He always seemed to be wearing that same salmon colored sports jacket when he walked down 45th Street in New York. There was no mistaking that purposeful aging New Yorker stride or the semi neon jacket of Joe Franklin.
I knew who Joe Franklin was long before I knew there was a real person behind the icon. Billy Crystal used to do a "spot on" impression of Joe in a sketches on Saturday Night Live. Later when I found myself in New York City watching television late at night, I discovered Joe Franklin.
He was host of a very low budget local talk show appropriately named The Joe Franklin Show. He was a local cult radio/television star who managed to get major celebrities and not so major on his show to promote most anything. Every comic could do an impression of Joe Franklin and there were no end to the stories about him. He was short and spoke in a sort of Jackie Mason staccato cadence.
I remember once after the show (Jay Johnson: The Two and Only) at the Atlantic Theatre off Broadway, they told me that Joe Franklin was in the audience. They said he would like to say hello. I jumped at the chance to meet him. I also knew that he could promote the show on radio and television if he liked it.
He was there with three other people much younger than himself. I could not tell if they were relatives, assistants or keepers. They seemed to run herd on him and led the introductions.
"Jay, This is Joe Franklin"
"Nice to meet you Mr. Franklin, I am a long time fan."
"Please, Call me Joe."
Joe focused on me and drew in a breath like he was about to say something really important.
"Jay, I just got back from Atlantic City and have sort of an allergy. I took an antihistamine just before your show. I fell asleep and didn't see much. But I am looking forward to seeing it on Broadway some day."
The others in the group, who had stayed awake, chimed in and were very kind with their remarks about the show. I was being as humble as I could when as if hit by a shot of red bull in the veins Joe sparked. He pointed his finger at me and said,
"The Best Ventriloquist act I ever saw..."
Although I remembered he said he was asleep during my show, a very contrite thank you was just forming on my lips, but Joe barely took a pause.
"The best..... Paul Winchell at the Latin Quarter in 1958"
It was as if he was answering a question on a quiz show and the conversation stopped. He smiled like he won the round, said his goodbyes and left.
That is the last time I actually spoke to Mr. Franklin. He died this week at the age of 88. I hope the first thing he did in heaven was to find Paul Winchell and tell him.
Rest in Peace, Joe
As you were,