Franklin in 2007
March 9, 1926
The Bronx, New York, U.S.
|Died||January 24, 2015
Manhattan, New York, U.S.
|Cause of death||Prostate cancer|
|Alma mater||Columbia University|
|Occupation||Television and radio personality|
Joseph Fortgang (March 9, 1926 – January 24, 2015), widely known as Joe Franklin, was an American radio and television host personality, author and actor from New York City noted for his sandpapery voice and old-fashioned show business razzle-dazzle in six decades as a talk show host. His television show began in January 1951 on WJZ-TV (later WABC-TV) and moved to WOR-TV (later WWOR-TV) from 1962 to 1993.
Franklin was born Joseph Fortgang on March 9, 1926, in The Bronx, New York, the oldest of two children, to Austrian–Jewish parents, Martin Fortgang and Anna Heller. He admitted in his memoirs, Up Late With Joe Franklin, (which was written with R. J. Marx), that his press materials had long said that he had been born in 1928. As a teenager, Franklin "followed around" Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor, the latter of whom eventually began buying jokes from the young Franklin and whose Carnegie Hall show he later produced. His father sold pushcarts and bags to shoppers on Manhattan's East Side and moved his family there to the neighborhood known as Yorkville. Franklin said his father called him "crackpot" because of his passion for vaudeville, silent movies and early radio. Franklin went to the movies primarily with his childhood friend Tony Curtis, who would later become an actor. After graduation from Benjamin Franklin High School in 1944, he was drafted into the U.S. Army. He was found to have flat feet and sent home from training in Texas.
At 14, Franklin began writing skits for The Kate Smith Hour; and at 16, Franklin officially began his entertainment career as a record picker on radio sensation Martin Block's Make Believe Ballroom where he became known as "The Young Wreck with the Old Records". By the time he was 21, he embarked on a radio career. He was also considered to be an authority on popular culture of the first half of the 20th century, including silent films. He was called "The King of Nostalgia" and "The Wizard of Was" for focusing on old-time show-business personalities. Franklin was also a pioneer in promoting products such as Hoffman Beverages and Canada Dry ginger ale on the air. A&E's documentary It's Only Talk, The Real Story Of America's Talk Shows credits Franklin as the creator of the television talk show. Franklin was listed in the Guinness World Records as the longest running continuous on-air TV talk show host, more than a decade longer than Johnny Carson's run.
After retiring from his television show, Franklin concentrated on his overnight radio show, playing old records on WOR-AM on Saturday evenings and mentoring thousands of aspiring entertainers who for decades sought an audience with him at his notoriously cluttered Times Square office. Franklin's celebrity interviews, known as "Nostalgia Moments", appeared daily on the Bloomberg Radio Network until mid-January 2015, shortly before his death.
Franklin's guests included an odd mix of actual celebrities and low level performers, sometimes on the same panel. He claimed to have had Charlie Chaplin on his program, a dubious statement since Chaplin left the USA in 1952, shortly after Franklin's TV debut. Other guest claims include John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe (with whom Franklin co-authored "The Marilyn Monroe Story" in 1953), Jayne Mansfield, Cary Grant, Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali, Rudy Vallee, Jimmy Durante, Madonna, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Bing Crosby, The Belmonts, Elvis Presley, The Ramones, Lou Albano and five U.S. Presidents (including John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon). As with the Chaplin claim, some of these guests' appearances were unable to be independently confirmed based on a lack of evidence, since still pictures taken on the set do not exist for several of the people listed, and little video from before the 1970s survives. Bette Midler was the show's in-house singer for a time, and Elizabeth Joyce was his in-house psychic/astrologer as well. Franklin never employed a co-host, but his producer, Richie Ornstein, was a standard feature on the Joe Franklin Show who interacted with guests and discussed trivia.
Woody Allen, Andy Kaufman, Liza Minnelli, Barbra Streisand, Julia Roberts, Bruce Springsteen, Robin Williams, John Belushi and Richard Pryor got their first television exposure on The Joe Franklin Show. Frank Sinatra reportedly appeared four times. In December 2000, Joe Franklin and producer Steve Garrin joined restaurant mogul Dennis Riese to open "Joe Franklin's Memory Lane Restaurant" in Manhattan's theater district, where he appeared frequently and conducted live, in-person interviews with entertainers such as Carol Channing, Anita O'Day and Billy Crystal, who impersonated Franklin on Saturday Night Live. Joe Franklin's Restaurant operated as a Comedy Club where many aspiring comics got their first stage time until February 2010.
Franklin appeared as himself in such New York-based films as Ghostbusters, Broadway Danny Rose, and 29th Street. Franklin appeared on the first episode of This American Life giving host Ira Glass advice on how to have a successful show. He was also a guest on an early episode of Space Ghost Coast to Coast. He also made appearances in various works by New York low-budget film company Troma Entertainment, making a cameo as himself in their 1999 meta-fictional slasher film Terror Firmer, as well as the 1993 infomercial The Troma System as the result of the commercial's host transforming into "the ultimate talk show host".
In 1997, Franklin was profiled in the documentary film 50,000,000 Joe Franklin Fans Can't Be Wrong (1997), directed by Joshua Brown.
Also in 1997, Franklin was satirized by Drew Friedman in * Any Similarity to Persons Living or Dead is Purely Coincidental (with Josh Alan Friedman) (Fantagraphics Books, 1997)
In the 2005 film The Aristocrats, comedian Sarah Silverman tells a facetious story about Franklin raping her as a child. Franklin, who also appears in the film, considered filing a defamation lawsuit against Silverman.
In 2014, Franklin starred in Owen Kline and Andrew Lampert's short film Jazzy for Joe, which featured Franklin raising an abandoned baby discovered on his doorstep.
- 1953 The Marilyn Monroe Story, R. Field Company; Greenberg.
- 1959 Classics of the Silent Screen: A Pictorial Treasury, The Citadel press (reprinted in 2013 by Literary Licensing, LLC).
- 1974 Joe Franklin's Memory Lane Cookbook, Lion Books, ISBN 9780874602425
- 1978 A Gift for People , M. Evans Company, ISBN 0-87131-244-1
- 1980 Joe Franklin's Awfully Corny Joke Book, Chelsea House Publishers, ISBN 9780877541424
- 1981 Seventy Years of Great Film Comedians: A Joe Franklin Memory Lane Scrapbook, Global Communications, ISBN 9780938294061
- 1985 Joe Franklin's Encyclopedia of Comedians, Bell Pub. Co., ISBN 9780517467657
- 1992 Joe Franklin's Movie Trivia, Hastings House, ISBN 9780803893481
- 2001 Up Late with Joe Franklin, Scribner, ISBN 978-0-02-540775-6
- 2012 The Marilyn Monroe Story: The Intimate Inside Story of Hollywood's Hottest Glamour Girl., Campfire Network, ISBN 1475004141.
- Hinckley, David (November 26, 1999). "Joe Franklin: Truth in Packaging". New York Daily News. Retrieved 2008-01-01.
- Arnold, Laurence (January 25, 2015). "Joe Franklin, 'King of Nostalgia' on NYC Radio, TV, Dies at 88". Bloomberg. Retrieved January 26, 2015.
- Barron, James (January 24, 2015). "Joe Franklin, a Talk Show Institution in New York, Dies at 88". NYTimes.com. Retrieved March 23, 2017.
- Arnold, Laurence (January 26, 2015). "Joe Franklin dies at 88; interviewed 'plate twirlers' and stars". LATimes.com. Retrieved March 23, 2017.
- "IMDB". Retrieved January 27, 2015.
- "Bloomberg Radio Shows: Bloomberg on the Weekend". Bloomberg. Retrieved December 17, 2011.
- "Joe Franklin Talk Show Icon Dies", Theaterpizzazz.com. January 25, 2015.
- "Joe Franklin's Memory Lane Bar & Restaurant is NOW OPEN...", JoeFranklin.com; accessed January 26, 2015.
- "50,000,000 Joe Franklin Fans Can't Be Wrong". Paleycenter.org. The Paley Center for Media. 1998. Retrieved August 9, 2015.
- Goodyear, Dana (October 24, 2005). "Quiet Depravity". The New Yorker.
- Adams, Cindy, New York Post, May 21, 2014, "Felicity Huffman to play a gritty mom on ‘American Crime’"; accessed January 26, 2015.
- James Barron (January 24, 2015). "Joe Franklin, Local Talk Show Pioneer, Dies at 88". New York Times. Retrieved January 26, 2015.
Joe Franklin ... died on Saturday in a hospice in Manhattan. He was 88. Steve Garrin, Mr. Franklin's producer and longtime friend, said the cause was prostate cancer. ...
- Sharpio, Rich (January 24, 2015). "Joe Franklin 'King of Nostalgia' dead at 88". New York Daily News. New York. Retrieved 2015-01-25.