Trail Tales Cast Interview with Don Franklin

Seasons 2 and 3

Note: Luckily, because of a transportation strike in Hawaii, I was at work and AWAKE enough to get a call from Don Franklin's manager, telling me that he'd been in the office within the hour and did I WANT to talk to him... uh huh.. WANT? hello!? anywho... here's the call!

Don: Hey, girl! Where have you been?

Raye: Um... right here waiting! ;)

Don: How are you doin'?

Raye: I'm good, thanks.. You?

Don: Great... listen I hear you have to go so we have to have a quickie..

Raye: Well, actually.. HEY NOW! *laughing*

Don: Hey, WHOA! Family show, kids...

Raye: You know, if I tell the girls.. they're gonna wonder what's goin' on...

Don: Don't tell them, I'll have to change my zip code.

Raye: Actually.. I have some time... so, if you've got a ton of stories... we're set.

Don: Well, I'll try to remember as much as I can, but you know that was a very long time ago.

Raye: First, Thank you very much!

Don: My pleasure.

Raye: What's the first memory that pops into your mind when you think about the show?

Don: *Laughter* Horses. Falling off my horse. You know, they sent me to this thing called.. well, they called, cowboy camp, like a week before I started shooting. Up in Canyon Country. That was a lot of fun, fairly easy, but when I got out to Arizona, I had to familiarize myself with my horse and I remember being thrown the first time. They tell you, you've gotta get back on ... you've got to *laughter* so, I actually went flying. He was running in one direction and he turned to the right very abruptly and I went flying off, but I managed to hang onto one of the reins, so that he couldn't run off, cause he was pretty spooked. And I jumped right back on, and we were best friends after that.

Raye: Do you remember anything about the casting process?

Don: Yeeeeees! Ty Miller, who actually, up until a few years ago was one of my best friends, he and I really connected on the show. Ty Miller actually read with me. I remember going to some office at MGM, I was in this waiting room and Ty walks in. "Hi!" I had never seen the show, so I didn't know anything about it, so the Executive Producer at the time, Jonas McCord, comes in.. and he was a big fan of mine from a show that I was in on NBC called "Nasty Boys." He came in and he was very nice, introduced me to Ty... "Well, Ty's going to be reading with you..." ... and I had really expected... I thought I was going to be reading with a casting director or a producer or somebody. So Ty and I sat in there, and we were supposed to be rehearsing and we ended up shootin' the sh*t [pause] and not rehearsing and we had a great time. The next thing we knew they were calling us in, and it just flew.

It was that one scene... I don't know if you remember, in the Episode called 'Born to Hang', which was my first episode. It was the apple scene where I'm cracking the whip and I'm exploding the apples on the face. It's between me and Ty and it's a pretty explosive scene... that scene actually had to be re-written and re-shoot around three or four different times, because the Executive Producer was *not* happy with it for some reason. Yeah, that's Ty and I, our scene. A big scene for us.

Raye: There were a lot of apples that sacrificed themselves for that scene, gave their lives for you.

Don: *laughter* We gave the remnants to the horses.

Raye: So that's why the re-writes... the horses were hungry. "Go ahead, boys, shoot it again.. we'll just eat what's left."

Don: *laughter* They were veeeeerrrry well taken care of.

Raye: What kind of hellish things did they put you through as far as Cowboy Camp goes?

Don: Actually, it wasn't that bad. Learning... the big thing was just tryin' to look comfortable. To look like you've been doing it your whole life. Developing what they call... a 'sit' in the saddle.

Learning how to canter, how to hold the reins, that's a big deal. You can really tell an experienced rider by the way he holds his reins. If they hold them too high, or sometimes too low. If he grabs the horn on the saddle, you know things like that. Some people actually make the mistake of grabbing onto the horse's mane. That never turns out well.

And also, learning how to use a whip. That was a big deal.

Raye: Ah! My next question, because besides Noah's white pants, that's the big thing the fans talk about.

Don: *laughter*

Raye: How did he manage to keep those pants clean and how did he learn to use the whip?

Don: * laughter* The whip was fun. I actually still have that whip.. I own that whip. Yeah, that was great, that was one of my favorite things about it.. 'cause I actually got pretty good at it. I mean, I got to the point where I could take guys off horses... and I did, actually, in one episode. Took a guy off a horse with my whip. Yeah, developed pretty good aim, and I was really comfortable with it.

Raye: Well, we'll be very sure not to tick you off.

Don: HA! Not when there's a whip in the area. *laughter*

Raye: As far as being the new guy on the set, how was the adjustment for you?

Don: Everybody was great and you know it's been over ten years, so I'm gonna give you the scoop, girl. Everybody was great, except, one guy I think had a problem with me and that was Gregg Rainwater. I couldn't figure out why. I tried and tried with him *laughter* it just never worked. I don't know what the story was. He and I just never got along for some reason. I mean there's not that much to do in Tucson except play pool and you know... there were only two in town, then there was the barroom brawl in one, that kind of narrows it down.

Don: We had some big fights...some bar room brawls in a few places, that was kind of fun.

Raye: Do tell!

Don: I don't remember the names of the bars, I was way too... ah.. *laughs* I just remember a bunch of frat guys wanted to jump on Josh and we weren't having it. You know, it just so happened that we had a bunch of stunt guys with us, which is always a good thing when you're in a bar room fight. It ended up going outside into the parking lot. Then it moved to the back of the parking lot, the next thing we knew there were helicopters and cops...everybody was running for their cars and we had a big charity event for kids the next day. We all showed up, bruised up. It was pretty fun, we all had a good laugh about that.

Raye: You just tell the kids, "We were filming an episode-"

Don: *laughs* Exactly. The kids are like, "Wow, I knew it looked real!" It's all for our art, Raydeen.

Raye: Oh yeah, all for the 'art', Honey.

Don: All for the ART. No, we had a great time, a bunch of young guys in Tucson, AZ.. it was a very small town.. it was great, we had fun.

Raye: We go there every year.

Don: To Tucson? Get out-

Raye: Every year, Darlin'.

Don: When are you goin' this year? [2003]

Raye: September 17th to the 21st.

Don: Oh my God!

Raye: Yep.. we've been goin' to Mescal for the last few-

Don: You're goin' to Mescal!?

Raye: Yeah, we walk out to Emma's... *We veered onto the fandom and the names of the Fan Groups*

Don: "the Dixon Vixens? You gotta love that."

Raye: You had the opportunity to work with some great guest stars on the show.

Raye: Della Reese:

Don: She was the bomb. She was awesome. I loved her and she became like a second mother to me. She was really really wonderful a huge grounding...grounded spirit. She's awesome. I miss her.

Raye: Gloria Reuben:

Don: Gloria! We had a good time. I was surprised too, I thought they would bring her back. Yeah, it would have been nice if Noah could have had a 'regular thang'.. if you know what I mean, but it wasn't to be. Noah had that 'lonely' prairie life. The bunkhouse with the boys. Just wasn't happening.

Raye: Richard Roundtree:

Don: Oh yeah, he was great. Talk about working with an icon... you know, it was working with SHAFT. That was wild. It took me a couple of days just to let that sink into my brain, that I was working with SHAFT. He probably hates that, but I'm sorry, that was THE film of its genre and era.

Raye: Any others that come to mind?

Don: Oh, David Carradine! He was eccentric.. Kung Fu, Kwai Chang Caine, that was my show. So he was another one to work with that was like, WHOA! He was really cool in a very weird kind of funny way. That probably won't translate in print... *laughter*

Raye: When did you find out that Noah was going to die?

Don: When did I find out.. good question... they warned me. I think Jonas warned me about a month before we shot it. He said that the show was done and wasn't going to be picked up and they wanted to go out with a bang.

Raye: That's sounds like a 'bummer' for you.

Don: Sort of, but I knew it was the end of the road anyway. And, I still got paid! So, it was cool. I always wanted to do a dying scene anyway. It was too short, they cut out most of the ending. I was great, I thought it was great. It was fun to do. They show me getting shot, then it's a quick cut and then you cut to Stephen. A lot of the coverage they just didn't use. It ended up being much shorter that it was scripted. That happens in Television.

Raye: *I mentioned the scene that is in the script of 'REQUIEM FOR A HERO' between Noah and Jimmy and that it's a contested triangle*

Don: I don't remember filming that. But, Lou with Jimmy? I think most people would have to tell you the truth. Most people that I know said the same thing. You know, that's not the first time that I heard that.

Raye: Did you keep anything else besides the Whip?

Don: I have the whip, I have the actual holster that the whip goes in on my belt. No, I tried to get my hat, but they wouldn't give it to me. That would have been great.

Don: I still have the whip. I should actually put it in one of those box frames someday.

Raye: But then you couldn't practice with it.

Don: Or use it, and sometimes you have to use it on fools' heads.

Raye: Oh? Uh oh.. *Don laughing* I'll have to be 'really' nice to you. 'Are you having a good day, Mr. Franklin?'

Don: I would never use it on you.

Raye: Awww ;)

Don: *Laughter* Well, if you asked me.

Raye: I've been looking at your resume. It said that you were a dancer. There was a tape one of the fans had that showed you in between takes, dancing around on set. When did you start dancing?

Don: It was high school when I started. I had a talent for it and I ended up getting a scholarship at the local school that was quite rigorous, taking five to six classes a week. A couple years later I was in a company performing and I ended up founding a company a couple of years later. That was my life. Acting was really my second career.

Raye: Still dancing today?

Don: No, not really, those are nice memories. I like to watch dancing, but that's about it. I do miss though, I have to say that I miss it sometimes. There was also Chicago Ballet and the Nutcracker. I was in a company called the Chicago Repertory Dance Ensemble. It was a company of soloists from different companies all over the country. That was really awesome, I had a great time on that one. Another company called the Joseph Holmes Dance Theater, which was an 'Alvin Ailey' type company that was fun. I did a lot of musicals because I sang as well. A lot or musical comedy and stuff like that. I hired myself out as a dancer for trade shows to make extra money. Then I was doing a regional production of Chorus Line. Actually, it was the FIRST regional production, it had been opened on Broadway for several years. They finally licensed it out to other theaters and we got the first production rights to do it in Chicago. That's when I had a career ending injury to my ankle. That was pretty much it. I was on my way out by then. Dancing was so hard and we worked so hard and paid so little. I just knew I had to start looking elsewhere. I wouldn't trade for anything else in the world, it was a great time in my life.

Raye: Baritone, Bass, ... Tenor?

Don: Tenor. I was tenor. I studied classically from the age of 14. I started taking private voice lessons. I was shooting in Toronto a couple of weeks ago and I was sitting in a bar in the hotel, I was done and talking to this man, he was in his 60's and we had the most incredible conversation, because he was a classical pianist. Had played in all of the major symphony houses all over the world and here was a man that knew opera and classical music and I got the chance to talk to him. He was so excited to find a young person interested in that kind of music. I said, I was here last week and asked this guy to play this song, but he didn't know it. He went and played a song.. two songs for me. The first one he played was an old song called 'Laura'...

You know the feeling of something half remembered,
Of something that never happened, yet you recall it well.
You know the feeling of recognizing someone
That you've never met as far as you could tell, well:
Laura is the face in the misty light,
Footsteps that you hear down the hall,
The laugh that floats on a summer night
That you can never quite recall.
And you see Laura on the train that is passing through,
Those eyes, how familiar they seem;
She gave your very first kiss to you,
That was Laura but she's only a dream.

Don: A wonderful, wonderful tune.. and then he played *laughs* Che gelida manina [from Puccini's La Boheme], this Italian Aria and I sang it. It was so fun.

Raye: What about the rest of the guys?

Don: Josh was great. Teaspoon was great.. *chuckles* I just love Teaspoon. I loved Anthony Zerbe. I loved Clare, she was awesome. I'd actually worked with her husband, Rusty, years earlier on another NBC show. Travis, yeah, he and I were really good friends, actually, I was in Travis's wedding years later. He's doing great now, he's writing. He's mostly writing. He's quite a talented writer.

Don: Hey, do you have any contact with Ty? I've been meaning to track him down for a couple of years now. Actually he and I took a European vacation together. We had a conversation one March and it turned out he was going to be in Paris when I was going to be in Paris in July. So we made arrangements to meet at 10pm on the West Bank at this specific corner, and he showed up! Yeah, we had a great time... went to Amsterdam together, came back and hung out in Paris for awhile before I went to Spain and he went down to Italy. I can't wait to see him. I'm gonna call him today.

Raye: Last thing, do you remember any odd moments in filming?

Don: Odd moments in filming? Oh yeah, I'll give you one. *laughs* I don't remember which episode, but it was scene where we're supposed to be sleeping in the bunkhouse and something happens outside, gunshots or whatever, and we all come running out in our PJs... well, Stephen Baldwin had a bright idea.. and being as how you have a bunch of young guys together.. it's like a frat. He had the bright idea that what we should do that we should al get a little pup tent action going before we went out.... so that everybody runs out with a little bit of a 'chubby' happenin' you know? *laughing* I don't remember what episode but scroll through 'em, you'll see it.

Raye: I guess I'll have to check and watch out for that.

Don: Yeah, you're gonna have to, Raydeen.

Raye: Yes, sir! I'll get on that right away.. of course.

Don: No pun intended?

Raye: You've gotta love a man with that sense of humor... and I never pun! ;)

Thanks to Don and his management for taking the time to make this happen! I am so very grateful! - Raye