Monday, June 14, 2010

Radio Franks

Radio Franks was a bar in New York City in the 1940s. It was included in a 1939 directory of New York Restaurants.I first came across the reference in a very low-res picture of a postcard for the venue (bottom). Even the address was hard to read: 70 East 55th street, New York City. It's a midtown address, which today is the Heron Tower. It seems that Franks pre-dates the construction of the Heron Tower. In a 1944 issue of Billboard Radio Franks club got a mention confirming the time frame.
"...Frank Bessinger, Three Feminine Notes, and singing waiters started at reopening of Radio Franks, New York..."
These 16 words tell us something interesting. The proprietor of Radio Frank's is Frank Bessinger. We know it was open before 1944, and we know it closed, and furthermore that it reopened.  But we don't know why or why Frank is Radio Frank. Ultimately, with a little reading I was able to answer all of those questions.I'll start with a 1939 listing in the Stage:
"Jerry White and Frank Bessinger host here and there's a spicey little floor show with new lively entertainers. 70 E 55, Eldorado 5-9258."
Frank Bessinger was a singer, pianist and song-writer who recorded for Victor and Brunswick in the 1920s. He recorded a number of sides as part of the "Radio Franks" Who were Frank Wright and Frank Bessinger. Frank Wright was replaced in the late 1920s by Jerome "Jerry" White.  In 1926 they did a short film for DeForrest Phonofilm. Together they had a weekly show on WMCA sponsored by a furniture company.  they recorded mostly 20s jazz, very foxtrot-based with lots of banjo. He opened the bar Radio Franks in 1929. In early 1944 it had a fire, and re-opened in May of 1944. It was open until at least 1949.

I know little of Radio Frank's Club.  I did find a short list of performers who plays there: Gloria Manners, Mary Martin, the Musicalairres, Joan Nagel,  Penny Palmer, Dorothy Whitney, Vickie Arnold, Connie Verlen, and Niky Nicolai.  the few of those that I recognize tell me that this was a vaudeville joint.  Frank was born in 1892 in Michigan which makes him 37 when he opens his own club. He probably had around 20 years of experience in vaudeville before opening his own club.he was a vaudevillian who made good.  He retired to Florida.