Family & Companions
Raised as Mary Frances Luecke in St Louis, Missouri, television actress Mary Frann was best known for her portrayal of Joanna Loudon on the popular CBS sitcom "Newhart" (1982-90). The aspiring actress began her career on local television commercials, and was crowned Miss Missouri in America's Junior Miss pageant. After two years studying at Northwestern University with the help of her Junior Miss scholarship, Frann abandoned plans to pursue her education at Yale Drama School and sought to begin her career, taking a job as a weather reporter on KSDA-TV in her hometown. She later moved to Chicago to host a morning show on the city's ABC affiliate. While in Chicago, the actress began her stage work, and in 1968 made the move to Los Angeles. The following year she made her television debut as a guest star on NBC's "My Friend Tony," kicking off a prolific small screen career. (Although Frann went to New York soon after for a brief run in her Broadway debut in 1970's "Story Theatre.") From 1973 to 1974, she had a regular role on the NBC soap "Return to Peyton Place" then joined the cast of NBC's "Days of Our Lives," playing Amanda Peters until 1979.
With a solid resume of TV work, Frann made her big screen debut in "Woman in the Rain" (1976) but was unable to find suitable follow-up roles and returned to the medium where she excelled. The attractive blonde actress went on to appear in several ill-fated pilots and forgettable TV-movies, while awaiting that star-making role. 1982 saw her persistence pay off when she landed a lead in the first primetime series of her career ABC's serial "King's Crossing." The show aired only seven episodes, but for Frann the next big break was just around the corner. That fall "Newhart" premiered on CBS, teaming her with Bob Newhart as a married city-bred couple who move to a small Vermont town to run an inn. For eight seasons, Frann was featured on the highly-rated and critically-acclaimed program as the supportive, good-humored spouse, perpetually clad in fuzzy, pastel toned sweaters, proving a good match for Newhart's uptight Dick Loudon. Her no-nonsense serenity acted as a foil for his brand of exasperated comedy. The personable, energetic actress was a true team player for CBS during the run of the sitcom, appearing in dozens of specials on the network, and hosting numerous parades and pageants. Frann did a good bit of acting during the run of the show as well, guest starring on shows such as "Hotel" (ABC, 1985) and "The New Mike Hammer" (CBS, 1987) and stepping in for Betty Buckley in the NBC telefilm "Eight is Enough: A Family Reunion" (1987), playing amiable matriarch Abby Bradford. No stranger to the reunion TV-movie genre, she had previously starred in the syndicated "Gidget's Summer Reunion" (1985). In 1989, Frann appeared in "Single Woman, Married Men" a CBS movie of the week starring Michele Lee, and was featured the following year in the NBC miniseries "Jackie Collins' 'Lucky/Chances'" and the USA Network thriller "I'm Dangerous Tonight." After 1990's famed "Newhart" finale (where, in a takeoff of CBS's farfetched "Dallas," it was learned that the entire series including Frann's character existed only in a dream) Frann made several guest appearances on series including "Burke's Law" (CBS, 1994) and "Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman" (ABC, 1996-97 season). She starred in the suspenseful "Fatal Charm," a film aired on Showtime in 1992, and made her final television appearance on the CBS medical mystery "Diagnosis: Murder" in 1998, months before her untimely death.
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Began taking dance lessons at age five (date approximate)
Moved to Los Angeles
TV acting debut in an episode of "My Friend Tony" (NBC)
Broadway acting debut in "Story Theater"
Had featured role on the NBC soap opera "Return to Peyton Place"
Film debut in "Woman in the Rain"
Primetime series debut in the short-lived "King's Crossing" (ABC)
Took over the role of Abby Bradford for the NBC television movie "Eight is Enough: A Family Reunion"
Played Clementine Duke in the NBC minseries "Jackie Collins' 'Lucky/Chances'"
Co-starred in the film "Fatal Charm"; sold for airing on the Showtime cable network
Final TV appearance as a guest performer in an episode of "Diagnosis Murder"