge Island, WA and Olivia E. Sears of San Francisco, CA and his sister Mary Jane Goodrich. He also leaves behind four grandchildren and his best buddy John Ellis and legions of fans. He was preceded in death by his parents Frank Warren Buxton, Sr. and Helen Chamberlin Buxton.
The Edge have dedicated their Jan. 6 performance to Buxton, dubbing the evening "All About Frank." To honor his spirit of generosity, unsold tickets to the performance were offered free, with donations requested to the Buxton-inspired Hot Dog! Fund.
"I don't know what's going to happen that night, it being improv," Soldevilla said, "but I know Frank will be there hugely in spirit."
For information, call 206-842-8569 or go to bainbridgeperformingarts.org.
Buxton is survived by his wife, Cynthia. Arrangements entrusted to Cook Family Funeral Home.