As promised, I wanted to remind you (and myself) about the experience of appearing on “The Joe Franklin Show” in 1980. (I’ve never seen the episode; I doubt kinescopes of it even exist.)
This was before The Official Preppy Handbook was published, before I could envision myself on a television set, screen, show, or even inside a green room. This was before I could even declare myself a writer (which I actually was, working full time at The Village Voice for a small but just about manageable salary) without saying it as a question? It was — to this day — my only crime of upspeaking in what is now a long life.
The publicists at Workman Publishing asked me if — in the most extremely remote case — “we should get some interest from the broadcast media” in my little handbook, on what show would I want to appear?
Straight up I said Joe Franklin.
Obviously I was a fool.
Joe Franklin was one step up from cable access.
This was before Cable Access.
He was local. I wouldn’t imagine he sold many books. Looking back, I don’t recall being aware that anyone I knew watched the program, unless they were sick at home or stoned or both. Certainly no one of my generation. And definitely no preppies.
Joe Franklin was a lilliputian-sized guy with a terrible comb-over and a strong New Yawk accent. His appeal was hard to define; in a way it was his sheer longevity that made him worth reckoning at all. He seemed to have no real skills as an interviewer, and possibly a problem paying attention to his guests. But I liked that. I liked that he would interrupt a guest to promote Hoffman sodas or Martin Paints, or whomever had paid for his show. I was entertained by his view of entertainment: the old MGM stars, the Borscht Belt comics, and Benny Goodman — these were the people that mattered. The newer faces and voices were less important to him, and he let you know it by interrupting their anecdotes and going off on a thoroughly unrelated tangent about Deanna Durbin, a singing actress from the 1930s and 40’s (who “withdrew from public life in 1949”).
Joe Franklin would have obviously been a great canvas for drinking games. But this was before TV drinking games.
How did the publicists of Workman react to my answer? If they hadn’t been so well-raised, they might have executed a Danny Thomas-style spit-take. (Google him, kids.) They rolled their eyes and did their best to maintain their cool, and asked for other shows that might be on my wish list.
"The Today Show", "The Tonight Show", "The Tomorrow Show", right? Also "Merv Griffin," so my grandmother could see me on the show she watched every night. Perhaps I’ll describe my 1980s Guest On Talk Shows Life another time, but the short answer was that yes, I was able to appear on Joe Franklin’s show. In Franklin’s obituary, one of his programs was called "Memory Lane." By the time I came around I believe it was simply called "The Joe Franklin Show" and he used the phrase "Memory Lane" prodigiously.
As I recall it, I was invited to appear along with my three co-writers. The place was a vanilla unadorned set, with loads of mismatched office chairs in a waiting room/green room/vestibule. The little host came out of his (frighteningly cluttered) office and said, “raise your hand if you’re on today’s show.” By now I had already appeared on lots of local shows in many cities, and I had never ever seen that casual bordering on careless kind of production. Even local network affiliate show producers sometimes asked for a pre-interview over the phone. And come to think of it, I don’t recall meeting a producer. This seemed to be all Joe. I remember thinking, “Someone could sneak onto the program!” And then thinking, “so what if they did?”
We raised our hands.
Like four foreign tourists, we threaded our way through Broadway press agents, and wannabe chorines, and sat on Joe Franklin’s shabby well-worn couch next to his desk and multi-cushioned (or phonebook piled) seat. Franklin guilelessly told us on camera that he had not cracked open our book, so he asked us to explain what was in it, and what preppies were. We tried to use our tongue-in-cheek preppy patois, but when that seemed too alien and perhaps unkind, we lapsed back into Queens’ (NY) English. Going nowhere fast, Joe rescued our appearance by interrupting us, asking us what we thought of big band music.
Rest in peace, Joe. Yours was a great career.