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Many faces of one man to fill the Palladium

The "link man'' to the stars of a bygone era now spends much of his time entertaining nursing home residents.

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 4, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Johnny Franks is a consummate showman.

Wearing his pink -- or green, or blue -- outfits and miniature gold and diamond violin dangling from a chain around his neck, he seeks to brighten the lives of nursing home patients and others who just happen to see him across the way.

He is 74 and has been performing since the 1940s. Sunday, Franks will share his talent and humor with an audience at the Palladium Theater, where his one-man show will feature music from the big band era, jazz and standards by such stars as Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra. His performance includes singing, jazz violin and a comedy act.

"Life has been good and exciting," said Franks, who regularly drops the names of famous people into conversations.

Zsa Zsa Gabor made eyes at him once. He was Jane Russell's business manager. He has been the lead man for many famous acts. Photographs show him with Trini Lopez, Dionne Warwick, the Stylistics, Telly Savalas, Princess Margaret and many others.

"All my life, names have dropped into my life," he said.

"I was the link man to lots of stars. I got a little bit out of it. I've loved every minute of being associated with it."

Born in London's East End, Franks entertained the armed forces in England and Italy during World War II and was awarded the King George War Medal and the Italy Star. He's been a night club band leader, toured with English musical variety shows, managed artists and owned a company that sold old jukebox records. He continued to perform into the 1970s and 1980s and retired at 67.

For the past seven years, Franks and his wife, Nanette, have been traveling to the United States to spend winters at a friend's condominium at Isla del Sol.

"I'm always here on Dec. 1 and I'm out of here on May the first and during that period, I entertain at nursing homes. I like doing that," he said.

"This year, during the 50th anniversary (of his marriage) and my 55th year in show business, I decided to play the Palladium. I played the Palladium in London, inside and out, for charity."

In England, said Franks, he also performs at supermarkets to raise money for charity. Here he gives minishows at nursing homes for "taxi money."

He beams when he talks of his wife. "She's been my whole life. She looks after me, supports me in what people call a horrible business."

The couple has a son, Garry, 46, and daughter, Ruth, 40.

Franks is excited about Sunday's show. "I'm going to step on the stage in my own right," he said. "This is it. Right in front of my lady wife and all the friends that I hope may turn up from my condo."

He will wear a tuxedo for the event. But his pastel outfits have a purpose, he said. "I wear them when I go to nursing homes," he said. "Anyone can turn up in trousers and a shirt."

If you go

"The Many Faces of Johnny Franks," 2 p.m. Sunday, Palladium Theater, 253 Fifth Ave. N, Adults, $10. Seniors, $8.

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