“Star Trek” icon Jonathan Frakes: Picard’s eternal “number one” turns 70


On board the Enterprise, Commander William T. Riker is Mister Reliable and the most loyal companion of Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart, 82). When looking at the work of actor Jonathan Frakes (70), it is noticeable that both virtues of his prime role also apply to him. You can always rely on him both in front of and behind the camera, while he has mostly stayed true to the science fiction genre as an actor and director. That is, if he isn’t presenting incomprehensible – and at times incredibly stupid – spooky stories as moderator of the mystery series “X-Factor”. A definitely true story: On August 19, “Number One” celebrates its 70th birthday.

From Captain to Commander

A Frakes fun fact: Before he acted as the first officer in the series “Starship Enterprise – The Next Century” (1987-1994), he had the role of a now more famous than ever captain: For openings of various comic book stores in the USA he slipped into the costume of Marvel hero Captain America for promotional purposes. He got the job through a friend who was there as Spider-Man himself: “Long story short – he and I ended up on this weird opening tour,” as Frakes recalled his beginnings in a recent interview.

The beginning of his acting career can be described as classic: moved to New York City at a young age, little money and many dreams, ended up in the theater and a little later in the daily soap “The Doctors”. In the years that followed, however, he was not spared the industry-standard ox tour, in relevant TV series it was initially only enough for one-off appearances – from “Hard but heartily” to “Twilight Zone” to “A Duke rarely comes alone”.

Fans of the television series “Torches in the Storm” finally met Frakes in 1985 as Stanley Hazard, the older brother of George Hazard (James Read, 69) – one of the main characters. For Frakes, the miniseries was a stroke of luck in two respects: he and “torches in the storm” colleague Genie Francis (60, role name: Brett Main) fell in love on the set, the wedding bells rang in 1988 and they are happily married to this day.


The Last Frontier

In 1987, the role finally followed, for which Frakes is still remembered by most people and probably some aliens: “Spaceship Enterprise – The Next Century” is with its seven seasons and 178 episodes just ahead of “Deep Space Nine” the longest-lived ” Star Trek series. First clean-shaven and later with a robust beard, Frakes quickly gathered a loyal following as William T. Riker.

From 1990 he was able to prove that he also has his leadership qualities on the other side of the camera. He then directed several episodes of the sci-fi series and later expanded his work to include “Deep Space Nine” and “Star Trek: Voyager”. Frakes also directed what many fans consider to be the best feature film of the “Next Generation”, “Star Trek: First Contact” (1996). As does the direct and significantly more insipid sequel “Star Trek: Insurrection” (1998).

While Frakes was literally reaching for the stars professionally, his family had to cope with a heavy blow of fate. Frake’s younger brother, Daniel, died of complications from pancreatic cancer in 1997. “His doctors gave him six to eight months to live and said there was nothing more they could do for him. He died a week before my daughter was born.” Since then, Frakes has been involved in the fight against the disease, for example with the “Trek Against Cancer” campaign.

“Something similar happened…”

The second major TV production Jonathan Frakes is known for is the mystery series X-Factor: The Unbelievable (1997-2002, 2021). Several supposedly supernatural stories were presented in each episode of the series, which Frakes took over moderation from James Brolin (82) after just one season. At the end of each episode, viewers were asked to guess which of the stories was supposedly true and which was fictional.

The format became unintentionally funny thanks to its mostly amateur actors, outlandish stories, and Frakes’ constant protestations that “something similar” actually happened somehow, somewhere, sometime – mostly on the East Coast and in the 1980s…

Once a Trekkie, always a Trekkie

As a film director, Frakes only has the works “Clockstoppers” (2002) and “Thunderbirds” (2004) besides the two “Star Trek” parts – also two science fiction strips. The list in the series is much longer: Frakes proved his talent in “NCIS”, “Castle”, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”, “The Orville” and “Roswell”.

So Frakes cannot complain about a lack of employment. Despite the extensive directing work, he always returned to the “Star Trek” cosmos at warp speed. For “Star Trek: Picard” both in front of and behind the camera, for the announced second season of the latest offshoot “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” as a director. So the universe is far from seeing the end of Jonathan “Number One” Frakes.



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