Say It Isn’t So, Joe! A Personal Reminiscence

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The eternal Joe Franklin
The eternal Joe Franklin
The eternal Joe Franklin

So one day my pal David Mayhew calls me. He’s at The Joe Franklin Show with a client. If you ever booked someone on Joe’s show, the confirmation always came with “Call me in an hour, I’ll have a date for you,” followed by “Call me again in 20 minutes, 20 minutes sweetheart. You won’t forget, now will you?” Five more calls, you got the booking, along with “It’s gonna be a great show with great guests — Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Zsa Zsa Gabor…” You smiled. You learned to say, “I can’t wait, Joe.” Then you got to the studio and there was some ventriloquist with a snarky dummy and a guy in a potato suit, no lie. When Joe asked my client what she thought of the potato guy, she looked the spud up and down and replied, “I drink a lot of your brothers!” That was the show you signed up for. So when my friend David Mayhew called me and said, “Sit down, you’re not going to believe this, but Frank Sinatra is here,” all I could do was smile. That was over 30 years ago. And in my career as a publicist, I began to rely on Joe to promote my clients and give them exposure when nobody else would. Joe loved people, loved to make stars out of total unknowns and loved to make the potato guy feel as important as Sinatra. This is the man who gave Elvis his first TV shot, long before either Steve Allen or Ed Sullivan. And there he was with some housewife from Bayonne who knitted scarves for puppies.

I could go on and on about Joe’s accomplishments, the love and respect people had for him, but losing Joe was personal. Hell, he introduced me to my ex, who is a great singer, saying “You two should get together!” He promoted every product imaginable, from Real Fruit Beverages by Hammer to Yoo-Hoo with an “I know you have a box of Cheerios backstage at all your shows.” The guy created the original product-placement before it was some thought in some ad guy’s mind.

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Joe's director Bob Diamond and songwriter Brian Gari, Eddie Cantor's grandson
Joe Franklin flanked by his director, Bob Diamond, and Brian Gari, Eddie Cantor’s grandson

As far as I know, I was one of a select few people allowed to sit in the booth with Joe’s director, Bob Diamond, and the rest of the crew. As they talked to Joe — sometimes it was “No, we don’t have time for another song”; one time it was the guy who sold shark pills who brought a video and we hummed the theme from Jaws — I became aware that these seasoned TV vets had a real affection for him.

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That’s why people watched his and his show. My Uncle Al, a well-respected attorney, told me that he watched Joe every night. Al played the violin and I almost booked him on the show!

That’s the Joe Franklin I loved and admired; the Joe Franklin who called me “Chief” for reasons unknown; the Joe Franklin who came to all my shows, good or bad; the Joe Franklin who gave air time to so many people — some going on to stardom, some going on to sing in their living rooms. I was honored to have Joe Franklin in my life. I was honored to call Joe Franklin my friend.

Uplifting SAGs
What do you do if you’re Debbie Reynolds and your daughter, Carrie Fisher, is presenting you with the SAG Life Achievement Award and the audience can’t tell whether Carrie is nuts or brilliant or both? You take the mic and upstage Princess Leia. Reynolds is a pro and she did it beautifully, adding more star quality to that award show than any number of Kidmans, Jolies, Moores and Streeps. Look, listen and learn, youngsters — this is how it’s done (video begins at 1:30):

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Meantime, congrats and a big shoutout to my pals Lin Tucci, Barbara Rosenblat, Lea DeLaria and the cast of Orange Is the New Black for a much-deserved SAG Ensemble Award, and to Uzo Aduba for her Supporting Actress nod. More on my OITNB binge-watching in my next column.

This Week On the Tube…
If you haven’t seen Empire yet, run, don’t walk, to your TV every Wednesday night at 9pm, EST. The music is amazing, the performances are tops and the chemistry between Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson is off the charts. I still can’t wrap my head around Henson going from button-downed Detective Carter on Person of Interest to the take-no-shit-from-nobody Cookie, complete with swagger and a great ass. But she’s done it.

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Best TV Moment of the Week…
It was the best (and most watched) Super Bowl half-time show evah! Katy Perry and Missy Elliott, along with some eye candy from Lenny Kravitz, rocked the joint. Broadway diva Idina Menzel, channeling her inner Adele Nazeem, delivered the purest national anthem I’ve heard in a long time, with John Legend at the keys. Special kudos to the special-effects guys for the big gold tiger, the fireworks and Perry’s rocket to the Moon. So the super-scummy Bill Belichick, his Ken doll of a quarterback and the rest of the “ball” boys won? We all know trailer-trash when we see it.

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