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Old Wreck, Wacky Book
This review was originally published via The Classical Mess, a Substack I was doing a few years ago before I found out they gave money to bigots.
I’m not sure how well known Joe Franklin was outside the New York City media bubble. He hosted a talk show on WOR Channel 9 — “The Joe Franklin Show” — that ran from the early ‘60s until the early ‘90s. It was a low budget affair that still managed to get everyone from Salvador Dali to the Beastie Boys. Franklin might be best known for his cameo in Ghostbusters; he’s the media figure who asks Dan Aykroyd “How is Elvis and have you seen him lately?”
Joe Franklin loved to say that he invented the concept of nostalgia when he worked in radio in the 1940s because he was the only deejay playing records from 20 years earlier. They called him the Young Wreck With The Old Records, and Franklin coupled that schtick with a non-threatening, nebbishy persona. He addresses his ineffectual image in the prologue of his 1995 memoir, Up Late With Joe Franklin, one of the strangest celebrity tell-alls in history.
Franklin asserts that he harbors no anger or bitterness, despite having been “double-crossed and triple-crossed and deceived” during his many years in the business. “I have no nasty streak in me. I’ve got no vindictiveness, no revenge, no rage.” Franklin then writes about the handful of critics who gave him truly awful reviews. They all disappeared, he says, thanks to an unsolicited “benefactor” working on his behalf. Franklin paints this mysterious figure, who phoned him numerous times to explain what was going on, as a Don Corleone type. Franklin is very proud that the mafia might have been rubbing people who didn’t like him.
“Remember when they were messing with Wayne Newton how things ended? Wayne had to go out there on his own, a lone man, and confront the people who were making fun of him. I’ve never had to do that.”
This proclamation is disproven several chapters later when Franklin talks about his lawsuit against Uncle Floyd, a tv personality even more obscure than himself. Floyd had a variety show on a UHF station out of Newark; Franklin was lampooned on that show as Joe Frankfurter. “I love satire — except he got very vulgar,” Franklin explains. “He had four guys on with yarmulkes and Jewish accents, me with a Jewish accent. He had ‘guests’ on my alleged show blowing snot into a glass.” Woody Allen of all people convinced Joe to go after Floyd. “Joe, you gotta do it. You gotta sue him. This guy is gonna hurt you.” Can you imagine that diseased worm actually giving a shit about Joe Franklin and Uncle Floyd?
Most of Up Late With Joe Franklin is devoted to the celebrity interactions Franklin’s lengthy career afforded him. For reference purposes, one assumes, a notable figure’s name is often printed in bold typeface above a corresponding one or two paragraph anecdote. So it’s easy to flip the book open and find the spot where Mae West talks about her enema regimen or the passage that details Louis Armstrong handing out business cards with a picture of himself on the toilet. Franklin was most enamored with meeting entertainers of the 1920s, so guys like Eddie Cantor and Al Jolson get several pages of stories and praise.
Another inspiration from that era whom Franklin got to know was Rudy Vallée. “People forget that in his heyday, in 1930 or 1931, Rudy Vallée was bigger than Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen and the Spin Doctors combined,” he enthuses with not a single drop of irony. When Vallee uncovered his wife’s secret plan to poison him so she could run off with her lover, why, “[that story] was bigger than World War I and II put together.” Vallée and Franklin became palsy enough to start watching old movies together in Franklin’s basement. Joe dishes up some dirt on this hero — Vallée was apparently so cheap he’d tip waiters with fountain pens.
Joe Franklin has no problem using words like “fuck” and “sexy” in his book (“I loved Joan Crawford [and] I was always intrigued by her big sexy mouth”). However, when describing sexual encounters, he can’t say anything specific beyond “biological urge” or “biological need.” Marilyn Monroe had “a strong biological urge” that Franklin couldn’t ignore when they worked together one night on a manuscript. If you have trouble believing America’s most famous blonde seduced Joe Franklin, wait until the next page when he reveals that Jayne Mansfield extended her “smoldering touch” to his diminutive frame. Then, on the page after that, it’s Veronica Lake who’s in heat. “She threw herself at me, but I always refrained.” Franklin says he respected Lake too much but he also implies she was too old when her severe biological needs arose.
Franklin was married to a woman named Lois for long time despite the fact that she loathed his career and liked to smack her husband around (she ruptured one of his ear drums during one fight). Divorce was out of the question; Franklin was afraid it would somehow leave him emotionally shattered. “I’m a creature of habit,” he shrugs.
A lot of Up Late reads like Donald Trump tweets — self-aggrandizing, sometimes wounded, often nonsensical. Writing about Johnny Carson, Franklin brags, “Towards the end, when he did a thing with Christian Slater, he really gave me a big, big send-off. In his last six months he talked about me several times.” Eddie Murphy was on Franklin’s show once, but Franklin says “[Eddie] denies he ever made an appearance. That’s okay. He’ll live without me, and I’ll live without him.” Joe Franklin featured a young Garth Brooks on his show because he recognized this aspiring singer “had something special” even though “he was chubby [and] not especially sexy.”
Incredibly, Trump is one Big Apple fixture who doesn’t show up in this book, a volume that goes out of its way to clown former mayor Abe Beame and contains more than one reference to the Martha Washington Hotel. And aside from a singular photo with Dan Aykroyd, Franklin makes no reference to his appearance in Ghostbusters. Once you’ve satisfied Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield, Slimer must seem like small potatoes.