Frank Bonner (1942–2021)
aka: Frank Woodrow Boers Jr.
Best known for his role of sales manager Herb Tarlek on the television sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati, which began in 1978, Frank Bonner was an actor and television director. He also appeared in such popular shows as Saved by the Bell: The New Class, Just the Ten of Us, Murder, She Wrote, and Night Court.
Frank Bonner was born Frank Woodrow Boers Jr. on February 28, 1942, in Little Rock (Pulaski County) to Frank Woodrow Boers, a saxophone player, and Grace Dobbins Boers, who had a singing career in the 1930s and 1940s. He had a sister, a brother, and a step-brother. He grew up Catholic, attending St. Edward’s and Our Lady of Good Counsel schools, before his family moved to Malvern (Hot Spring County), where he graduated from Malvern High School in 1960. He soon joined the U.S. Navy and was stationed in San Diego, California, from 1961 to 1965. Following his stint in the navy, he moved to Los Angeles, California, and worked for an engine rebuilding company while acting in theater. His first professional break came in 1969 when he was cast in the play The Only Bathtub in Cassis, which had been written for Bill Bixby. Bonner’s film debut came with Equinox, in which he appeared under the name Frank Boers Jr.
On April 1, 1966, Bonner married Sharon Gray. They had one daughter and divorced in 1971. On February 24, 1977, Bonner married Lillian Garrett. The couple divorced in 1980. Bonner married Catherine Sherwood in 1981; the couple later divorced.
From 1978 to 1982, Bonner appeared as sales manager Herb Tarlek in WKRP in Cincinnati. About his character, Bonner said, “Herb is the kind of guy who gets so drunk at a business dinner that he forgets to make the deal. He is tasteless. Look at the clothes he wears, and the pinky ring. He’s a redneck, a bigot and a hypocrite.” Bonner’s wife Lillian Garrett also guest-starred on WKRP. Bonner, a fan of the University of Arkansas football team, kept a Razorbacks coffee mug on his desk on the set of WKRP. He was injured in a parachuting accident following the show’s premiere and appeared in a second season episode on crutches.
From 1988 to 1990, Frank Bonner played the role of Father Hargis, headmaster of the fictional St. Augustine’s Academy on the TV show Just the Ten of Us. He reprised Tarlek in the unsuccessful spinoff The New WKRP in Cincinnati, which lasted from 1991 to 1993. The Canadian indie rock band Rheostatics wrote a song titled “The Tarleks” based on his character from WKRP. The song appeared on their album 2067, and Bonner appeared in the video in 2004. Bonner played Mr. Harrington in Saved by the Bell: The New Class in the 1990s.
Bonner also directed episodes of many TV sitcoms, including Who’s the Boss?, Head of the Class, and Evening Shade, as well as every episode of the NBC Saturday morning sitcom City Guys. In addition, Bonner was also known for his voice-over work and was heard in RAC (Rent-A-Center) radio and TV spots.
Bonner married his high-school sweetheart, Gayle Hardage, on July 28, 2006. Bonner was the father of four children; he also served as a foster parent to abused and neglected children.
Bonner lived in Los Angeles. The Northridge earthquake destroyed his home there in 1994, but he rebuilt on the same site.
Bonner’s last role was that of Larry in the 2014 film Under the Hollywood Sign. He died on June 16, 2021, as a result of complications from Lewy body dementia. His remains were cremated.
For additional information:
Brandon, Phyllis D. “Frank Woodrow Boers Jr.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, February 4, 1996, pp. 1D, 5D.
“Frank Bonner.” Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0094894/ (accessed April 27, 2022).
Harrison, Eric. E. “‘WKRP’ Funnyman Bonner Dead at 79.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 18, 2021, p. 5B. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2021/jun/17/frank-bonner-wkrp-star-little-rock-native-dies-79/ (accessed April 27, 2022).
“Rooting for the Hogs on WKRP.” Arkansan, August/September 1980, pp. 28, 30.
C. L. Bledsoe
Last Updated: 04/27/2022