Bronwyn met the pioneer television and radio broadcasting legend JOE FRANKLIN in 1985. In addition to her appearances on his programs, they have collaborated in performances throughout NYC and worked together extensively on Bronwyn's Speakeasy performance and recording project in 2008.
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January 28, 2015
In 1985 Rick got me on the Joe Franklin Show. We were just married, and he was so excited to help me with my career. I was performing “Subway Named Desire” in cabaret in the city. I went on the show in some studio in midtown. Dick Zigun from Coney Island USA and the Mermaid Parade was on the same show. I’m sure there was somebody more famous than either of us but being so self-involved I don’t remember. That was the beauty of Joe -- he would have big stars like Bing Crosby and Ronald Regan and then there would be me. He started the careers of Bette Midler, Liza Minnelli and Sarah Silverman, who later used Joe to further her career by slandering him. Oh, the price of fame.
My husband Rick over the years has taken on the role of Joe's archivist and has never been able to find this show. We have collected many. Back in the day they would tape over shows. So many thousands of interviews have been lost. My father taped it off the TV and Dick said he had one and Rick taped one too, nonetheless this one show is not to be found. However, as archivist Rick continues to collect and record and preserve old tapes of radio and TV shows. In dear Joe’s office there is so much more. Joe was a collector of memorabilia, silent movies and sheet music.
That was the beginning however of our adventure with Joe. On that first TV show, I remember him asking me something about Subways Are Made for Sleeping…a song or show that 30 years later I heard Richard Rodney Bennett sing.
Rick produced a Golden Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll Show in the old Paramount with Joe Franklin and Richie Ornstein for a downtown Brooklyn fundraiser at Long Island College and I remember sitting in a limo with Rick and Joe sleeping going to a pizza spinning contest in Princeton N.J. There were great gaps of time during the 80s and 90s.
After my father died sometime in 2000, I came back to NYC and started singing. One day midtown on a Sunday afternoon after singing at Chez Suzette (Trudi Mann’s Open Mic), I am crossing the street and beside me is Joe Franklin. Hello Joe, I say, I’m Bronwyn Rucker, Rick Russo’s wife. I wasn’t sure if he knew me, but he was very friendly and wrote in a little note book his number and said, “Please tell Ricky to call me."
Rick did and our relationship with Joe grew. Rick got involved with his radio show on WOR. I remember how excited Rick was when first Joe asked him to attend. It was Saturday night starting at midnight. Rick would come home at 7:00am with McDonald’s fish sandwiches. He was so happy. He loved radio and would tell me all that happened. He played tapes of the show and especially when a song from my CD was played. It usually was “Time Heals Everything." Joe liked that...
Eventually, Rick wrote segments, selected songs and was a producer of Joe's late night radio show, Memory Lane. He loved it. I loved it. This was a five-year period and after 911 that is when I began the Blue Light Series, a hundred oil paintings that represented the healing blue lights in lower Manhattan. Prior to this we had an office and I had a studio, Meltdown Performing Arts but that organization melted down and oil painting in the apartment was met with disapproval from dear Rick.
It was a sad day about 10 years ago when Joe announced he had to stop the show. Rick said after the show he took them into a room and announced that the show was over. He said he wasn’t pleased with how he sounded on the air, and he was stopping the late night Saturday/Sunday broadcast.
In truth it was hard for Joe. He had a recent hospitalization, a couple stents. I suspect it was his doctor who said he had to quit the late night extravaganza. However, the weekly adventure continued -- Rick and Joe and their good friend Arnold Martin met every Friday for dinner. When Joe Franklin’s restaurant was in its heyday they would meet there. Once a month they would broadcast a live radio show from the restaurant. Very exciting times. Rick and I were on the broadcast several times. At this time, I knew Anita O’Day and her manager Robbie. We were all there. We celebrated our anniversary at the restaurant. (We were married on December 31). This began an annual New Year’s Anniversary tradition. Joe, Rick and I would go to Sardi’s for brunch either the 31st or January 1st. Then we'd go upstairs and take pictures by his portrait upstairs. Once Sardi’s was closed and we went to Patsy’s for brunch and met Bill Boggs.
These last ten years Joe graced me with being my opening act for every Christmas and Birthday show and Rick would introduce Joe. Rick was so proud of his intro crediting Joe with being the creator of the talk show and his legendary broadcasting. Each year there would be new people, younger people in the audience who didn’t know Joe Franklin and they always were amazed. He continued to build fans especially of my Marie Crisis friends. Of course, there were also many of the older folk who couldn’t believe they were actually seeing Joe Franklin.
Rick was very happy during these years. He loved Joe. His father died in the early years of our marriage and Joe was sort of a surrogate. He and his father Angelo would tell jokes and laugh and shared a love of old songs and movies and then there was Joe. They would go to the Players Club for meetings of Sons of the Desert, a group that celebrates Laurel and Hardy. Rick and his Dad were also fans of Laurel and Hardy. Once in the pouring rain Rick and Joe caught a pedicab downtown to the Players. Rick told me it was wild, and he felt sure they were going to be killed but Joe coaxed him and the driver on despite blinding rain and whizzing traffic.
I always knew Joe was a bit of a father figure for Rick. What I hadn’t realized was how much he meant to me.
December 21st 2014 was his 2nd to last performance, at my Christmas show. His last performance was January 1 at the Metropolitan Room for a marathon Guinness world record longest cabaret. He was very frail. His friend Arnold brought him to my show. They couldn’t catch a cab and Joe was afraid to be late. They started to walk. Twice a block he had to stop but he persevered, and Arnold helped him. He said he didn’t want to disappoint me. I feel so bad. A few weeks later he was dead. That Sunday, I called him. I asked if he was in pain. He said yes and he asked me about alternative methods for pain. Joe never complained.
This year Joe was too sick to go to our annual brunch. He was in the hospital. We were there several times, very difficult time then finally he went to hospice. I was there two hours before he passed. I left him with his son Brad and went to my jazz choir rehearsal. At about 6:45 pm we sang a beautiful rendition of the 23rd Psalm. I started to shake and felt Joe had passed. When I got home, Rick told me he had at that time. The Rabbi recited this Psalm at his service.
I have recently learned that Arnold lost his father when he was 17. He has been with Joe almost every day since then.
At Joe’s very dignified service, attended by his son Brad, sister Meg and longtime companion, Jodie, Arnold said to me at the end “we lost our surrogate father." Very true. Of course, I always loved Joe and was enormously appreciative of his inspiration for my Speakeasy show and his later participation on my Speakeasy CD. We are blessed to have his voice recording the stories of the singers from the 20’s and 30’s. At this quiet service the enormity of the loss hit me. I cried my tears. I still cry my tears. Joe was indeed a surrogate father for me too, not just Rick. He gave me that unrequited love of a parent, long after my parents died. Whenever I would go to the office over the years, he was so happy to see me, he would say I looked so young, my skin looked so good, I never aged and that this year would be the best. This was the year for me.
There is no one else and will be no one else like Joe. His coffin was covered with the American Flag. My dad would have loved that. Joe too. They were both proud Americans who loved their kids, filled with positivism and patriotism and those fifties values wherein you never complain. Joe was New York City, and we will miss him. I will miss him very much.