Frank Lanning was born in 1906 at Penns Grove, New Jersey but when his father took a job as a cartoonist with the Providence Journal the family moved to Rhode Island. During his family’s stay in Rhode Island, Frank attended Cranston High School and worked part-time at the Providence Journal – a harbinger of things to come. The family relocated to Cleveland in the early 1920s and Frank finished his schooling there; he joined the Army for a while before beginning his career working as an illustrator for an advertising agency.
In the 1930s Frank returned to Rhode Island and resumed employment with the Journal, working in the gravure department. The newspaper’s editor Sevellon Brown, soon recognized Lanning’s talent and appointed him as the paper’s art director and sports cartoonist. He would work for the Journal for the next forty-five years creating caricatures of famous Rhode Islanders including politicians and sports figures. It was said that you weren’t famous unless Frank Lanning drew a picture of you.
A prolific cartoonist, Frank created thousands of caricatures for the Providence Journal, The Evening Bulletin, Providence Sunday Journal and the Providence Journal-Bulletin. However, his most famous work was the one he drew of John F. Kennedy the day following his assassination on November 22, 1963. More than 65,000 copies of the memorable keepsake were sold. In 1982 Lanning retired from the Providence Journal.
Lanning was active in a number of civic organizations. He was the first president of Words Unlimited, a statewide organization of sports writers and broadcasters. In 1965, he was the principal founder of the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame and served as its first president from 1965 until 1976. He received honorary degrees from the University of Rhode Island and Providence College. He was also selected for the Humanitarian Award by the Big Brothers Association of Rhode Island and is an inductee of the Bryant University Athletics Hall of Fame.
He died on January 14, 1987, survived by his wife Joanna and two daughters.
Russell J. DeSimone