Television great Joe Franklin dead at 88
Ladies and gentlemen, New York TV great Joe Franklin has signed off.
Franklin, 88, who TV historians say was the first-ever talk show host, died Saturday night of natural causes, said Richie Ornstein, his producer and co-host.
Franklin took ill a few days ago and was treated briefly at Lenox Hill Hospital before he was discharged to a hospice, Ornstein said.
“I’ve been with Joe for 30 years. He is the real deal,” Ornstein said. “If he had to do it again, he wouldn’t change a beat.”
Franklin, born Joseph Fortgang in The Bronx, interviewed every musician from Al Jolson to Frank Sinatra to Weird Al Yankovic, and every comedian from Jack Benny to Billy Crystal.
He also interviewed plenty of artists, Broadway performers and movie stars.
Salvador Dali, Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin were all on his show. Woody Allen, Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand appeared early in their careers. Bette Midler and Barry Manilow were Franklin’s in-house performers.
Ronald Reagan was on the show five times before he was president.
In all, Franklin claimed to have interviewed more than 300,000 guests.
“The Joe Franklin Show” was a late-night TV staple on WWOR/Channel 9, beloved by night owls for its quirky, New York-centric amalgam of random guests, most seated on a sofa to Franklin’s right.
“Monti Rock the Third is back in town, and we’ve got him,” Franklin said at the opening of a typical 1976 show immortalized on YouTube. Rock, a former hairdresser, was an early disco artist.
Then Franklin segued, somehow, to this:
“Let me ask [actor] Barney Martin: Were you ever a fan or see any movies by Lee J. Cobb?”
“I interviewed Lee J. Cobb once,” Franklin went on. “He never got over the fact they chose Frederick March to do the part [of Willy Loman] in the movie of ‘Death of a Salesman.’ ” Cobb had originated the role on the stage.
“I know,” said Martin, who went on to play Jerry Seinfeld’s father on “Seinfeld.”
Another show featured pro wrestling legend Captain Lou Albano with pianist Mark Birnbaum and an inventor named Jesse Colodner, who displayed a car fire extinguisher that included a knife that drivers or passengers could use to cut off their seat belts.
Franklin’s show first aired in 1950 on WJZ, the forerunner of WABC/Channel 7. In 1962, the show moved to WOR-TV, the forerunner of WWOR.
“The Joe Franklin Show” aired on WWOR until 1993, when Franklin quit to begin a second career as a restaurateur and pursue some other ideas for TV shows.
He promised his restaurant would include “Eddie Cantor hamburgers” and “Al Jolson matzoh balls” — perhaps made like the Streits matzoh balls he promoted on live ads on his show.
Franklin was still interviewing celebrities for Bloomberg Radio earlier this month. He also wrote 26 books.
Funeral arrangements were pending, Ornstein said.