The first televised promo that I ever did was to hawk A Mile Above the Rim, a ficto-historical version of life in the NBA — and my worst book ever — on The Joe Franklin Show. Seen only in the New York metropolitan area on Channel Nine, Franklin’s corny, cozy, black-and-white, live mid-day interviews provided a popular alternative to the soaps and game shows that flooded the networks.
On the air for more than 25 years, the legendary Franklin was short and stubby in the flesh, wearing a shiny blue double-breasted suit with a light blue shirt and dark blue necktie, and topped by an agreeable smile and a surprisingly chintzy toupee.
Before the red light switched on, Franklin said this to me: “Are there any questions you want me to ask?”
“No. Let’s just go with the flow.”
One of the other guests was Anita Cabana, a busty but otherwise sagging singer whose specialty was imitating Carmen Miranda. She was introduced by Franklin as “A star of stage, screen, and radio…The always lovely…The always delightful…”
“Oh, Cho!” she beamed. “Hue are so cute. For the nex’ six days I am play-yink at the Golden Hind uptown on Willis Avenue. I do all the old favorites.”
Sitting beside me was a young man in a Jimmy Durante costume — replete with silly hat, bozo bow tie, and plastic schnozz.
“And our third guest,” Franklin enthused, “is Charley Rosen who has written A Mile Above the Rim…” Expertly Franklin held the book before the camera at the proper angle for a closeup.
“One of the all-time great sports books,” he added, “by a truly great writer. I urge all my good friends out there in videoland to go out and buy a copy of A Mile Above the Rim. That’s A Mile Above the Rim…We’ll be right back after these important messages.”
When the camera went blind, Franklin blew his nose in a huge red-and-white checkered handkerchief that looked like a small tablecloth and said, “Good! Good!” Then he rubbed his hands together like a fidgeting housefly. “This is going to be a truly wonderful show.”
“Cho? Ju know, I yam appear-ink for the New Jeer’s Eve at the Pink Flamingo in, how you say, Bed-Stay?”
“Ha, ha!” said Franklin. “That’s terrific! Let’s use that when we come back! Great show!”
The always lovely, always delightful Anita Cabana then sang an animated yet pitifully out-of-tune version of “Yes, We Have No Bananas.” But her vocal shortcomings were overshadowed by her twitching hips and bouncing boobs.
“Wonderful!” said Franklin. “What a great talent!”
Bizzaro Durante’s nose was secured around his head with a thick elastic cord. During the next intermission, he yanked on his ersatz honker and said to me in a conspiratorial whisper, “I can’t breathe under this damn thing! What a way to make a living!”
When my turn came, Franklin promptly asked me who would win the upcoming NCAA title. Since I focused on the pro game and hardly ever watched college ball, I cagily answered, “I’m just rooting for triple overtime in the championship game.”
“Wonderful,” he said. “Truly wonderful…We’ll be right back, my friends, right after this …”
During the following break, Franklin sipped from a glass of water, but the pseudo-Durante said this to me: “My mouth gets dry but I can’t drink or I’ll ruin my makeup. I’m only doing this because I got fired from my job in the post office for spending too much time in the shitter.”
It turned out that the real Durante was hospitalized with pneumonia, so his reluctant double sang “Inka Dinka Doo” — “Just for you, Jimmy.”
“Wonderful!” said Franklin. “I’m sure the great Jimmy Durante is watching us from his hospital bed. Get well, Jimmy.”
When the camera winked again, Franklin twitched with glee: “Great! Great! Only three more minutes to fill! This is one of the truly wonderful shows! But what’ll we do next?”
“Cho? In three weeks I yam play-yink at the Roadside Inn in Chursey City!”
“We’ll go with it! I love it! What a truly wonderful show! One of my best ever!”
Author, professional basketball coach, columnist Charley Rosen, of Stone Ridge, has had nearly two dozen books published, both fiction and non-fiction. His latest book, Scout’s Honor, is on sale at the Golden Notebook, Amazon and Barnes and Noble.