South Queens Speaks: Howard Beach Jewish center plays host to Nostalgia King

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The Rockwood Park Jewish Center in Howard Beach recently had a nostalgia night featuring the King of Nostalgia Joe Franklin, who has been a television and radio personality for more than 45 years. Local residents came out to ask Franklin to talk about old-time show business personalities and hear his jokes.

He opened up with a couple of jokes and a couple of howls and Jewish chutzpah from the crowd.

“What do you call an abortion clinic in the Czech Republic?” Franklin asked. “A cancelled check. What do you call a diaper in Japanese? It’s called a sackapoopoo.”

Franklin said he was shy, did all his own bookings, said Groucho Marx scared him and said Elvis Presley left his guitar case in his office, which he sold on eBay. He said Milton Berle was the funniest man alive and his dear friend. He also will never forget why he was banned from the airwaves for a week because of a cigarette joke.

“All I said was nine out of 10 people who have tried Camel cigarettes have tried women,” he said. “But for the most part I have great, happy memories.”

Rabbi Tzvi Berkowitz, rabbi of the Jewish center, said a weekly show at the center should be done with Franklin called “Staying Alive.” Berkowitz is a big fan of Franklin and his nostalgic trivia.

A few attendees asked about singer Sophie Tucker, Abbot and Costello and Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Franklin said he has fond memories of all of them appearing on his show.

Some of Franklin’s trivia included:

• comedian Don Rickles always insulted people in the audience when he was on stage,

• singer Eddie Cantor created the March of Dimes,

• singer Nat King Cole died at 46 and he smoked five packs of cigarettes daily and

• comedian Bob Hope said to his family right before he died at 100 that he wanted to have a surprise burial.

“I remember Ann-Margret, Al Jolson, Marilyn Monroe and Red Skelton,” Franklin said. “Those were the days.”

A Howard Beach resident said the entertainment today cannot compare to the old-time greats. Some recalled the 1940s and the age of the big bands, while others recalled jokesters like Jackie Mason and Carol Lawrence.

Franklin begin on television in 1951 on WJZ-TV and then moved to WABC-TV, calling his talk show “The Joe Franklin Show.” He then transferred to radio on WOR-710 AM, on which he called his show “Memory Lane.” He can now be heard on Bloomberg News’ radio segment “Lifestyles.”

Here is a bit of trivia about Franklin most people do not know about:

• He grew up with actor Tony Curtis and has the largest private sheet music collection in the world and

• In October 2008, Franklin received a Lifetime Achievement Award, which was presented to him by comedian Pat Cooper.

As one would expect, he had to end his spiel with a joke.

“I am going to be opening up soon at the International — the International House of Pancakes,” Franklin said.

Updated 6:01 pm, October 10, 2011
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