By Tony Sokol

joe franklin nancy lombardo

NEW YORK, Jan. 25, 2015 /Daily Offbeat/ — Joe Franklin, the legendary late-night radio and TV talk show pioneer, died of prostate cancer at a Manhattan hospice on Saturday, Jan. 24. He was 88. Franklin invented the TV talk show.

The news was announced by Franklin’s longtime producer and friend Steven Garrin.

“Friar Joe Franklin was the godfather of showbiz memories.The go-to guy on theater and film history. His love of the business showed in his exuberance in sharing his extensive knowledge on it with anyone who would ask. He was one iconic piece of New York city history. A kind and generous man who constantly supported performers and theater venues, not just in word but in deed. Joe could always be counted on to get up and tell a few jokes at the drop of a hat,” Nancy Lombardo, longtime member of The Friars’ Club, told Daily Offbeat.

Franklin is credited as creating the television talk show in the A&E documentary “It’s Only Talk, The Real Story Of America’s Talk Shows.”

In his long career, Joe Franklin introduced the world to upcoming artists like Al Pacino, Madonna, Barbra Streisand, Woody Allen and Bill Cosby before they became famous. John Wayne, Charlie Chaplin, John Lennon, The Ramones, Gary Grant, Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe all sat across from the TV icon. Franklin co-wrote the book “The Marilyn Monroe Story” with Monroe in 1953.

Franklin also featured offbeat artists who gave “The Joe Franklin Show” a “great uniqueness. On any given night you might find a world renown artist sitting next to a balloon folder from New Jersey,” according to his website.

“He treated me with total respect. He even helped with publicity for a piece in 2003. He was just awesome. His generosity was overwhelming and he was the king of the segue. A very painful loss,” indie film director Troy Acree told Daily Offbeat.

“The Joe Franklin Show” premiered at the dawn of television in 1950. It ran on WJZ until 1962 when it moved to WOR, where it played until 1993. Loved by New Yorkers and treasured by insomniacs, “The Joe Franklin Show” is still in the “Guinness World Records” as the longest continuously running talk show in TV history, beating Johnny Carson’s run by ten years.

Franklin was born Joseph Fortgang in the Bronx on March 9, 1926. Early in his career, Franklin sold jokes to Eddie Cantor. He would later produce Cantor’s show at Carnegie Hall. When Franklin was 14, he worked on the crew of the “The Kate Smith Hour.”

Franklin first hit the microphones when he was 16, picking records for Martin Block’s Make Believe Ballroom. Franklin was known as “The Young Wreck with the Old Records.” An expert on early 20th century entertainment, Franklin was dubbed “The King of Nostalgia” and “The Wizard of Was.”

After he retired from his television show, Franklin continued to play old records on his WOR-AM Saturday night radio show. Franklin continued conducting celebrity interviews on his Bloomberg Radio Network show “Nostalgia Moments.”

In his career, Franklin interviewed an almost endless list of guests including five American presidents, Jayne Mansfield, Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali, Rudy Vallee, Jimmy Durante, Captain Lou, Andy Kaufman, Liza Minelli, Julia Roberts, Bruce Springsteen, Robin Williams, John Belushi and Richard Pryor alongside fringe bands, balloon twisters, street performers and off-Broadway performers.

Franklin never employed a co-host.

Franklin was mentioned on “The Simpsons,” appeared on “Conan O’Brien” and “The David Letterman Show.” Billy Crystal impersonated Franklin on “Saturday Night Live.”

Franklin appeared as himself in a number of films, including “Ghostbusters,” “Broadway Danny Rose” and the ultimate comedian in-joke movie, “The Aristocrats.” He followed up his offbeat leanings by appearing in low-budget horror films by the New York indie outfit Troma Entertainment. He also transformed into “the ultimate talk show host” in a 1993 infomercial for The Troma System.

Franklin starred in Josua Brown’s documentary film “50,000,000 Joe Franklin Fans Can’t Be Wrong” in 1997. In the 2014 short film “Jazzy for Joe,” Franklin raised an abandoned baby that was left on his doorstep.

Franklin authored or co-wrote the books “The Marilyn Monroe Story, “Classics of the Silent Screen: A Pictorial Treasury,” “Joe Franklin’s Memory Lane Cookbook,” “Joe Franklin’s Awfully Corny Joke Book,” “Seventy Years of Great Film Comedians: A Joe Franklin Memory Lane Scrapbook,” “Joe Franklin’s Encyclopedia of comedians,” “Joe Franklin’s movie trivia” and “Up Late With Joe Franklin.

This author will always remember the nostalgic posters and old-time playbills that lined his Times Square office. A section of West 42nd Street at 8th Avenue in Manhattan was temporarily renamed “Joe Franklin’s Memory Lane” In the mid-1990s.He interviewed the cast of New York City’s Vampyr Theatre, which I wrote and produced, in the 1990s.

Franklin, who boasted that he never called in sick, missed his first scheduled broadcast in over 60 years on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015, according to Steven Garrin.

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