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16 February 2014

Fran Bennett (1954–) celebrity DJ

Frank grew up in an 11th-floor apartment in Manhattan, his father the songwriter, Johnny Lehman, his mother the 1940s hit singer Evelyn Knight. At age 11 he was tagging along with his elder brother, Andrew Knight, to Greenwich Village to listen to Beat poets and Joan Baez. By puberty he had long hair and was wearing bell bottoms and satin shirts.

His parents moved to Phoenix hoping that the move would keep him in school. At 14 he learned about transsexuals and left a copy of Christine Jorgensen's autobiography on the family coffee table. Even that did not generate the required conversation.

His brother Andrew (1940 – 1989) became a tour lighting technician who worked with the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd.

Frank, using the surname Bennett, developed two personae: a suave hipster, successful with women; and April, her inner self who was kept private and only rarely let out.

The hipster went on to become Uncle Frank, an FM radio disk jockey first in Phoenix, and then Los Angeles and San Jose. Many women offered themselves, but none were allowed close enough to learn his secrets, although one relationship did result in a daughter, Saira. At 18 Frank was smoking hash with Muddy Waters in Aspen; at 24 he was a celebrity DJ with his name in lights on Los Angeles' Sunset Strip. He interviewed everyone from The Allman Brothers to Frank Zappa. His peak was as one of the stars on KOME radio in San Jose, when it won the Rolling Stone Readers Poll as Station of the Year for both 1988 and 1990, its DJs were on the cover of the music magazine.

He was also cross-dressing on the sly. April would visit Sacramento at the weekends, trying to pass. "It was peaceful. I felt like me. I wanted it to be this way all the time. It was depressing to go back."

Frank drank to excess, and one time in 1991 was too drunk to go on the air. Therapy was suggested and he started seeing Mildred Brown in Los Gatos. Brown, a clinical psychologist who – it so happened – specialized in working with transsexuals:
"I had a complete wreck walk in here," Brown said. "He must have been 300 pounds then, addicted to everything. His denial was intense. He wanted to just pretend he was something else, just a cross-dresser, maybe, something that wouldn't turn his life upside down. I looked at 'Uncle Frank' back then, and it was a role of a lifetime. If we gave Academy Awards for role playing, this was it. It would take 10 years to finally admit to her true self."
Despite being top-rated, Bennett was laid off in 1993 after Infinity Broadcasting acquired the station, and was replaced by syndicated programming such as the Howard Stern Show. He took a gig working in Saipan, in the US territory of the Northern Mariana Islands. This struck him as the time to start taking female hormones, and he found a US doctor on the island who wrote a prescription.

In April 1995 KFOX in San Jose phoned with a job offer. This led to meeting Erika, the 400 lb (181 kg) morning co-host on the station. She was in the middle of a divorce and they were both looking for new accommodation. At first for financial reasons, they rented together. They had a similar sense of humor and a shared love of Scrabble. By Christmas 1996 they were lovers. Finally Bennett told Erika about his April persona and showed a photograph. Her reaction was:
"OK, then, let's go shopping."
Erika nurtured April, and April nursed Erika through six weeks of convalescence after gastric bypass surgery. Despite Erika's encouragement, it was not until summer 1999 that Bennett told his bosses of his desire to be a woman:
"They said there are some factions out there who love their Lynyrd Skynyrd and don't want to hear about transsexuals. I couldn't figure out at that point how to live dual lives. So I stayed Frank and kept the secret."
That fall, Bennett had a nose job, but fearing exposure stopped taking hormones and electrolysis, and became severely depressed.
Erika: "Those few months were so dark.  I almost took my leave. I felt like the wizard behind the curtain, saying, 'Do it, now. Being a woman obviously makes you so much happier.' But she was paralyzed with fear."
Helped by heavy sessions with Mildred Brown, Bennett resumed taking female hormones in summer 2000. By then Bennett was wearing some female clothes in the studio, but was still the deep-voiced Uncle Frank on the air. In late August Bennett took a week off, and the station's general manager explained to the staff what was happening. On her return the other staff greeted Fran with a dozen roses and three signed cards. Her mother, Evelyn Knight was supportive as was her daughter Saira, and Erika's son. Fran was still Uncle Frank on the air, but was able to give up smoking and drinking. Her program director commented:
"Frank was wound pretty tight, and Fran was not. This was someone I've known for 20 years as a guy, so that took some getting used to. But the great thing was, Fran didn't have the issues Frank had. She was a much happier person."
Fran and Erika were married in September, and Saira was bridesmaid to both brides. Erika had problems in that people now took her to be gay, and had her own therapy sessions with Mildred Brown.

In November 2001 Fran, despite her top ratings, and 600 other radio employees were laid off by the corporate owner Clear Channel Communications. She was not able to get a replacement gig, except for a guest week on KFOX in July 2002.

In August Fran had surgery with Pierre Brassard in Montreal. Erika not only went to Montreal with Fran, she insisted on observing the operation.

The lack of work continued for some years, but Fran is now a multi-media web producer outside Austin, Texas.

*Not either of the actresses, nor the jazz singer.


According to and Wikipedia Fran's mother was Evelyn Knight: however Sam McManis makes Evelyn to be Ericka's mother:  "Erika's mother, former big-band singer Evelyn Knight, did not disown him, as feared".

Evelyn's IMDB page lists only one child: Andrew.!!!

1 comment:

Billie said...

Interesting! I did not know this about Uncle Frank! Thanks, Zagria.