Friday, January 30, 2015

ATM Remembers "The King of Nostalgia": Joe Franklin (1926-2015)

Joe Franklin, circa 1949.
At The Matinee remembers the legendary (and pioneering) television talk show host, known as the "king of nostalgia."   That iconic host was Joe Franklin, who died on January 25th at the age of 88.

Born Joseph Fortgang on March 9, 1926 in the Bronx, the young Fortgang became interested in nostalgic entertainment after meeting celebrated songwriter and composer George M. Cohan at the age of 13 (who was famous for Yankee Doodle Dandy).  He got an early start in radio, picking records for Martin Ball's Make Believe Ballroom, on New York's adult standards station, WNEW 1130 AM.

At the age of 20, Franklin would  have several radio programs on WNEW and WMCA, showcasing his passion for vintage vaudeville, jazz, and big band recordings.

Franklin would make the jump to television in 1950, hosting a show for ABC's New York television flagship, which would become WABC-TV.  Beginning in 1962, he would move his show to the independent station owned by RKO General, WOR-TV (which would be known as WWOR-TV after the station was sold by RKO General to MCA in 1987).  Franklin's show was originally titled Joe Franklin's Memory Lane, but would later be renamed The Joe Franklin Show.  His show had a signature opening theme song- a fast-paced piano rendition of Euday L. Bowman's Twelfth Street Rag (which was replaced by an upbeat-jazzy theme from composer Michael Karp in the show's final years).

Throughout his New York television career, Franklin interviewed over 300,000+ guests on his program, ranging from celebrities, musicians, artists, politicians, and average people- which set it apart from other talk shows.

Some of Franklin's memorable guests were Buster Keaton, Debbie Reynolds, Richard Pryor, Tony Curtis, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Al Pacino, Elvis Presley, John Lennon, The Ramones, Spinal Tap, Salvador Dali, and Leonard Maltin,

In the late 1970's, WOR-TV was one of many independent TV stations that were being distributed to cable television subscribers (through an agreement between RKO General and Eastern Microwave)- making the New York independent a "superstation."  This would give Franklin national exposure to cable television audiences (through cable providers that carried WOR/WWOR).   Franklin was famously parodied by actor/comedian Billy Crystal, during his stint on NBC's Saturday Night Live.

Near the end of his television talk show in August 1993, Franklin was inducted into the Guinness Book of Records as the longest-running continuous talk show host.  He would continue to do a radio series on WOR Radio, where he played vintage songs.  Most recently, Franklin did short segments for Bloomberg Radio (which took over the old WNEW-AM 1130 frequency in 1992), reminiscing about vintage moments in entertainment history.  He also licensed surviving elements of his old WOR/WWOR-TV show to Historic Films (unfortunately, most episodes of his show were either erased or re-used for other programs, since videotape was expensive then).

In addition to his radio and talk show career, Franklin was an avid collector of all things yesterday- rare (and out-of-print) music recordings on every physical format imaginable, vintage sheet music, rare movie posters and scripts.

Franklin had an early interest in film preservation, helping to preserve rare silent films in the late 1940's.  He wrote a book on classic silents, titled Classics of the Silver Screen in 1959.

At The Matinee remembers one of the greats- Joe Franklin.

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