There’s one “Star Trek: The Next Generation” actor who’s played a Marvel character … besides Patrick Stewart (who took the role of Professor X, leader of the X-Men).
Jonathan Frakes – also known as Commander Riker – was Captain America in the 1970s and early 80s. (According to Plaid Stallions magazine.)
It’s no holodeck simulation, and you didn’t miss an episode. Frakes wore the tights, boots, and spandex while wielding, as he calls it, the trash can lid (Captain America’s shield). In this GalaxyCon virtual event in April 2020, Jonathan Frakes discusses how he became the lead Avenger.
Frakes Opened Comic Book Stores
Frakes’ friend, Charlie Davis – another actor – had been hired by Marvel to open comic bookstores. Davis was Spider-Man. And he knew they were looking for a “Captain America.” He wanted his friend, Frakes, to join in and make a little money. Jonathan Frakes talks to CBR.
“Marvel on 575 Madison Avenue, the eighth floor, had built him a costume. And he did a couple of them and he said, ‘They’re looking for a guy to do Captain America. You should go meet the people over there.’ So, I went over there and, to make it long story short, he and I ended up going out on this weird tour.”
Planes, a Ford Taurus, & 7-11s
The two went go on tour, from New York, and traveled by plane around the U.S. But their chariot for rolling up to events was a Ford Taurus, which they stood on before arriving. Giant Freaking Robot has a quote from Frakes talking about his comic misadventures.
“We’d go out on a Friday, much like a convention, and we’d go to Omaha or we’d go to Chicago and we’d have a schedule and somebody… would pick us up at the airport with a rented Taurus and we’d have a schedule. We’d get to a 7-11, then we’d do a comic bookstore, then we’d get to a supermarket. Every 20 minutes we’d have to be somewhere, and we’d have these spacesuits on, we’d pull up a block away, I’d get on the hood of the car — first of all, I’d take the garbage can lid that had the big ‘A’ on it out of the thing, I’d gripper on the two wings that Captain America has on his cowl — I’d hold the garbage can lid, I’d stand on the hood of the car, ride into the parking lot of the 7-11 on the Ford Taurus. It was a very glamorous time and we made 50 bucks a day.”
Captain America Jumped On Stage With Blood, Sweat, and Tears
While dressed as Captain America and Spider-Man, Davis and Frakes were spotted and asked to attend a Blood, Sweat, and Tears concert. According to Frakes, the drummer (Bruce Colomby) was a major Marvel fan.
Captain America and Spider-Man indeed showed up at the Met where the band was playing. Davis and Frakes ran up and down the aisles and then jumped onto the stage like rock stars.
Frakes Liked Captain America Because He Could Drink
After the concert, Frakes and Davis were invited to the after-party. Davis, as Spider-Man, had a hooded costume and couldn’t drink. But Jonathan Frakes only had a cowl. So, he got to party with the band, Frakes recalls, with some victory. Spider-Man wasn’t so lucky.
“Charlie brings it up to this day!”
Stan Lee Gave Frakes a Raise
Jonathan Frakes and his buddy were only making $50 per appearance. So, the two wrote to Stan Lee, Marvel’s creator, and asked for a raise. As a result, Stan Lee gave them $60 per event, a ten-dollar increase. He also arranged for them to join a party at the White House with the Carter administration.
‘Energizing’ the White House
Jonathan Frakes and Charlie Davis attended the White House party for the Carter administration with Stan Lee and a cast of other characters. The First Lady Rosalyn Carter and Amy Carter (the Carters’ daughter) were promoting the “Captain America Youth Energy Conservation Program.” According to this clipping from the 70s on SyFy Wire, the program was a venture with the U.S. Department of Energy, the Marvel Entertainment Group, and the Campbell Soup Company. The Carter Presidential Library indicates this program took place in the 80s, starting in October 1980. The goal? Spreading information about conservation while encouraging young people to participate.
He eventually gave up the role of Captain America and surfing Ford Taurus hoods. And although Frakes never became Captain America for the movies – Chris Evans filling that role nicely – he did become Captain Riker in “Star Trek: Picard.” He’s also directed episodes of “Star Trek: Discovery.” And as he claims in the interview with GalaxyCon, perhaps it’s best he’s not carrying a trash can lid these days … or wearing spandex.