POOR FRANK is the story of Anci De Lapp who sees a celebrated film maker, Frank, sitting up the aisle from her on a plane to Los Angeles. The elderly lady sitting beside Frank goes to the restroom. Anci follows the old lady and slips her nearly her last $50 to change places with her. Frank is hungover. Anci is pretty and helpful. They end up involved and soon marry.
Anci had been divorced from a fellow teacher (a good man with a good mind – but not a celebrity like Frank). Anci has come to LA to become a screenwriter, but now lives so in awe of Frank that she feels intimidated by his genius, fame and fortune and does little except bask in his shadow. Frank is writer, actor, director, virile, good-looking, but is also so engrossed in his work that he is inclined to see most other people mainly as grist for his art mill. Among other things, Frank has slipped his best friend LSD to watch his reactions in order to use this information for a character in a script. Anci gradually learns of these things, but is only momentarily moved by them.
Anci does not want children, at first. She is pulled apart between a kind of Cinderella Complex and wanting to be Frank’s professional equal. But in a low point of the marriage, Anci yearns for a child as a compensation. Frank takes over the care of the child just as he has formerly been in control of his career. Unknown to Anci, Frank’s boxoffice has slipped and he is in a paroxysm of feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. Now he will raise “his” child, created in hisown image, with all the benefits he never had growing up in a poverty-sticken, disfunctional home.
Anci finally confronts Frank in a bitter quarel. Anci tells Frank he loves the child more than her. Now she wishes they had never had this child at all. Immediately, she is guilt-ridden for the remark, but a seed has been planted. A few days later the child is missing. Frank notifies the police of this “kidnapping”, then hires private detectives when the police are unsuccessful. Suddenly Frank is in the news daily and his popularity sky rockets again.
Now Anci begins to wonder if Frank has murdered their child or given him to the Levys (their best friends who are childless, but have always wanted children) and if Frank has done so for the publicity. Knowing Frank’s callousness in getting what he wants and his abilty as a writer/method actor to script and make believable such a scenario, Anci cringes. Also there is the possibility that he took her remark to heart and got rid of their child so that they could remain together exclusively. If this were so, it is she who is at fault as much as Frank.
Frank becomes more and more unstable. He is either full of bravado or in despair. Sometimes he answers Anci in nonsequitors. He has long periods when he says he does not know what he was doing, or where or with whom. Anci wonders if he is riddled with guilt over the something he has done to the child, or is in grief, or is going insane, or is cheating on her. Possibly he is just playing one of his usual mind games as research for a new script or novel?
After a time, Frank is unable to work. He has made bad investments and his fortune is gone. His fits of rage have alienated him from friends who might have helped. – Anci and Frank have switched positions.
After a period as homeless people, Anci is able to get just enough work to support them in a shabby little apartment in the theater district of New York. Summer nights they dance in the darkness with only the neon signs flickering through the open window and old songs on the phongraph. Frank is generally peaceful now. There is great tenderness between them (though Anci is sometimes uncertain if Frank knows who she is). Their conversations are simple and gentle. But sometimes there is a jewel sparkling in the darkness as Frank recites a brilliant line from one of his films or plays or makes some pithy comment on the meaning of life.
Anci wonders if all the pieces that once made up Frank’s genius are still there, but fragmented and rearranged so they are hard to retrieve. In his present state, he has become the child that is gone and her only happiness is caring for him at all cost. She forces her former fears from her mind and makes a choice to forgive him (for herown survival).
When Frank dies a year or so later, Anci discovers (through a friend) that Frank has given their child into the care of Anci’s former husband. Her former husband loves the child as if he were theirs. Frank had done this bizzare thing realizing how unstable Anci was and knowing that he, himself, had a form of dementia that would soon kill him. As always, Frank had been the puppet master, but this time for an unselfish reason. Anci and her former husband fall in love all over again when he brings the child to her. They will re-marry and raise the child together.