Frank Lanterman was born November 4, 1901, in Los Angeles, California, into a family whose arrival in the city dated back to 1875. He studied music at the University of Southern California's (USC) School of Music but did not graduate. He tried to make a career in the movie industry playing musical accompaniment to silent movies. But the family business required his attention, and he turned to managing their landholdings.
Although a successful businessman, Lanterman entered politics because of a legal dispute over water rights. Elected to the California State Assembly at the age of 49, Lanterman served fourteen consecutive two-year terms (1951-1978) representing first, the 48th Assembly District, which became the 47th Assembly District, and finally redrawn as the 42nd Assembly District. He was a member of the Republican Party throughout his legislative career, and was a delegate to the Republican National Convention in both 1964 and 1968.
The Assemblyman's first notable legislative contribution was to co-author the Municipal Water District Act (1951). With this legislation, the Foothill Municipal Water District was created to service the communities of La Canada, La Crescenta, and Altadena in Southern California.
Lanterman was best known for his co-authorship of the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, with Nicholas Petris and Alan Short, both members of the California State Senate. This act, which the Assembly passed in 1967 and which became fully implemented in 1972, focused on the issue of the involuntary civil commitment of individuals to mental health institutions in California. With its passage, the Act is credited with setting the standard for commitment procedures across the nation.
During his legislative career, he authored or co-authored almost 400 bills. He served as chairman of the Assembly's Ways & Means Committee from 1969-1970. He was known as California's "Father of Mental Health," a tribute to his long service in the California State Assembly as champion for the state's mentally ill community.
In recognition of his contributions to the mental health community, the Assemblyman’s name is associated with the Frank D. Lanterman High School in Los Angeles, a special education placement high school; the Frank D. Lanterman Regional Center in Los Angeles, a private non-profit corporation that serves those with developmental disabilities; and the Lanterman Developmental Center in Pomona, which is operated by the California Department of Developmental Services. In addition, a portion of State Route 2 is called the Frank D. Lanterman Freeway in his honor. Also, he received a honorary Doctor of Laws degree from USC in 1973.
Lanterman passed away in April 1981.