Joe Franklin Day
annually on March 9th
Legendary talk show host Joe Franklin is celebrated today, on the anniversary of his birth. He is credited by many as being the first television talk show host and inventor of its format. Franklin had one of the longest-running television talk shows of all time, which aired for over 40 years with more than 28,000 episodes. Regularly referred to as The Joe Franklin Show, it went by this and a few other names over its run.
Born as Joe Fortgang in the Bronx, New York City, on March 9, 1926, Joe Franklin got his start in show business as a teenager by writing for Kate Smith's variety radio program, The Kate Smith Hour. At the age of 16, Martin Block hired him to choose the records to play on his radio program, Make Believe Ballroom. Later, Block helped him secure his own radio program, Vaudeville Isn't Dead.
Joe Franklin made his television debut on January 8, 1951, at the newly-added noon time slot on WJZ-TV (now WABC-TV) Channel 7 in New York City. Named Joe Franklin—Disc Jockey, it was the first television talk show. Shortly thereafter, the show's name was changed to The Joe Franklin Show. In 1962, it moved to WOR-TV (now WWOR-TV) and its name was changed to Joe Franklin's Memory Lane. It once again took on the name The Joe Franklin Show in 1970.
Faded veteran stars, up-and-coming stars, and every once in a while, current superstars, all graced Joe Franklin's set, often sitting together on the same episode. The New York Times referred to Franklin's guests as "has-beens and yet-to-bes interrupted from time to time by surprisingly famous guests." Because of his penchant for the old stars, he became known as "The King of Nostalgia" and "The Wizard of Was." By the time he left television, he claimed to have interviewed more than 300,000 guests.
Notable guests in the earlier years of Franklin's show include Elvis Presley and John F. Kennedy. He brought on Dustin Hoffman, Barbara Streisand, Richard Pryor, Robin Williams, Liza Minnelli, Julia Roberts, and Woody Allen before they reached their peak of stardom. His in-house singer was Bette Midler, and her accompanist was Barry Manilow. Billy Crystal impersonated him on Saturday Night Live, and Franklin appeared as himself in films like Ghostbusters and Broadway Danny Rose.
Although it was never on network television, Franklin's show still managed to make a large impact. It was broadcast on local television in New York City, and beginning in 1979 was also available around the country to those with satellite television. Franklin dimmed the lights on his show in 1993. He started Joe Franklin's Memory Lane Restaurant in 2000. It was replaced by Joe Franklin's Comedy Club, but that also closed. During the final years of his life, Joe Franklin hosted a late-night radio show. He died from prostate cancer at the age of 88 on January 24, 2015. We celebrate his legacy today, on Joe Franklin Day.
How to Observe Joe Franklin Day
Some ways you could celebrate Joe Franklin include:
- Watch The Joe Franklin Show.
- Read the memoir Up Late With Joe Franklin.
- Watch the documentary 50,000,000 Joe Franklin Fans Can't Be Wrong.
- Watch clips of Billy Crystal as Joe Franklin on Saturday Night Live.
- Watch the short film Jazzy For Joe.
- Stop at Joe Franklin's grave.