In the Limelight with Clarissa Burt interviews Frank Shankwitz: Founder of the Make-a-Wish Foundation
Clarissa: You are In the Limelight with one of my favorite people in the world that I’ve known almost 10 years. He’s the Founder of the Make a Wish Foundation. It around his kitchen table back in 1980. He’s a good friend of mine, Mr. Frank Shankwitz. I’m so excited for all the extraordinary things that are happening in your life. Could you even do one more interview? You must just be wanting to hide from the press at this point! The Wishman movie, we’re going to talk about that and then were going to talk about your brand new shiny star on the Walk of Fame in Las Vegas in front of the Paris Hotel. How much more exciting can this life get, Frank?
Frank Shankwitz: I mean, it’s been a wild trip and all because of you, Clarissa!
Clarissa: Well, we did some good. It’s great to get out there, to go networking events. It’s paramount for us entrepreneurs. So let me set the stage. We were at the same event in Prescott, Arizona in 2011. I didn’t know anyone up there and I was walking around the silent auction and there you stood with your boots, your belt and your cowboy hat. Well, I just had to meet this dashing figure! I walked up and said, “Hello, my name is Clarissa”. When you told me who you were and what you did, I immediately knew you had to meet Greg Reid, Founder of Secret Knock networking event. When you first spoke with Greg by phone, you were not convinced in the beginning. First of all, you didn’t know me from Adam. And here I am thrusting you on this guy in San Diego. Tell us about that story.
Frank Shankwitz: I had no idea who Greg Reid was. The next day after you made the contact, he says, “Hi, I’m Greg Reid, I’m flying you to San Diego – I need to talk to you. Just like that! Well, I was still an active homicide detective at the time and I’m thinking to myself “is this a relative of somebody I put in prison”? So I did a background check…he was clean, no problems. So then I got to thinking, who doesn’t like San Diego? So I flew over there a couple of days later, met the gentleman and wow! What a trip since then!
Clarissa: Now, I know you started out with Secret Knock and with Greg, touring around the country doing speeches at places like Harvard. One day Greg asked you if you had a wish.
Frank Shankwitz: Yeah, Greg one day asks me “So, Frank…if you could be granted a wish, what would it be? I said I’ve never been asked that before. I’ve never even thought about that. It’s never about me. And he said, “Do you want a new car, you want to go on a fancy trip?. I told him I’d just like to have my story told, leave something that my grandkids could be proud of that the Granddad did. And boom. About a week later, he and Theo Davies said we were going to make a movie about your life. I said, no, you’re not. And they said yes, we are! We’re going to do a full feature-length movie. It’s gonna be a low budget independent movie. We’re gonna break all the Hollywood rules and come out with a smash. Wow! Okay! But the biggest part of what they want to be involved in every aspect from the inception.
Clarissa: Yes, indeed! What a trip! I was a part of the movie in a very small way as an associate producer. I was also your stepmother..let’s say the mother that you love because your real Mother wasn’t necessarily the best mom, although you made amends with her later in life. But you really, really did love your stepmom. And I played her. Right?
Frank Shankwitz: Right. We had a very very close relationship.
Clarissa: Well, if we do have was a very small part, but I was honored to play it because I knew it meant so much to you, but back to a story. So anyway, six years in the making, six years of blood, sweat and tears, six years of is this thing ever gonna get made, six years of working and trying to find the funds to make it all happen to become a reality? When was it that you sort of went, you know what, this thing is a real movie. Like, how long ago was that?
Frank Shankwitz: Oh, I think it really sunk in when we started to set design. About three weeks before we actually started filming and the crews came over. We had this empty warehouse. Within three weeks, we had a full highway patrol office.
Clarissa: There was shot up in Prescott where you live. Correct?
Frank Shankwitz: Yeah. So I lobbied really hard to get it filmed in Arizona.
Clarissa: Oh, great. Great. They were really great. Real helpful. So shout out to Prescott, Arizona, right. You want to. You want to give a little shout out there?
Frank Shankwitz: Well, you know, I said that I lobbied very hard. Arizona doesn’t give tax credits anymore for the movie industry. Right. Right. And most movies are made into Mexico or Georgia because I knew so many people in town. I told the producers that I think I can save you two million dollars. Distant location, rental costs and so on. Sure. I know the people are all the bar. I know that people like everywhere else. I know this and that. And they’re gonna give that to us. No, I didn’t have that in here. But I went to these people and said, I want this movie made here. They’re going to do seven million dollars into the economy, your life. What do they all agree? Well, we normally charge ten thousand dollars but it’s yours. We charge a hundred thousand dollars. So you sit square off with yours. And by the way, folks, I need you to get their act with your water plumbing all set up in your car.
Clarissa: Okay, we’ll do it. Incredible. It’s now down to just fantastic.
Frank Shankwitz: That was the beginning of the movie. If my calculations are correct. Was that two summers ago? Yes, in twenty, seventeen, twenty, seventeen.
Clarissa: So that movie actually came out of Premiere was, what, two weeks ago in L.A. in the Egyptian theater. So a real true bona fide premiere red carpet. You were inundated that night. I mean, you couldn’t catch your breath on the red carpet. You stood in one place and people just kept swarming you all night long. How did that feel? Now you’re like apart from the fact that you already worried in your own right, but in a different way. Now you’re like a bona fide celebrity.
Frank Shankwitz: Well, I don’t know how true celebrities do it! You know…you’ve been there yourself. My wife was with me in Los Angeles, she seldom will travel with me and especially the red carpet. She really enjoyed it, but when it was over she asked me “How do you do that?!” It’s exhausting! But how special!!
Clarissa: And I think that I can honestly say I’m not letting any cat out of the bag when I say there were some moments that pretty Greg wasn’t even sure this movie was going to get made because it’s a hard gig.
Frank Shankwitz: We were the last week of filming and he called the crew and everybody said, we’re going have to shut down tomorrow. There is no money right now.
Clarissa: I’m going to tell you a little anecdote myself, I had never in my life seen Greg and I’m no great for 10 years. I never saw his face looked like that. I mean, you could see he was really, truly worried. There was a lot at stake. There was a lot of responsibility to investors. Talk about stickability!
Clarissa: We haven’t really talked about what sparked the Make a Wish Foundation. Real quick story about Chris back in 1980. I wanted you to touch upon the Chips television showpiece that he was so in love with. And then, you know, fast forward to Larry Wilcox, if you will.
Frank Shankwitz: If it wasn’t for the TV show Chips, maybe a lot of your readers may not recognize. Back in the 70s and early 80s, it was the adventures of two California highway patrolmen Paunch and John, motorcycle officers very popular with the children of the 14 age demographic group. But in 1980, Arizona highway patrol was introduced a little boy named Chris, seven-year-old with leukemia and only a couple of weeks to live. And his favorite TV show was Chips. He told his mother, when I grow up, I’m going to be a motorcycle, just like Punch John. The family contacted the Arizona Highway Patrol asked if he could meet one of the officers, hang out with the guys for a day. Fortunately, I happened to be the motorcycle officer that they chose for him to meet. And it was a very special day for the little boy. I made him the first and only Honorary highway patrol officer that day, complete with his own uniform, his own badge, his helmet. Most important to him, his motorcycle wings, because that’s what he sent me the first time I heard the word, “wish” I wish I could be a motorcycle officer. Unfortunately, Chris passed away a couple of days later. He was buried in Illinois. We went back and buried him. And coming home, I just started thinking he had a wish, let’s do that for other children. The connection with Larry Wilcox and Robert Pine was made Secret Knock. I was on stage and Greg says, by the way, turned around and I turned around and there was Larry Wilcox.
Larry Knight just starting out. We became friends and remained friends and remained friends. I called Larry and I said, I’d love to have you cameo for this one part. Would you consider it? And he looked at the screenplay and he said, yeah, I’d love to do that. Then we were looking for a sergeant that’s gonna play my motorcycle sergeant. I started thinking, Robert Pine, who was the Sergeant in Chips, is an identical personality. Producers call Robert Find said in the screenplay, you said, I want this. These guys just connected. Well, I’m friends forever. They’re still friends forever. Strangers really, really get back. Hanging out with them for a couple of days or so much, I had always jokes are always funny stories. But Robert Pine brought they had a major role in the movie. I did what I call a maturity to the set. The young actors kind of goof around. He said to me, you guys better be read your lines.
Clarissa: And there’s Make-a-Wish. Straight across, the fuselage is up these huge jet planes. And I say that for you. Right about right. Here you go. It’s kind of something else. You started now. That’s a really, really cool story. As a quick sidebar, I know that not only did you go back for Christmas funeral, what you went back in the last three years. I think it was to visit his gravesite three years ago.
Frank Shankwitz: Right. I was at an event in Iowa where I was giving a speech and realized that I was only about 100 miles away from a little town of Kobani, Illinois, where we buried Chris. My manager and I went to the gravesite, which I hadn’t been to in 38 years.
Clarissa: How did it feel going back after all that time?
Frank Shankwitz: A lot of memories. Just a lot of memories. Memories, not just the burying a little boy and being with his mother at the time. But also the support of the community. We were back there. Illinois State Police, the city police and the county police heard of this and all joined us here as well. Funeral. Yeah. I still have pictures of when we buried a little boy. Obviously, we’ll go in there. I got tears. My manager Stephanie recorded it and I told her it was the wind that was blowing so hard and it was cold. I brushed the snow off the tombstone area and layed some patches down. I figured by now he was a motor detective like I was, so I left him a motor detective backups badge there for him and also his motorcycle wings once again.
Clarissa: As if having your own movie Mr. Frank Shankwitz wasn’t a big enough deal, you just recently got a star on the Walk of Fame in Las Vegas in front of the Paris Hotel. You know, I’m kind of wondering, are you even going to have time to talk to me now?
Frank Shankwitz: Well, it’s a good thing you made an appointment!.
It was a total surprise! It all came about March when Sharon Doyle suggested that I have a star on the Walk of Fame. I didn’t even know what that was. I never go on that side of the street. The place that we visit is on the other side! And I’m looking and there’s one of my fans. People are like Bobby Darin. Yes. Elvis Presley, of course, we know the name Stanley Overbite brother. And I think a well, that’s kind of neat. I wonder where they’re going to place mind. Well, I you say I was there for construction. We’re going to start for construction. They saw out a section of the sidewalk and they couldn’t place it right then because of the traffic. Come back in the morning. Well, there I am, Bobby Darin, Elvis Presley, and Frank Shankwitz! Unbelievable! One of my daughters flew in. It was fun because we did a premier also movie premiere in Las Vegas.
Clarissa: So now you’ve got your star on the Walk of Fame. I don’t know what’s next for Frank Shankwitz. Do you have any idea? Maybe a little rest?
Frank Shankwitz: My book, Wishman. We just got the new special edition in hardcover. We’re just going crazy on sales on this. It’s available on Amazon. And we’re working with Mark Gold, a couple of new projects, documentaries.
Clarissa: That’s extraordinary. So there’s going to be a link to where to go find the book. So got you covered on that. We’ll make sure that everybody knows where to find the book. Now, I know that distribution right now. Let’s talk about that a second. I know that there are some states that have distribution and there’s going to be a rollout. Is that correct? It’s not at once, it’s coming out in a rollout.
Frank Shankwitz: Yes. For the movie, you’re talking. Distributors are bringing in more and more states as it gains popularity on the West Coast there, especially to Arizona, who went to Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado. Now it’s getting into Wisconsin, Texas, more in California. So the word is getting out.
Clarissa: Wow. So if I had said six, nine, 10 years ago, “Frank buckle in. Your life is about to change drastically and you’re going to have books, speaking engagements. You’re going to speak at Harvard, you’re going to have a movie and a star on the Walk of Fame in Las Vegas.” What would you have said to me? Baloney. What’s the message there? What’s the message?
Frank Shankwitz: Well, the big thing, the theme of the movie and my thing is everyone can be a hero. Give back to somebody, help somebody out. I think to me, especially when I met, great, he told me that my mistake was and this is 2011, that I never filled my own cup. And I said, what do you mean by that? He said, you’ve got to fill your own cup first, meaning financially and with the overflow, you start helping take care of people. Well, I was doing it the other way round. I was taking care of people and never thought about my cup. Well, now I think my cup is going to be starting to overflow with the overflow. It is just going to be now amazing because I’ve got the name recognition where now I’m on board with so many other nonprofits. Right now I’m on the board on. And we’re going to announce pretty soon, I think, in August. I’m associated with water out of Seattle where we’re going to help veterans, foster children, homeless just as great a program. They’ve invited me to be part of it.
Clarissa: So there is no end in sight. Is that what I understand?
Frank Shankwitz: I’m going to have to you know, I’ve got to live in a beautiful ranch out here. Let’s set it on a porch every day, a couple hours or morning, and that’s fine coffee and a paper. So let’s get to work on something.
Clarissa: I’m going to let you go so you can get to work on something else that’s not this interview. Thank you again. You know where my heart lies and how much I love you. And Kitty, I couldn’t be happier. You know, I just think it’s the coolest darn thing. I sit back and I watch and I smile from ear to ear because it just makes me feel so good to know that you’re feeling so good about what’s happening in your life and what you’re bound to keep on changing Frank.
Frank Shankwitz: Our paths cross all the time and that’s what’s so great. We remain friends, but we’re at some point going to run together
Clarissa: Yeah. Oh, I see you. I see a lot of you. Oh, I see plenty of it. No, not enough. Ever enough. But I do see you frequently, and it’s always a pleasure when I do so.