Joe Franklin, a pioneering host of talk shows on both radio and TV whose spotlight helped jumpstart careers for many notable performers, died Saturday, at the age of 88, of cancer. He had been fighting the disease for several years, a friend said.
Franklin is credited with creating what’s become the standard talk-show trope – an urbane and curious host behind a desk, interviewing a range of the famous, the interesting and those somewhere in between.
He started in TV in 1950, practically the very start of the commercialized version of the medium. Forty years later, he would joke about having interviewed more than 300,000 guests on The Joe Franklin Show. His TV show ended in 1993, though he continued to work in radio until just last Tuesday.
Franklin played himself in several features, including Manhattan, Ghostbusters, Twenty Ninth Street and Broadway Danny Rose. He also appeared regularly on The Late Show with David Letterman and other talk shows, all spiritual descendants of his original program.
His low-budget show’s look and his own distinctive mannerisms were ripe for parody when Billy Crystal played him on Saturday Night Live skits over four years. But he also was a big help to many up-and-comers, such as Bette Midler, whom he hired early on as his studio singer along with her accompanist, Barry Manilow.
Al Pacino, whom Franklin interviewed early on, reputedly asked Franklin years later, “”Joe, why don’t you interview me now that I’m somebody? You interviewed me when I was nobody.”
Late in his career, Franklin was honored by The Museum Of Television and Radio as he continued to broadcast on late-night Saturday radio, on WOR, as well as a daily segment on Bloomberg Radio.