Joe Franklin, sui generis!

January 25, 2015

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Joe Franklin, who died yesterday, once did a live show at Menlo Park Mall in Edison, here in New Jersey, and a colleague of mine went to cover it. He came back with several anecdotes that confirmed the impression we already had of this unique personality who had been a fixture on New York radio and television for decades. For example, my colleague related that after the show a young man introduced himself to Franklin and explained that he was trying to get started in a career as a comedian. Without taking a second to think, Franklin said, “Meet me on the northwest corner of Times Square and Forty-second street at ten o’clock Monday morning. I’ll make you very happy.” And he made the young man happy by taking him to the WOR-TV studio and putting him on that day’s talk show.

When my colleague’s story had been published, he decided to go to Manhattan in person to deliver copies to Franklin. I accepted the invitation to go along. When we arrived at the studio, Franklin was in the last quarter-hour of his show. Once the broadcast was over, we approached Franklin, and my colleague introduced me and turned over the tear sheets. Franklin grinned and, without missing a beat, said, “Why don’t you guys come on the show?” Mind you, he had never seen me or, for that matter, heard of me before. “What would we talk about?” I asked him. “You can co-host the show, interview the guests.” And so we did.

Sometime after that, my colleague and I were discussing Joe Franklin with others in the newsroom, and I said, “I’ll bet that if we called him up and asked if we could come on the show again, he’d say yes.” My colleague decided to test that theory. He said he wasn’t sure Joe remembered him, but the sentence was hardly spoken before Joe blurted out a date, and we went on again.

We had no illusions about any of this. Joe wasn’t Dave Letterman. It was probably a constant challenge for him to fill his dance card. Still, he had a lot of friends and he often scored a guest with somewhat more status than we had. In fact, on one of the shows we were on, one of the guests was Charles Hamilton, who was one of the best-known handwriting experts and autograph dealers of his time. He had debunked the so-called Hitler Diaries in 1983. But even when his guests were from the middle of the pack, Joe had a genius for appearing enthusiastic. He probably made a lot of folks feel good about their careers despite evidence to the contrary.

He was a combination of pitchman, raconteur, purveyor of nostalgia, and carnival barker, and he was quintessential New York. He ought to be out there on the square in bronze, hanging out with Father Duffy and Georgie Cohan.

I have spent time with a lot of celebrities in the past five decades. Few were more memorable than Joe Franklin.
20th Annual Dusty Film And Animation Awards

JUDI DENCH and JIM BROADBENT

JUDI DENCH and JIM BROADBENT


Having seen the ravages of Alzheimer’s Disease up close — having lived with them actually, we don’t go out of our way to see the subject dramatized. The other night, however, we were glad we stumbled on Iris, a 2001 movie starring Judi Dench, Jim Broadbent, Kate Winslet, and Hugh Bonneville. This film is based on the life of Iris Murdoch, a prominent British novelist and philosopher in the second half of the twentieth century. While she was a young woman teaching at Oxford, Murdoch fell in love with another Oxford academic, John Bayley, and eventually married him. It was what Puccini’s librettists might have called “a strange harmony of contrasts. Winslet was confident, high-spirited, articulate, and promiscuous, and Bayley was awkward, stuttering, shy, and virgin.
KATE WINSLET and HUGH BONNEVILLE

KATE WINSLET and HUGH BONNEVILLE


Their story, based on Bayley’s written accounts, is told in turns by flashbacks to the tumult of their early life together and a portrayal of the gradual deterioration of the elderly Iris’s mind. At the center of the story is John Bayley’s enduring love for this woman, even when her dementia frightens him and strains his patience. Dench and Winslet play the elder and younger Iris, and Broadbent and Bonneville play the elder and younger Bayley. This casting was inspired, because in both cases the premise that we are watching the same people at different stages of their lives is convincing. The quality of the performances is reflected by the fact that, among many accolades, Jim Broadbent won an Oscar and Judi Dench and Kate Winslet were nominated. Why Hugh Bonneville wasn’t nominated I can’t imagine. Those who are familiar with him in vehicles such as Belle and Downton Abbey will learn something about his range by watching him in this film. Incidentally, fans of Downton Abbey and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel might be pleased to see Penelope Wilton’s performance in a significant supporting role in Iris.
IRIS MURDOCH and JOHN BAYLEY

IRIS MURDOCH and JOHN BAYLEY

PETER FALK and ALAN ARKIN

PETER FALK and ALAN ARKIN


I told one of my daughters the other day that she should see The In-Laws, the 1979 film starring Peter Falk and Alan Arkin. It has to be one of the funniest movies of its kind. Coincidentally, as Pat and I were surfing for a movie to watch on the following night, we came across Big Trouble, a 1986 film also starring Falk and Arkin and including Charles Durning, Robert Stack, Beverly D’Angelo, and Valerie Curtin. We watched it. We were disappointed. I have read that this movie, the last directed by John Cassavetes, is a spoof of Double Indemnity and that it contains multiple references to other classic movies. In fact, the commentator on the IMDb website recommends that a viewer see some of these films—and others directed by Cassavetes—before viewing this one. That’s too much work, but I can verify the commentator’s prediction that a viewer who doesn’t undertake the prerequisites is unlikely to understand or appreciate Big Trouble.
ALAN ARKIN, BEVERLY D'ANGELO, and PETER FALK

ALAN ARKIN, BEVERLY D’ANGELO, and PETER FALK

Arkin plays Leonard Hoffman, an agent for a large insurance company, whose wife, Arlene (Valerie Curtin), is hell-bent on sending their musically talented triplet sons to Yale. But an expected scholarship did not materialize, and Leonard is becoming unstrung under the pressure of his wife’s ambition for the boys. While this crisis is simmering, Hoffman is asked by a blonde beauty named Blanche Rickey (Beverly D’Angelo) to make a house call to write a homeowner’s policy on the mansion she occupies with her adventurer-husband, Steve (Peter Falk). She tells Leonard that Steve’s health is very fragile; in fact, he isn’t likely to live much longer. Leonard, in turn, marvels at the fact that there is no life insurance policy on Steve. From this conversation there flows a complicated and wacky chain of events through which we learn—as though life hadn’t told us so often enough—that things aren’t always what they seem.

ALAN ARKIN and ROBERT STACK, who plays the head of the insurance firm that employs Leonard Hoffman.

ALAN ARKIN and ROBERT STACK, who plays the head of the insurance firm that employs Leonard Hoffman.

There are some laughs in this movie—many of them emanating from the combined personalities of Falk and Arkin—including a scene in which Steve offers and Leonard reluctantly accepts a glass of “sardine liqueur,” something that Steve assures Leonard is almost impossible to find. But the movie overall is bizarre and unsatisfying—unless, of course, you’ve done your research.

See The In-Laws.