Don Frabotta: Salem's Favorite Maitre D'

All long-time "Days" fans know Dave. Dave was Salem's friendly maitre'd and waiter at many of its restaurants throughout the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. From Doug's Place, to Wings, to Tuscany, you could always count on Dave to greet you at the door and seat you at your favorite spot. Don Frabotta, who played Dave from 1974-1993 and again from 2000-2004, also ranks 13th all-time on "Days" longest-tenure list, with over 20 years on the show. He also holds the record for most years with the show by a non-contract actor. Mr. Frabotta graciously agreed to do this interview and give a look back over his career and his time on "Days." 

How did you first get into acting?
"The first thing I ever did was an angel at a Church Christmas Pageant, at which I fell asleep...Then I did plays in high school...After I got out of the Army, I went to study at Pasadena Playhouse College of Theatre Arts in Pasadena, California.
 It was from there and during school that I got my first paid acting work when scenes from a play I was doing on the professional stage there were selected to be seen on a local PBS show called "Theatre Beat." I appeared on that show a second time a year later with scenes from a small theatre show I was involved in. Right after that, I got my first commercial."

How did you originally get involved with "Days of Our Lives?"
"I got on "Days of Our Lives" by pure luck. After college, I was involved in running three local L.A. theatres at night. During the day, I worked in the NBC mail room. At that time, you could not work at NBC and appear on a show. Four years later, I quit the mail room to appear as a bartender on "Bright Promise", another soap on NBC, but it got cancelled. I was out of work a bit and NBC called me back to the mail room because the head of the department had surgery and was going to be out for one month. After that, I went over to the "Days" production office and handed over my photo and resume and said 'I'd like some work.' I was called two days later, and, (on the March 25, 1974 episode), I played a bellhop in Portofino when Julie married Bob Anderson. I thought I was in heaven. A few weeks later, I got another call for work, this time to be a gurney pusher (ambulance attendant, on the April 22, 1974 episode). It was at that time that I heard them talking about the waiter position at Doug's Place. Whoever was scheduled to play him was not available. Helen Hall, the production assistant, suggested me to Wes Kenney, the executive producer/director. I was asked to come in to read for the part...Wes Kenney saw me and asked what I was doing there. I replied that I was there to read for the part. His response was 'You want it?', to which I nodded yes. He then said 'You've got it. Go home and we'll call you.' (Frabotta's first episode as the Doug's Place waiter was aired on June 18, 1974). I have no idea where Helen Hall is today, but I thank her every day. There was a tendency in the early days to hire performers who had theatre training, so I know that that mention on my resume helped. Later (in May, 1975), when Hal Riddle (who played Max the maitre'd) left the show, I stepped into being maitre d' as well, until Robert Clary came back to the show (in June, 1975). I resumed the maitre d' position when Clary left (in March, 1980).

When did the Doug's Place waiter get named Dave? Were there ever any thoughts of a last name for Dave?
I'm not sure when exactly I became Dave, but it was early on. We were still a half-hour show and rehearsing in the rehearsal hall in the main building. I had another name before Dave, one that was just written in by the writers and was, I think, only uttered once. The fan clubs and magazines had a contest one time to see who could remember that other name. At some point, Wes Kenney stopped in rehearsal and said 'You look more like a Dave, so we'll call you Dave.' Also, there was another contest to give Dave a last name. The contest winner, who was selected because of their reasoning and storyline ideas, wanted me to be a DiMera. But, as for the show, no one ever seriously considered giving Dave a last name, although I recall executive producer Al Rabin bringing it up and joking about it.

Working at the various Salem restaurants, you got a chance to work with a majority of the cast. Who were your favorite actors to work with? Are there any actors you wish you got to have more scenes with?
I truly enjoyed working with everyone over the years. I was just so happy, and lucky, to be working as much as I did. I looked forward to getting up at 4AM to head to the set, why would I not be? Of course, I worked with some actors more than others.

Frances Reid (Alice Horton) was one of the most stunning ladies I'd met in the business. She, too, studied at Pasadena Playhouse, so we had that bond which comes from studying there. One day, there were five of us who were in a scene who had studied/taught at Pasadena Playhouse at different being Jed Allan (Don Craig), whom I loved doing scenes with. Once it was evident that I'd be on the show for awhile, Frances approached me about union things that an actor should really concern themselves with. From that, I became very involved in union work, specifically dealing with daytime serial wages and working conditions. Frances taught me a great importance too. The first time "Alice" dropped an "F-bomb", I was on the floor. Here was this actress, who was so very important in theatre, television and radio was the doyenne of soaps...the mother figure of "Days"...and she could be as salty as another.

Macdonald Carey (Tom Horton): I loved doing crossword puzzles with Mac. Again, here was this superstar of the old movies that I was getting a chance to perform with. I loved hearing his stories from the old days.

Bill and Susan Seaforth Hayes (Doug Williams and Julie Williams): I learned so much from Susan, watching her and getting advice from her. Even though I'm miles away, I still consider them my friends and mentors. 

John Clarke (Mickey Horton) was a wonderful actor and very generous in his scenes. I still enjoy seeing some of his early work (on other shows).

Suzanne Rogers (Maggie Horton), of course, is another all-time favorite. She's one of the most talented people on the show and such a warm, beautiful lady. I especially enjoyed my time at Tuscany (the restaurant where Dave worked from 2000-2004) because of her.

Robert Clary (Robert LeClair) is an all-time favorite. I had enjoyed his work on "Hogan's Heroes" and couldn't believe I was working next to him. I loved it when he and Bill Hayes (Doug) sang in the old days.

Ed Mallory (Bill Horton) was a bit reserved in the beginning, but warmed up (as time went on) and I loved watching his scenes in the early days.

Mary Frann (Amanda Peters) and Joe Gallison (Neil Curtis) were spectacular people.

Mark Tapscott (Bob Anderson) was generous.

Lanna Saunders (Marie Horton): I adored working with her.

Elaine Princi (Kate Winograd & Linda Anderson) became a friend over the years and I would have liked to have had more scenes with her.

Deidre Hall (Marlena Evans), without knowing it, taught me a lot. I remember when she first came on the show and how she built the Marlena character to where it was. She was a shrewd, focused business lady who truly cared for her fans and usually knew most of them by name. I'm still very thankful that she included me in her big fan gatherings.

Gloria Loring (Liz Curtis) and Patty Weaver (Trish Clayton) were so easy to work with.

John deLancie (Eugene Bradford) was fascinating to watch.  He had such depth of character.  A cerebral actor who was super in the "heavy" moments and had great comic timing.  I loved his scenes with Arleen Sorkin especially, I thought they worked off each other in a wonderful symbiotic way.  I'd seen him on stage and in other TV stuff....and his work has always, still is, been top of the line.

Arleen Sorkin (Calliope Jones): I loved working with her and wish I had had more scenes with her. She was so in the moment and you had to be on your toes. I remember her first day and how scared she was.

George Jenesky (Nick Corelli): I loved working with him. He's a wonderfully talented performer.

Charlotte Ross (Eve Donovan): I remember her first day on the show and watched her blossom into the wonderful actress that she is today.

Joe Mascolo (Stefano DiMera) was always generous and thoughtful to others in the scene.

Peggy McCay (Caroline Brady) has to be one of the finer actresses around. I've always admired her and loved watching her work on the show and elsewhere.  An actor's actor and a lovely lady.

Frank Parker (Grandpa Shawn Brady) was always fun to be around. I loved the jokes and stories and he could sing at the drop of a hat. He was always friendly towards me.

John Aniston (Victor Kiriakis) always amazed me. He had, still does, this very quiet demeanor that speaks volumes. A thoughtful, caring actor.

Thaao Penghlis (Tony DiMera & Andre DiMera) also was a wonderful performer.  I had seen him in other things that were pre-"Days" and some after and in-between.  He had a wonderful intensity in his characterization and I always found him to be very kind to me and caring. 

Wally Kurth (Justin Kiriakis) was such fun....had a very nice light attitude about everything, it seemed.  A super friendly person.  We had very few scenes together, but I liked watching his work on the set.

Judi Evans (Adrienne Kiriakis & Bonnie Lockhart): When I think of Judi, I think of laughter. She seemed to bring that wherever she went. Just a dear and friendly person.  I wish I had had the opportunity to be in more scenes with her. 

Stephen Nichols (Steve Johnson): I remember when he came on the show.  We were working at Sunset/Gower Studios and, of course, he was to be there a short few days....and stayed.  An intense, well thought-out performance was always a given with him, yet, he had a very nice light side about him.  Caring.  Thoughtful.  I was fortunate to be in his scenes a lot.  His work with Mary Beth Evans was some of the best daytime serial stuff around in its time.  I'll always remember that they wanted to have me in that calendar shot [the 1990 "Days" calendar] with them. That made me feel so special.

Mary Beth Evans (Kayla Johnson) has to be one of the sweetest people around.  Very caring and giving.  It was a joy to be in the same room with her. I loved watching the truth in her face when she was performing. 

Missy Reeves (Jennifer Deveraux) has to be one of the sweetest people on the Earth. She's always so up and so kind.

Matthew Ashford (Jack Deveraux) was so great to have scenes with.

Drake Hogestyn (John Black) and Peter Reckell (Bo Brady): Had lots of fun with them.

Kristian Alfonso (Hope Brady) is another great person to be in a scene with. And offcamera, she has to be one of the nicest, most respectful people around.

Jim Reynolds (Abe Carver) and Josh Taylor (Chris Kositchek & Roman Brady) are men's men. They are stable characters on the show and truly super actors.

Finally, Betty Corday (the executive producer), in the early days, would come in to watch the dress rehearsal to give the final okay on how the show would be done. And no one would change a comma after that because the taping was viewed. She was truly a business woman and an Earth Mother. She truly cared about the performers in the "Days of Our Lives" family and was always so very kind.

Do you have a favorite fan encounter that stands out?
Well, the most memorable, of course, was Elizabeth Taylor. She and Richard Burton were doing a traveling stage production of 'Private Lives.' We working at Sunset/Gower Studios at the time (in the late 1980s), and someone, I think it was either Quinn Redeker (Alex Marshall) or Leann Hunley (Anna DiMera), suggested that some of us get together and go see the show. None of us were working that day, so we gathered at the studio and had a mini-party before heading out. The theatre was out on Wilshire Boulevard. Thirteen of us walked in, and you could hear the buzz..."Days of Our Lives!"...We found our seats and truly enjoyed the show, in which Ms. Taylor "went up" on her lines and "broke the fourth wall" and said to the audience: 'I can't remember my line. Do you mind if we start this scene over?' The audience went wild for about ten minutes. I don't think Mr. Burton was very happy, however! At intermission, this big, bouncer-type guy comes over and asks if we were the "Days of Our Lives" people. Quinn Redeker answered in the affirmative. The man said 'Fine. Miss Taylor would like to see you all after the performance. Please wait here and I will show you backstage.' We were escorated backstage and to her dressing room. And there was this gorgeous woman whom we'd all admired for years. It was like meeting the Queen! We lined up to shake her hand and be introduced. I do remember saying 'I'm Don Frabotta', to which she said 'Of play Dave.' She was obviously a huge and true fan. I couldn't wait to get to a phone to call my parents on the East Coast. Miss Taylor really wanted to be on the show, but things couldn't be worked out. [Taylor would later appear on "General Hospital"]. In later years, when Miss Taylor appeared on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson", which was down the hall from the "Days" studio, I went over, in costume and makeup, and got to say hello to her two more times.

That said, I am still in contact with many of the fans who have watched the show for years and years as well. They are true friends. I enjoyed meeting all of them when they came out to California for the gatherings, or when they came to the softball games, or when I traveled out of state to help raise money for charities. I owe a lot to them for keeping Dave in the mix.

For many years, you had a special "end credit" at the end of the cast credits? How did that happen? 
I'm not sure when that started, but I do recall when it ended, because that "end credit" became a special position, sometimes negotiated, on the crawl. I'm not sure who first gave me credit on the crawl, but it was probably Wes Kenney. Al Rabin was also super to and for me. But I also owe a lot of credit to Ken Corday for that credit listing. He was very generous to me over the years.

How did you end up back on the show in 2000?
When I first left the show in 1993, I went to New York and worked a bit as a stage manager at NYU. Though New York is so expensive, it is still one of my favorite cities in the world. I then came back to Massachusetts, and helped out with ny father, who passed away at the end of 1995. During my stay there, I worked in several movies, small parts, out of the Boston market, and I helped manage an Equity theatre in the city nearby. I left to look after my father's sister, who passed away not long after that. Then I went back to the theatre and worked in the box office, becoming the manager. It was hard work and long days, but I was in heaven again. I decided to head back to California (in 2000) and, after a few months, it was suggested to Ken Corday, by a friend on the show, that they have me back as Dave in Maggie's new restaurant, Tuscany. I had been pursuing commercials and working in local theatre again, and continued that while I was on "Days" again.

Are there any memorable episodes or scenes that stand out more than the rest?
I remember getting a stunt double when a storm happened and the ceiling of Wings caved in. There were so many shows that were so good. I loved being in the middle of those stories. I used to read every script I was in from page one to the last, so that I could find the essence of the day. There were so many moving, sad and happy scenes throughout the years. I'd sit on the side and watch scenes that I was not in and marvel at the work being done. It was a great place to work. A great training ground to learn. In the early days, in show business, the "soaps" weren't looked at too favorably. I remember one agent suggesting that I leave the show before she would represent me. "Soap" actors were thought of as this "distant cousin." But, in time, it became a place that many tried to get work on. There was a "technique" at working on a soap. But I found that it served so well for other aspects of the business. It was soon learned that if you could work on a soap, you certainly could do other things. I think every scene, every day was special. I was working in a wonderful arena!

What were the biggest changes you saw in the production of the show from the 1970's to the 2000's?
Well, we went from half hour to one hour (in April 1975). That transition was difficult but very instructive. A lot was learned as to what could be done. When the show was a half hour, you certainly had free time to go and work elsewhere that day. When we went to an hour, that was going for awhile, and after working 14-18 hours a day, you really didn't feel up to working elsewhere. The longer days changed over time. Working those early one-hour shows was difficult, especially for the younger actors who had "front burner" storylines and 40+ pages of dialogue a day. Sometimes 3, 4, or even 5 days a week. To watch the younger ones find their pacing and method was interesting. There was much contract discussion at that time to whittle the hours down for those who had long weeks. I worked many five day weeks. I learned, and didn't complain...I was working! The pacing changed over the years. Early on, we had more rehearsal time. That was found to not be needed later on, and we did learn to work without that. The camarderie, the "family" continued over the years, but the "bottom line" loomed larger and larger over the years. Money wasn't coming in as in the early heydey of soaps and corners had to be cut. Some of those cuts were severe, though necessary to continue the show as it is today. Performer contracts changed. The number od work days offered changed. The crew also felt the squeeze. Their hours were also cut back and we lost some of them who were fired. I have to mention how important the crew and production staff was for this endeavor. I learned a lot, as a performer, from the crew. They, too, were "family" and I loved working with them over the years.

What have you been up to since leaving "Days" again in 2004?
As for post-"Days", I did continue pursuing commercials while out in California and did a couple more plays. However, with the pull of family and the disenchantment with the general sense of the business as a whole...and the traffic!...I decided to head back East. It's been interesting to say the least. People still talk to me on the street as if I were still on the show. They fill me in if I haven't watched. I still get calls for work in movies, but haven't accepted too many of them. I did do a few when I first returned and worked on a couple of cable series that were filmed in Rhode Island...all small background parts. I worked on the stage in Worcester, Boston and Northampton, Massachusetts. I go to theatre whenever I can and to the movies and I keep in touch with my friends in California, so I know somewhat what is going on. I've heard from Robert Clary and enjoyed his book. I hear from Bill Hayes once in awhile. A couple of people on the staff and crew are still in touch, so I get some news now and then. "Days" is still and will always be a huge part of my life. As for the fans, I just want them to know ow much a part of the "family" they were and still are, and I thank them for all their support over the years. Many of them ask if I will ever write a book about my years on "Days." It is a consideration, but would take discipline and winnowing out of the stories. We'll see.....!

Don & Dave Through The Years

Don & Susan Seaforth Hayes (Julie) during his first year on the show in 1974.

Don & Robert Clary (Robert) pose on the set in 1979.

Dave on the job at Doug's Place On The Lake, 1980.

Don's head shot, c. 1980s.

Lisa Howard (April), George Jenesky (Nick) and Charlotte Ross (Eve) help Don celebrate his 1,000th episode as Dave, 1989.
One of the gifts Don received was the hourglass that he's holding.

Don with Stephen Nichols (Steve) and Mary Beth Evans (Kayla) on the February 1990 page of the 1990 "Days" calendar.

Don gets "Dave" dressed up for Halloween, 1990.

Don with Susan Seaforth Hayes (Julie) on the December 1992 page of the 1992 "Days" calendar.

Don's head shot, c. 1990's.

Don is back in his maitre'd outfit for service at Tuscany, 2001.

Don's head shot, c. 2000s.