January 25, 2015
Joe Franklin and Debbie Reynolds from 1985 (NY Times)
It’s late at night and sometime in the 50’s through 1993 you are taken on a journey driven by a Bronx-born man whom the New York Times described as “A short, pudgy performer with a sandpapery voice that bespoke old-fashioned show business razzle-dazzle.”
That’s the way to describe Joe Franklin, who died Saturday at age 88 in a New York hospice. A friend and producer told The Times it was due to prostate cancer.
Like most people in TV in the 1950’s, Franklin began on radio, in the medium’s golden era, which this blogger is a fan of.
He wrote for singer Kate Smith’s 1940s variety program, which featured Hollywood legends like Clark Gable, Myrna Loy and Edward G. Robinson. He also served as record picker (music director) for WNEW 1130’s iconic “Make-Believe Ballroom.” After that, host Martin Block arranged Franklin to go on the air with a program called “Vaudeville Isn’t Dead.” After stops at several other stations in the 1950s, Joe settled in at WOR in the mid-60s with his “Memory Lane” program — “that big late-night stroll for nostalgiacs and memorabiliacs,” as he described it.
Of course along came TV and that’s when the legend really started to come in to play.
His late-night television show, from 1950 to 1962 on WJZ (now WABC-TV) and then until 1993 on WOR-TV/WWOR, formed the core of his legend.
He would record his shows mostly given their late night time spot, including even before sign-off on channel 9 at one point.
Speaking of sign-off and sign-ons, the Times said for channel 7, at least in 1951, Joe’s midday program live was “the first regular program that Channel 7 had ever broadcast at noon.” And that was in the days even before “The View”, WAY BEFORE THEN.
Word spread fast about this new concept in New York television, a talk show.
[C]elebrities like Elvis Presley, Bing Crosby and John F. Kennedy were making their way to the dingy basement studio on West 67th Street — a room with hot lights that was “twice the size of a cab,” Mr. Franklin recalled in 2002.
But the show that would make him legend was on channel 9. It was the most bizarre talk show in broadcast TV history. And not in a Povich/Springer/Cunningham, WIlkos way. But in a VERY good way.
Here is one such show broken up into parts on Valentine’s Day 1976…a Saturday, which bizarrely enough is when this year’s lover’s day takes place.
No script, no cue cards, no rehearsal. It seemed to fly by the seat of the pants, even though this episode was recorded for broadcast late at night before channel 9 would sign-off the air.
In this clip, aired in the late 1980’s (note the WWOR-TV ID) as part of a best of series, Joe interviews one of his heros, none other than Bing Crosby.
But somehow if you went to his office in Manhattan, you’d swear you had entered a reincarnation of Fibber McGee’s closet. AND THIS WAS IN THE DAYS BEFORE WE HAD HEARD ABOUT HOARDING!
(Photo NY Daily News)
I don’t know if I was asked to clean it up if I would get the job done. But let me say this, whoever has to, I just may have to envy that job.