Thank Your Lucky Stars

Webster describes a star as a celestial body with twinkling points of light. The wise men of old followed a star to the baby Jesus. Centuries ago, sailors learned to navigate themselves around the world by the stars.
Today, many look at people who have reached a certain status in their field as stars.
Do we look at these people as twinkling points of light? I imagine some do. Many stars use their celebrity to accomplish great works of charity.
The late Danny Thomas and his St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital is a wonderful example. Now, many years after Mr. Thomas left us, his work lives on in the children they help each and every day.
I have been blessed to know many stars in my life. People who I have admired. People who have been guides to me in the darkest of night, or the brightest of day.
First and foremost, one of the greatest stars I have ever come to know is Jesus. His light has lead millions now for 2000 years. For this Georgia boy, he is always there to lean on, or to guide me through whatever comes my way.
My parents were stars to me. No matter what they faced, the great depression, war, meeting the needs of my brothers and I, they were always there doing what had to be done.
Many teachers were stars to me. At any given point in my schooling, I can find one teacher who stood out in giving me more than what was required. They would make whatever I wanted seem important. No matter how dumb the question was, they made it seem intelligent. One teacher in particular, because of his love of music, changed the direction of my life. Dr. Donald Grisier brought the fiddle into my life and set the stage for God to open so many doors.
My first employer, Joe Wyche, ran the local Dairy Queen near where I grew up outside Atlanta. He and the managers, David and Ed, gave me a chance to earn a little money. I was able to learn responsibility and how to deal with customers. Thanks to their guidance, I soon became one of the youngest managers in the Dairy Queen system. But before that I could make the best cone curl in the business. All the people I worked with there were stars to me.
Now I have mentioned parents, teachers and a restaurateur as being stars. Now I’ll mention a couple of people who you may consider to be popular stars.
When I was still in my teens, Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music, took interest in this young fiddler. He spent many hours sharing his music with me. Grand Ole Opry stars Jim & Jesse also become huge advocates and mentors in my life. They were my guides, my teachers, my friends and some of the highest stars in the musical heavens to me.
Carroll O’Connor, TV’s “Archie Bunker” and “Chief Gillespie,” and Alan Autry, TV’s “Bubba,” both took an interest in me as a person and in my work. They took the time, along with many producers like Walt Dornisch, directors like Peter Salim, Larry Hagman and Leo Penn and other actors to encourage me, teach me and give me opportunities to go where a boy from Georgia could not even imagine — on “In the Heat of the Night.” These and so many others are stars to me from that period in my life.
So many stars touch our lives every day. To me a star can be anyone who does what they do well. Then they share that God-given talent with others. They may be a good cook, a great mechanic, a successful salesperson, an inspiring clergyman, a visionary statesman or a cone-maker. They are all stars to me. Why don’t you take a look at the stars in your life? and let them know that your life is better because their light is shining on you. Is your light shining on those around you? If so, you can be a star too.

God opens the doors

It is amazing how God will open doors for people in their life. My road to Hollywood and network television is one He set in motion at an early age. I remember going to my mother and telling her “Mommy, I want to play my music on television like Flatt and Scruggs or The Darlings.” She didn’t discourage me; she just said, “We’ll see what we can do.”

Several years later after graduation my father Floyd Franks, who served as co-manager with my mother Pearl for our youth group The Peachtree Pickers, was diagnosed with lung cancer. The members of my group had all decided with new responsibilities at college that they needed to go a different direction so I found myself at a reorganizing point musically once again after forming and reforming our group for several years encompassing 25 youth.

I was praying a lot over where the Lord wanted me to be musically, should I bring together another band, go out as a soloist, concentrate on finding a “real” job. Hearing the words that my dad, who was my constant companion on the road, especially since his retirement five years earlier, was threatened with facing this dreaded disease which could take him from mother and I spun me into an unusual merry-go round of worry and denial of the danger.

God led me to walk through the doors of an acting course during this period, I had always loved being on stage and getting a chance to fulfill that childhood dream gave me a new focus for my energies.

I remember at one point that the doctors said, “With the treatments, he should have five more years.”

Five more years, I thought that’s not a lot but it is in God’s hands. While I sent up many prayers for Dad’s healing. I distinctly remember one plea. I asked God these words: “God, if I am to do anything in television, please let it be in these next five years, so Dad may be part of it.”

I made my first film appearance with a silent bit as a sports reporter in a movie to be called “Blind Side” starring John Beck and Gail Strickland that summer. I remember sitting at the kitchen table telling my mom and dad about my days on the set in the August heat on the football field. Just relaying the story, I could see a bit of enthusiasm return to Dad’s face in spite of his declining condition.

It was just a couple of more weeks before God chose to call Dad home.

But the story doesn’t end there. That prayer I vocalized received an answer one year later, almost to the day when I received a call from casting director Dee Voight asking me to be on the set of a new television show that had moved to Georgia called “In the Heat of the Night” the next morning about 5:30.

I had seen the show’s first episodes and I remember saying “If I am ever to be on television this is the show.” But how could that be I was in Georgia and they were filming then in Louisiana but God can make amazing things happen.

Dee wanted me to be on the set to perform as an extra in a crowd scene the first day of filming. I remember her saying, “I think they are going to like you.” Within the first hour one of the directors came by and said “You look an a lot like a police officer.” I replied, “Thank you” not giving any thought to the work that God was doing behind the scenes. Over the next, few weeks the directors kept bringing me back using me as an extra on the show. Each time, even on that first day, I found myself in scenes doing silent bits with the stars of the show. When about six weeks passed, they came to me and said that a new police character was to be added to the show and I was to be it. Within a very short time, “Officer Randy Goode” was born into a five-year role on NBC and CBS television.

His gifts kept growing bringing my work to new allies all the way up the studio and network ladder.

After being on the show for about a year, I realized I had reached part of that childhood goal but as I found success in various areas being provided through God’s love, in prayer I asked God, you are giving me all these wonderful opportunities but what is it I am suppose to be here doing for you.

A few weeks passed and I had my answer. I was called into the set through the echo of assistant directors fully expecting star and executive producer Carroll O’Connor to add me to a scene as he did many times before. Instead when I walked to the middle of the Chief’s office and said “Yes, sir.” Carroll looked at me and said “I want to use a scripture in this scene.” Internally, I felt as if my mouth had dropped to the floor, about 100 people working for our show on the set and he called me in to give counsel about the first time that the “Chief Gillespie” would use a scripture that would touch the ears of more than 25 million Americans and millions of viewers in 150 countries around the world. Many of which never cross the threshold of a church door. I had never spoken to Carroll O’Connor about my faith nor do I recall doing so with any that had his close counsel. I believe however that someone else whispered in his ear in answer to my prayer. We settled on I Corinthians 13:13 “And the greatest of these is Charity” and that became his comment about the situation facing a young Vietnamese boy found needing help in our Sparta community in an episode entitled “My Name is Hank.”

That began a wonderful dialogue between he and I on Christian and biblical topics. While not overly religious, the Chief Gillespie character became a purveyor of biblical wisdom through scriptures even leading a condemned prisoner to Christ in one episode.

Our characters sought inspiration and solace from God by attending church, we prayed before meals, sang songs of faith both on camera and in our CD “Christmas Time’s A Comin’” which God blessed me to produce featuring our entire cast and many notable guests. Executive producer Carroll O’Connor himself was seldom found from that point walking on the set without his script under one arm and a King James Bible beneath the other.

This is a refreshing alternative to what we see on most gritty crime dramas whether then or now. The show was unique and I thank God for allowing me to play a small part on the screen and off in its making.

By the way, God gave me another little gift before my departure from the show; many nice folks wrote in to our show about me and that encouraged Carroll O’Connor to write a scene that would feature me musically in an episode entitled “Random’s Child.” That childhood dream was reached.

God sews seeds in many gardens in hopes that one day they might bear great fruit. I was blessed to serve as one of His workers in this garden that fed and continues to feed millions nearly twenty years later.

Christmas Times’ A Comin’

Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way. There was a time in my memory when I hoped I might never hear those words sang again. It was just over 20 years ago and I was in the midst of trying to complete the musical orchestration of a special Christmas CD.

Alan Autry and Carroll O’Connor had asked me to bring together the “In the Heat of the Night” cast Christmas CD for charity.

Read more