We cannot allow the passing of Joe Franklin go without notice and at least a modest tribute.
He may not exactly be a household name where you live, but over a 43-year career on New York City television he emerged as one of the nation’s most stalwart media champions of classic movies and the people who made them.
His Jan. 26 obit in The New York Times described him this way: A short, pudgy performer with a sandpapery voice that bespoke old fashioned show business razzle-dazzle. (On his The Joe Franklin Show, later Joe Franklin’s Memory Lane) he took his place behind his desk and in front of the camera day after day in the 1950’s, and night after night in the 1960’s, ’70’s, ’80’s and ’90’s.
Over the decades his guests included Bing Crosby, Elvis, Perry Como, Marilyn Monroe, Ronald Reagan (as actor), Eddie Cantor, Jimmy Durante, Buster Keaton, among hundreds of others. In the late 70’s Debbie Reynolds became a regular guest.
Mixed among this eclectic collection of notables was a rich array of no-name performers — a tap-dancing dentist, for example, or a man who whistled through his nose — unheralded anywhere except in Joe Franklin’s studio (which he once described as “twice the size of a cab”).
It’s estimated that over the years Franklin interviewed more than 300,000 guests on his show. One of them was our own Joe Morella, who turned up with co-author Ed Epstein to promote their various movie-star biographies. Recalls Joe:
We did the show a dozen times. We met really famous people each time we were on. There’d be us and someone like a juggler and Ozzie Nelson. Or, a contortionist and Anne Baxter. That sort of thing. (Franklin) was a real character, a funny sort of guy. And very spacey in his way.
Visiting guests would often leave him various bits of themselves: their latest books, a favorite chair, framed photographs, old reels of silent films and vintage Playbills. Franklin’s collection of memorabilia (eg., a shoe of Greta Garbo’s and one of Jack Benny’s violins) overflowed his tiny office (see below). Nobody on earth has this type of collection, said Franklin’s longtime assistant.
We can safely say that without Joe Franklin, who died on Jan. 24 of prostate cancer at age 88, the classic movie world is a little poorer.
Those of you interested in our two historical couples immortalized on film will have to wait until next week for more information.