Memory Lane - Ben Alexander (1911 - 1969)
Ben Alexander was born in Goldfield, Nevada and raised in California. Alexander made his screen debut at age of five in Every Pearl a Tear. Ben Alexander just about grew up on the stage. His education, except for three years at Stanford University, was mainly the product of studio tutors.
He was a child movie actor for 11 years. When no longer able to play the role of "the cute kid" as he grew older, Alexander accepted "bad boy" type roles. He went on to portray Lillian Gish's young brother in D.W. Griffith's Hearts of the World. After a number of silent films, he retired from screen work but came back for the World War I classic, All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), in which Alexander received good notices as an adult actor as "Kemmerick", the tragic amputation victim.
Alexander played leads and second leads in many low-budget films throughout the 1930s. He found a new career as a successful radio announcer in the late 1940s, including a stint on the Martin and Lewis program.
In 1952, Jack Webb, actor-producer-director of Dragnet, needed a replacement for Barton Yarborough, who had played Detective Romero opposite Webb's Sgt. Friday. Webb selected Alexander but had to wait until he was available. A few actors filled in as Friday's partners until Alexander appeared in the newly created role of Officer Frank Smith, first in the radio series and then on television. The popular series ran until 1959. When Webb revived it in 1966, he wanted Alexander to rejoin him, but Alexander had just signed to star as Sgt. Dan Briggs on the weekly ABC series Felony Squad.
Owned and operated the Ben Alexander Ford car dealership in the Highland Park neighborhood in northeast Los Angeles, from 1953 until his death in 1969. In the mid-1950s there was also Ben Alexander's Dream House Motel on Cahuenga Blvd. in Hollywood.
For his contribution to the entertainment industry Ben Alexander has three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for television, radio, and movies.
But he was best known as Frank Smith, the fat and sympathetic officer on the "Dragnet" series.
"I feel like Frank Smith," he once said. "We're both a little fat, take things easy, and enjoy life." —Stanley O. Williford in the Los Angeles Times July 6, 1969
The actor was found dead in his home of natural causes when his wife and children returned home from a camping trip. Died June 26, 1969 of heart attack in Westchester, California.