Frank at Steppenwolf Theatre Company in 2010
August 19, 1938
|Died||January 15, 2018 (aged 79)|
|Show||"Work In Progress," "In the Dark," "Somewhere out There," "The Other Side" "Unfictional-KCRW"|
|Station(s)||KPFA, WNYC, KCRW, NPR|
Joe Frank (August 19, 1938 – January 15, 2018) was a French-born American writer, teacher, and radio performer known best for his often philosophical, humorous, surrealist, and sometimes absurd monologues and radio dramas he recorded often in collaboration with friends, actors, and family members.
Frank was born Joseph Langermann in Strasbourg, France, near the border of Germany, to father Meier Langermann (then aged 51, a Polish-born shoe manufacturer) and mother Friederike "Fritzi" Langermann (née Passweg) (then aged 26). Frank was born months before the family fled from Nazi Germany's persecution of Jewish people in their native Poland. Legislation to allow the family and others into the country was passed by the US Congress twice, the first having been vetoed by President Roosevelt. His father (identified as 'Meyer Langerman' in New York City's death records) died of kidney failure on October 8, 1943, when Joe was five years old. On April 28, 1945, his mother married Theodore Frank (whom Joe called Freddy in his show, and in the article 'Joe Frank is off the air' in the 'LA Weekly' in 1997) and changed Joe's last name.
In his twenties, Frank studied at Hofstra University in New York and later at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. In 1964, he taught five grades of English at the Sands Point Academy for Gifted Children in Sands Point, NY. From 1965-1975, Joe taught English and Russian literature and philosophy at the Dalton School in Manhattan and later, while working as a music promoter (1976-1977), became interested in the power of radio.
In 1977, Frank started volunteering at Pacifica Network station WBAI in New York, performing experimental radio involving monologues, improvisational actors, and live music during late-night, free-form hours. In 1978, he moved to Washington, D.C., to serve as a co-anchor for the weekend edition of National Public Radio's All Things Considered, his first paying radio job, which lasted two weeks. At the end of each segment, he was given five minutes to create and narrate his creative fictional essays.
In 1978-1984, Joe performed in, and produced 18 dramas for the "NPR Playhouse," which won several awards. His 1982 monologue "Lies" was used, without permission, as the inspiration for the Martin Scorsese movie After Hours. (He later was "paid handsomely" in an out-of-court settlement.)
In 1986, on the invitation of Ruth Hirschman Seymour, the general manager of NPR's Santa Monica, California, affiliate KCRW, Frank moved to Santa Monica, where he wrote, produced, and performed in his own weekly hour-long radio program, "Joe Frank: Work In Progress."
While at KCRW, Frank received several accolades.
Joe Frank continued to work at KCRW until 2002, and his work evolved, as evidenced by the diverse series he produced. The first was "Work in Progress," then "In The Dark," followed by "Somewhere out There", and finally "The Other Side."
Beginning in 2004, Frank began creating full-length shows for subscribers to his web site.
In 2012, Frank started producing periodic half-hour shows for KCRW's "UnFictional" series. He continued to produce all-new shows for the series until months before his death.
Other activities and personal life
Starting in 2003, Frank performed on stage with original material at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, CA, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, Illinois; at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco; and in Los Angeles at the Hammer Museum and Largo at the Coronet, as well as other venues.
His 230-hour body of work continues to be re-aired on WNYC New York, and many NPR stations including the radio station at the University of California at Davis, KDVS, Savannah, Georgia WRUU, Cabool, Missouri KZGM, Carson City, Nevada KNVC, and others with new stations being added.
In early 2005, Frank suffered complete kidney failure. He received a second cousin's kidney in 2006, which continued to function normally (with the help of multiple immunosuppressant drugs) until his death.
In May 2014, Frank had surgery to treat colon cancer, which was successful. In December 2015, Frank was hospitalized due to a gastrointestinal perforation following a routine medical procedure. This led to heart and kidney issues and Joe's complete recovery took a full year. His colon cancer returned in July 2017; he had surgery in October 2017 to excise a tumor in his colon. He died on January 15, 2018, after multiple reversals following the surgery, including an occurrence of sepsis, which was the final blow.
Radio program style
Frank's radio programs are often dark and ironic and employ a dry sense of humor and the sincere delivery of ideas or stories that are patently absurd. Subject matter often includes religion, life's meaning, death, and Frank's relationships with women.
Frank's voice is distinctive, resonant, authoritative, and, because of his occasional voice-over work, often oddly familiar. At the 2003 Third Coast Festival, he explained that he was recording in Dolby and playing back without it, which created Joe's now familiar intimate and gritty sound. A 1987 Los Angeles Times article described it as a voice "like dirty honey" and "rich as chocolate."
The repetitive cadence of the music, drones and Frank's dry, announcer-like delivery are sometimes mixed with recorded phone calls with actor/friends such as Larry Block, Debi Mae West and Arthur Miller (not the playwright), broken into segments over the course of each hour-long program.
Frank's series "The Other Side" included excerpts from Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield's Dharma talks at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. In an interview on KPFA's "Morning Show," Kornfield was asked about working with Joe Frank. Kornfield explained that, although he had never met or talked to Joe Frank or heard his show, he didn't mind Frank using the lectures and that many of his meditation students had found Kornfield through the show.
- Joe Frank is credited in the titles of the 1999 cult movie Galaxy Quest as the voice of the on board computer of spaceship The Protector.
- He can be heard on the song "Montok Point" on William Orbit's album Strange Cargo Hinterland.
- He can be heard on the song "Ocean" on Brazzaville's album 2002.
- The Decline of Spengler stage play, New Directions 48, New York City
- A Tour of the City stage play (Tanam Press, New York City), produced by Theatre Anima at Hangar #9 in the Old Port, Montreal, Canada, in 1990, directed by Jordan Deitcher.
- The Queen of Puerto Rico and Other Stories. (William Morrow, New York City, 1993). A collection of short stories: Tell me what to do—Fat man—Night—Date—Walter—The queen of Puerto Rico—The decline of Spengler. ISBN 0-688-08765-5 Out of print.
- Four short films for television based on his radio shows were written by Joe Frank, directed by Paul Rachman and produced by Propaganda Films in Los Angeles. "Memories by Joe Frank" in 1992 for CBS Television as a pilot, "The Hitchhiker", "The Perfect Woman", and "Jilted Lover" in 1993 for the series "Inside Out" on a cable network.
- Filmmaker Chel White created three short films based on segments from Joe Frank's radio shows, two of which include his voice. The films are Dirt (1998) and "Magda" (2004) from Frank's show "The Dictator", and "Soulmate" (2000) from "Emerald Isle".
- Short film: “Coma” produced and directed by Todd Downing. Based on the radio show of the same title by Joe Frank.
A feature-length film, Joe Frank: Somewhere Out There, about Frank's life and work, is scheduled for release in 2018. The film was completed prior to Frank's death and includes interviews with collaborators and other personalities.
Influence and legacy
Frank's body of work has inspired a variety of other artists including:
- Ira Glass of radio's "This American Life" worked under Frank as one of his first jobs in public radio, and credits Frank as his greatest inspiration.
- Jad Abumrad a recipient of the MacArthur fellowship most known for being the co-host and producer of WNYC's "Radiolab".
- David Sedaris, writer
- Troy Schulze, a theater artist in Houston, Texas, who created the show "Jerry's World" (2003) for Houston-based theater group Infernal Bridegroom Productions. Utilizing material from several Frank shows, the piece was deemed Best Original Show in Houston in 2011 by the Houston Press.
- Jeff Crouse, artist and technologist, created "Interactive Frank," which uses content from the Web to dynamically create a Joe Frank Show. "The user types in a sentence, and Interactive Frank takes over, scouring the Web for another sentence that follows a sentence with the last three words. Frank can also find streaming audio to accompany the generated narrative based on a word analysis, and it can read the narrative using an online text-to-speech generator."
- Filmmakers such as Francis Ford Coppola, Michael Mann, David Fincher, Ivan Reitman, and Martin Scorsese have optioned or bought stories from Joe Frank's radio shows (although the terms for Scorsese's film After Hours were settled after production had already begun).
- Blue Jam, a late-1990s series made by British comedian Chris Morris broadcast on BBC Radio 1 in the UK, shares parallels with early editions of mid-1980s Work in Progress shows.
- Comedian Dana Gould credits Joe Frank as the inspiration for the format of his podcast, The Dana Gould Hour. After Frank's death he dedicated an episode of the podcast entirely to his work and legacy.
- Jonathan Goldstein, former host of CBC radio's WireTap
Voice-over and acting work
- "Wild Rescues" on "Animal Planet"
- "Sexy Beast" film as the narrator on the trailer, which was nominated for best film trailer in 2004.
- "W/ Bob & David" narrator in the first episode, 2015.
- Third Coast International Audio Festival Lifetime Achievement Award
- Radio Program Award from the Corporation For Public Broadcasting
- Gold Award from the International Radio Festival of New York
- Gold Award from the International Radio Festival of New York (second)
- American Nomination to the Prix Italia
- Special Commendation from the Berlin Prix Futura
During Work In Progress
- Major Armstrong Award
- Corporation For Public Broadcasting Program Award
- Peabody Awards Web site Archived 2008-07-26 at the Wayback Machine – search for Joe Frank
- Richard Sandomir, "Joe Frank, Spinner of Strange Radio Tales, Is Dead at 79," New York Times, January 19, 2018.
- Congressional Record on 1940 May 2 (86 Congressional Record 5425 (1940), page 5469): By Mrs. O'DAY [Caroline Love Goodwin, congresswoman from New York]: H.R. 9651: A bill for the relief of Meier Langermann, his wife Friederike, and son Joseph; to the Committee on Immigration and Naturalization.
- The Senate passed the bill on 1940 June 22 (86 Congressional Record 8909 (1940), page 8974). President Roosevelt vetoed the bill on 1940 July 2 (86 Congressional Record 9142 (1940), page 9146). Quoth his message: 'Meier Langermann, his wife and son, formerly of Germany, although citizens of Poland'
- Congresswoman O'Day submitted an identical bill the next day (86 Congressional Record 9231 (1940), page 9244) A reading of the bill on 1940 September 30 (86 Congressional Record 12842 (1940), page 12870) noted: "Meier Langermann, his wife Friederike, and son Joseph, as of April 12, 1939, the date on which they were admitted temporarily to the United States." Congress passed it on March 6, 1941 (87 Congressional Record 1902 (1941), page 1906).
- "NYC Death Index Results". Archived from the original on 2011-07-22. Retrieved 2010-07-19.
- Joe Frank :: News and Reviews Archived 2010-01-09 at the Wayback Machine – LA Weekly – "Joe Frank is Off the Air"
- March 7, 2000 Salon.com Archived June 18, 2008, at the Wayback Machine article by Susan Emerling.
- Hearst, Andrew (May 27, 2008). "The Scandalous Origins of Martin Scorsese's After Hours". Panopticist. Retrieved September 9, 2015.
- Susan Emerling (March 8, 2000). "Public radio's bad dream". Salon.com. Archived from the original on September 19, 2009. Retrieved September 9, 2015.
- "Radio Icon Joe Frank Returns to KCRW". 2012-07-19.
- "UnFictional". 2012-11-09.
- Smith, Harrison (January 17, 2018). "Joe Frank, boundary-pushing storyteller whose medium was radio, dies at 79". The Washington Post.
- "Radio Artist, Writer Joe Frank Dies At 79". NPR.org. Retrieved 2018-01-19.
- Third Coast Archives – scroll to bottom for speech.
- Diamond, Jamie (1987-11-22). "Radio Noir". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-02-06.
- The Sound of Young America
- Leland, Andrew (September 29, 2018). "The Radio Auteur: Joe Frank, Ira Glass, and Narrative Radio". www.nybooks.com. Archived from the original on September 29, 2018. Retrieved October 11, 2018.
- The End Is the Beginning On The Media.
- Sedaris discusses Joe Frank
- Real Time Art Project Site home of Interactive Frank, a project by Jeff Crouse
- Joe Frank The Dana Gould Hour
- Joe Frank FAQ on WFMU
- ThirdCoast audio archive site
- WFMU bio
- Guggenheim Fellowship site Archived 2008-08-07 at the Wayback Machine
After his death, there was an outpouring among radio producers especially: