The passing of New York broadcasting legend Joe Franklin has left holes in a million hearts that fell asleep to his late night WWOR-TV talk show. I was lucky to be among those whose last waking memory so often was Joe’s gravelly voice asking a rising star like Andy Kaufman or an unknown plate-twirler how he got his start in the business. But I was even luckier than most. Joe Franklin was my friend.
I was unconditionally welcomed at the impossibly randomly cluttered memorabilia archive that doubled as Joe’s office. Reflecting his philosophy of entertainment, ceiling-high piles casually intermingled the famous with the obscure. A self-published book on how to win at mahjong covered a personally autographed headshot from Marilyn Monroe. A day-old pastrami sandwich sat atop a Tito Puente record. At the center of it all, sitting in a one-piece elementary school desk and chair was the King of Nostalgia. The strangest thing about this whole scenario was that the man who invented the American talk-show format was interested in one thing—helping me.
One time around 1998 I walked in with a couple friends and an idea for a sitcom about a dysfunctional workplace. Joe got right on the phone and had a few people in the industry come down for a reading—Pat Cooper, Nipsey Russell, a successful young Broadway actor or two. Whenever I strolled in with a newly released book I wrote that wasn’t getting enough traction, he told me to call him at exactly two on Thursday, by which time he had mentioned it thrice on the radio and gotten it to move up a million and a half places on Amazon’s sales rank.
I would always leave his chaotic office feeling a hundred times better than when I walked in. It’s going to be hard to pass that spot on West 43rd Street and not have the option of visiting upstairs to have my faith in humanity restored. I may never know whether I was more of an Andy Kaufman or a plate-twirler. But all that mattered was I knew Joe Franklin.
Rich Herschlag is the co-author of Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My life as a Ramone (Touchstone, 2015) with Marky Ramone. He has written numerous other books, including The Lady is a Champ (Velocity, 2012), is the story of Carol Polis, the world’s first and foremost woman professional boxing judge and Sinatra, Gotti and ME (Archer Books, 2011).