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New York, New York

Meeting Joe Franklin

Joe Franklin is a New York institution, having interviewed untold celebrities and been (jokingly) accused of rape by Sarah Silverman.

Photograph by Ken Stein

I met Joe Franklin by mistake. One day, walking down W. 43rd St., I saw a marquee: Times Square Center of Art. “Maybe this is an art gallery,” I thought.

Inside the lobby, a man was halfheartedly wiping the glass door with a rag. I asked him if it was an art gallery.

“No, these are just rehearsal studios,” he said. Then I saw in the directory: “Joe Franklin, 305.”

Joe Franklin, New York legend! Longtime host of The Joe Franklin Show, known for his genial, aimless conversations with bottom-of-the-barrel celebrities, though he also interviewed Bing Crosby, Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe, Cary Grant, John Lennon, and Joey Ramone. And Sarah Silverman accused him of rape, jokingly, in the film The Aristocrats.

“May I visit Joe Franklin?” I asked the glass-wiper.

“I’m not sure if he’s in,” he replied.

I took the elevator to the third floor. Door number 305 was ajar. I walked into Mr. Franklin’s office, which contained a series of unstable piles of books, papers, videocassettes, magazines, CDs, and a Spider-Man comic from 1974.

“Who is it?” a voice called from the back.

“I’m Sparrow.”

“Come in,” Joe Franklin called.

Through the middle of the piles was a narrow aisle, which exactly resembled a path in a forest. Turning a bend, I saw a man with a half-smile (and perhaps a toupee?) sitting behind a large desk. Joe Franklin is 83 years young.

“Are you an actor?” he asked.

“Well, I act a little bit. But no, I don’t consider myself an actor,” I said.

“Because you have a lovely voice.”

“Thank you. I write lots of little poems.”

“Can I buy you a sandwich?”

I hesitated. “Next time,” Joe Franklin suggested.

“You still have your show?” I wondered.

“Yes, I’ve done it for 43 years. I’m going to keep going, until I get it right!”

But he had other jobs, too. “I drive a cab, at night,” Joe explained. “I’ve been hailed by millions! And I work at a synagogue, checking hats. Have you ever worked as Santa Claus?”

“What did you do when you were still a normal person?” Joe Franklin asked me.“I almost did this year, because I need money,” I explained; I happen to have a long white beard. “But I was worried about getting swine flu.”

“That makes sense,” Mr. Franklin nodded.

“Yes, I heard a Santa Claus on N.P.R. saying that swine flu was a real danger.”

“I went to Macy’s to audition as Santa Claus, and they told me, ‘Come back after Christmas!’“ Joe Franklin recounted. “Story of my life.”

I laughed.

“You know that Santa’s wife is mad at him?” he added.

“I hadn’t heard,” I said. “He only comes once a year,” Mr. Franklin explained. Then he allowed his smile to slightly broaden.

“Were you once a real comedian?” I impertinently asked.

“A long time ago,” Joe replied.

“What channel is your show on?” I asked.

“Bloomberg Radio,” he said.

“It’s no longer on television?” I said, shocked.

“No.”

“How long it has it been off?”

“About 10 years,” Joe said. “You have such a soothing voice,” he added.

“Well, I do meditation every day,” I mused. “Maybe that affects my voice.”

“You’re spiritual? That’s very important,” Joe Franklin said. Just then, the phone rang. “Certainly, Captain,” Joe Franklin said into the receiver. “You made my day, Captain! You know I would do anything for you, Captain!”

Could this be one half of Captain & Tennille?

While Joe spoke on the phone, I looked through a pile of financial advice books. I had to be careful because the whole pile would collapse if you set a book down sideways.

“Are these books for your show?” I asked when Joe finished his phone call.

“These are upcoming guests, mostly,” he said. I nodded.

“What did you do when you were still a normal person?” Joe Franklin asked me.

I was stumped for a moment. “I was still a student,” I said finally. Then I added, “For almost 20 years, I worked with mentally retarded people at the 92nd Street Y.”

“The 92nd Street Y? I used to go there! I was in a group called the Silver Streaks, with Tony Curtis. I was President of the club, he was Treasurer. Wonderful memories. Do you know who Tony Curtis is?”

“Yes,” I replied. “Were you a teenager?”

“I was 13, 14.”

“Did you grow up on the Upper East Side?”

“Yes.”

“Do you still live up there?”

“Yes. On W. 86th St.”

Our conversation paused.

“What kind of sandwich would you get, if I did buy you a sandwich? Turkey?” Mr. Franklin said.

I wondered, was this an archaic Jewish version of astrology, where an entire personality is revealed by one’s choice of sandwich?

“I’m a vegetarian,” I admitted. “Maybe a cheese sandwich?”

He nodded. “How old are you?” he asked.

“Fifty-six.”

“You look younger than that. Take off your hat.”

I did so.

“You have a very nice personality! What’s your first name—Ronald?”

“No, Sparrow isn’t my real name.”

“What is it?”

“Michael Gorelick.”

“Michael Gorella?”

“No, Gorelick.”

Joe Franklin nodded. “You’re a very smart person,” he said.

“When can I come back for my sandwich?”

“Anytime!”

And I walked down the forest path, out of room 305.

Sparrow lives in a double-wide trailer in Phoenicia, N.Y., with his wife, Violet Snow. He often writes for Ground Report. Sparrow has run for President of the United States five times. More by Sparrow