Since the death of New York radio personality and TV talk show host, Joe Franklin last Saturday in Manhattan at 88 years of age, everyone’s been telling their own Joe Franklin story. This is mine.
It’s 1996, I’m on a book tour for my first book, The Lone Ranger’s Code of the West (An Action-Packed Adventure in Values and Ethics with the Legendary Champion of Justice), and my publicist, “The Great Randini,” has booked an interview with the one and only Joe Franklin.
“Joe who?” I ask.
“Joe Franklin at WOR in New York,” he tells me. “Jim, Joe’s legendary for interviewing celebrities. I sent him a copy of your book and he loves it. You’re lucky he wants you for his show!”
For the uninformed, media people in New York can be very cynical. Not Joe. My book had already received some very complimentary stories in USA Today and the Philadelphia Inquirer, as well as a great review in the New Jersey Star-Ledger. But I was a little nervous around a guy who had interviewed everyone from Bing Crosby to John Kennedy.
I’m in the Green room – a hallway with a couple of folding chairs – outside a seedy studio with a big piece of glass where I can see Franklin. He goes to commercial, I’m escorted in, and from the moment I enter you’d have thought we were long-lost brothers.
“JIMMY!,” he shouts, “how are you? Love the book. Sit down and relax, this’ll be easy.”
We come back from commercial and he launches right into talking about the book and ethics and all the time I’m thinking, “I guess he really likes it.”
“You know, I interviewed the Lone Ranger myself,” he tells me.
“I did not know that,” I say, genuinely surprised.
“Yeah, Clayton Moore, helluva guy. Now, tell me more about your book.”
We spend the next 6 or 8 minutes discussing the ethical points in the book and the entire time, he’s listening… no, no, he’s really listening to me. Unlike a lot of radio hosts who would ask a question, then let me babble on while they looked at their schedule, checked a stack of commercial cassettes, take a swig of some liquid — Joe Franklin made me feel like he listened and cared about what I was talking about.
We finish the interview and Joe tosses to the news guy. He stands up, all five-foot-something, and escorts me out of the studio. “I really liked the book, Jimmy. Hope I helped with some sales. Wanna have you back, the next time you’re in New York.”
And true to his word, he did have me back, at least three more times.
One time, he invited my wife and I to have a pre-Broadway show dinner at his restaurant, aptly named what else, Joe Franklin’s. Joe played the host to the hilt, table-hopping with everyone in the restaurant. And you know when he recognized me, he comes right over with arms extended with a big “JIMMY, how are ya?”
In the time I spent with him, Joe was the real deal, a gentleman loaded with class and respect. And if he didn’t like you, you didn’t get invited back.
Now, that picture of Joe interviewing Debbie Reynolds (above), stock Joe Franklin, but here’s how I remember Joe (below).
I get to New York, ready for another interview talking about ethics. This time, he invites me down to his office “Meet me there,” he tells me, “and we’ll walk over to the studio together.”
The taxi drops me off at Eighth Avenue and West 43rd Street. I enter the building, work my way to the elevator, enter and press the button. It creaks and grinds its way slowly up to Joe’s floor. I get out, and immediately to my left I see an office door open and hear that familiar voice.
I approach the door, look inside and see nothing but stacks of paper piled nearly to the ceiling. Paper EVERYWHERE you looked. His desk, shelves and file cabinet literally carved out of paper. The only way you could find your way through this paper cavern was by following a narrow, winding path around stacks, and stacks and stacks of paper.
“Come in, Jimmy,” he says. “I got something I want to show you.”
He turns and disappears behind an eight foot wall of paper. I sit down on the only thing recognizable, a folding metal chair when the phone rings; one of those big, black handsets from the 50’s, and that was the most advanced technology in the whole office.
“Get that for me, would you, Jimmy?” he tells me.
I pick up the phone, “Joe Franklin’s office, can I help you?”
“Hey Joe, it’s me, Charlie.”
I yell back to Joe, “It’s Charlie, Joe.”
(I don’t know it yet, but I’m in the middle of a vaudeville routine.)
“Charlie who?” Joe asks me.
“Charlie may I have your last name?” I ask.
“C’mon, Joe, stop clownin’ around. It’s me Charlie!”
“No, I’m not clowning and I’m not Joe, I’m…”
“Joe, knock it off, will ya?”
“No, really. I’m not Joe,” I repeat.
Joe appears from around the corner of a slab of paper. “Here, gimme that,” he says. “This won’t take long,” as he grabs the phone. “No, no Charlie, that’s Jimmy! He’s the ethics guy I’m having on my show today.”
While Joe’s occupied on the phone call, I look around the office which are two small rooms divided by a thin wall. On one side sits Joe and his papers. On the other side are stacks of 33 1/3 record albums and other memorabilia, including a trombone and a small, antique fur coat – the kind your grandmother wore in the 40’s – hanging from a clothesline. (You can’t make this up!)
Joe finishes the call, we walk over to the studio. “I didn’t know you played the trombone, ” I tell him.
“Me, naah,” he says. “One of Tommy Dorsey’s boys gave it to me.”
Joe had a story for everything and about everyone. He’s been described as a real New York character, but from my experience, he also had character.
Thanks for the memories, Joe.