Johnny Franklin’s Celebrity Photos

More from this show

The Sunnyslope Historical Society is hosting a free exhibition, “The Life and Times of Johnny Franklin”, Sunday, August 12th, from 1-4pm. The exhibit features photographs and memorabilia belonging to the late Johnny Franklin, who photographed numerous performers visiting and living in the Valley of the Sun. Arizona music historian John Dixon provides a preview of the exhibition that includes photos of entertainment luminaries such as Elvis, the Rolling Stones, Fabian, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Fats Domino, and Phoenix’ own Wallace and Ladmo.

Ted Simons: Elvis, the rolling stones, fats domino, Patsy Cline, a few of the celebrities who had their visits to the valley captured by the lens of Johnny Franklin, a valley man who took photos not only of the famous passing through town, but those that lived in the valley as well. The Sunnyslope historical society is hosting an exhibition of Johnny Franklin's photographs and memorabilia, here to tell us about the life and times of Johnny Franklin is Arizona music historian, John Dixon. Good to see you. Who was Johnny Franklin?

John Dixon: Well, Johnny was the kid backstage with his little instamatic in just about every show, taking pictures of the known and the not so known. And he was really -- he was a young entrepreneur, he started -- he would take some of these pictures and turn them into fan club memorabilia, and you could join the fan club of the famous and the not-so-famous. And probably the most interesting thing that he just went to so many places, so many venues in the day, and took all of these great pictures of the famous ones, which would go off to Nashville, and he would send them five, six copies of the same picture, get an autograph on three or four, they would be sent back to him, and he just started building this huge archive of photos and negatives and autographs of all of these famous folks.

Ted Simons: And we see him here with Wanda Jackson. Back in the day.

John Dixon: That is in the day.

Ted Simons: We have so many things that belonged to him. His business card is next, it's an interesting business card in the sense that we see him, we see his name, address, and we see some Wallace and LADMO folks.

John Dixon: Those are I think some Kirsten Brothers images. Johnny was regularly at the show, so he created just a wonderful archive of motion picture stars, sports, anyone who would stop by the show, as well as their regular cast of characters.

Ted Simons: I think we have shots of live performances, again, taken by Johnny Franklin. And this was -- where is this? What are we looking at?

John Dixon: Wherever TV was, they did openings, they did -- every weekend they would travel all over the Wallace and Ladmo show, travel all over the state, and they had different sports teams, with uniforms. They would play the faculty of these different high schools, and then they would do a live show after these different games. They even had a boxing team, and -- of which all the members and sometimes some of the D.J.s, the La chords, but basically it was the cast and crew of the Wallace and Ladmo show, and they would be in mar Enzi one night, Prescott the next night, and it was amazing.

Ted Simons: That looks like Michael Landon on the left.

John Dixon: That is Michael Landon, with Aunt Maude on the left, and then just one of many stars of the day who stopped by. And one of my favorite shots, Ladmo back in the alley behind channel 5 television, just signing autographs for the kids. I don't know whether it was before or after the show. That's just such a candid wonderful shot that just the fact Johnny was there to capture these great moments in Arizona history. It's great.

Ted Simons: We mentioned Wallace and Ladmo and Johnny Franklin and all of his photographs, there was a Wallace and Ladmo coloring book, and I guess some of the illustrations inside, including the cover, were taken by -- were modeled on photographs.

John Dixon: They are modeled on photographs by Johnny Franklin. So Johnny took these various photos of Wallace, Ladmo, Gerald and Maude out at legend city, and then someone actually traced them and blew them up to make them the pages of this coloring book. But they were all based on Johnny Franklin photos.

Ted Simons: Obviously Johnny Franklin much more than just Wallace and Ladmo. He basically, if you were in town and he was around, he took a shot not only we're talking about as we mentioned, national and international star, local folks, you mentioned the La chords. Who were they?

John Dixon: They were just a great soul group of the time, and they were regulars on the Wallace and Ladmo show besides being performers. There's a great picture of the postcard, and it had Johnny's address. You could joint fan club, and everything was 206 east Alice in Sunnyslope. All of these fan clubs. And they were just a wonderful group of the time. They sang on the show as well as being a member of these various teams, and gene blue is featured on the left, Gene runs -- is the president I think of Phoenix OiC and has been there many years. That's gene on the left, so he's still around.

Ted Simons: You bet. Johnny Franklin also had -- they didn't -- did they call them fan 'zines?

John Dixon: They did. He had a little magazine, he and his brother, and Alice Diaz, the editor. They put about a little -- for about a year called "a closer look." There's a young Linda Ronstadt on this particular cover. For about a year these were given out at the Wallace and Ladmo drive-in, and at various advertisers. They sold advertising for all the leather and lace shops on mill Avenue, and so you could also pick up "a closer look" there.

Ted Simons: That's a great shot of Linda Ronstadt.

John Dixon: It's a great shot. And what he would do is take a picture later, the next time they came up, of the same person holding a closer look, many times with that cover, and showing it, and he would publish that in "A Closer Look."

Ted Simons: We have Frank Zappa next. Basically doing what you're talking about.

John Dixon: But Johnny, he just -- the energy of this kid and the chutzpah to go backstage. Security was much more lax.

Ted Simons: Talk more about that. How difficult would it be to do something like that today?

John Dixon: Well, it would be much harder. That's what security is for, that's what you have the venue security as well as the security for the artist themselves. It would be next to impossible, without going through tons of paperwork, talking to the promotion agent, the publicity, the management, to be able to do it. And they have the rights to oversee what you have and approve any and all images. They would be able to do that. In those days Johnny took it, published it, thank you very much.

Ted Simons: And in those days, when Johnny Cash came to town and played at the riverside ballroom, Johnny Cash was a star, but he wasn't Johnny Cash quite yet. So look at those shots.

John Dixon: Those are great shots. That's the wonderful riverside bar.

Ted Simons: Where was that?

John Dixon: The riverside ballroom was just on the south side on central of the bridge, on central. And for years they had a swimming pool there, and it was a swimming pool, and they had an outdoor venue with the flaps on the side, and the venue burnt down and they built a new one closer to central. But Patsy Cline, just all the act of the day were performed there, and he's got great shots on stage and he would also have candid -- he's got a wonderful series of Roy Orbison shots, about eight of them, backstage reading Sixteen magazines, calling on the phone. And he was able to get these folks -- there's Johnny backstage -- get those Phoenix to pose. And he would send them these pictures wherever they were, because he's got tons of addresses and tons of envelopes in his archives that Johnny Cash sent back to Alice with his autographed pictures. Johnny, thank you so much for the pictures, look forward to seeing you the next time.

Ted Simons: Fantastic stuff. I want to keep going, we're not going to get to all of it, but dick Clark appearing in town. Where is this?

John Dixon: That is on the tarmac at the airport. That's richie Hart on the left, and dick -- they're standing on the tarmac, welcoming the stars because they're young, because Duane Eddie had done the music to it. So that was the Arizona connection, Duane Eddie. And so they flew all the stars out here, they had a screening I think downtown at the fox, they did some live music at the Phoenix Indian school bandstand, and that's taken I think at the Ramada Inn next to bill Johnson's big apple on Van Buren.

Ted Simons: It's still there.

John Dixon: That's 1960 that dick came out here. So Johnny was there to capture that moment.

Ted Simons: And he was also at what I think became the celebrity theater, but wasn't the celebrity theater then taking a picture of a band that most definitely became quite -- the Grateful Dead. When is this?

John Dixon: This is 1968, Ted, late '67, '68. The travel lodge built what became the celebrity theater. I think it was called the circle star theater originally, but it was a theater in the round, and so he was down there for quite a few shows. This is just a great -- he's got some other great candid shots that we'll have at the exhibition.

Ted Simons: That is remarkable.

John Dixon: It's great.

Ted Simons: Some other big names, Fats Domino, Duane Eddie, all here, all shot by Johnny Franklin.

John Dixon: That particular -- the Phoenix National Guard armory on 52nd street, he was there, and then there's great Duane Eddie shots too of Duane. And he would also take color -- there's color, he's playing the Dan ELECTRO guitar. And just some wonderful wide shots, that's the big roll-up door at the Phoenix National Guard armory. Without his history, Ted, to add to my musical history of records and tapes, this really makes it a complete picture. So I'm honored to have many of these images in my personal collection, and the family has added some for this exhibition we're doing on Sunday.

Ted Simons: What happened to Johnny Franklin?

John Dixon: Johnny Franklin in the end was -- he was one of these guys who would do the weekend -- like Greyhound park shows, and in the end he was driving to Tucson selling watchbands and watch batteries, and he also had a booth in the Grand Stan at the Arizona state fair for years selling posters of country and western stars. He was a big country and western star, he would go to Nashville to the fanfare every year, and he even -- when he was hospitalized he would go down to the state fair when they would have the country artist and get backstage to have his picture taken with them. And so he was still befriending many of the country stars, even in his last days.

Ted Simons: OK. But how long ago did he die?

John Dixon: December the 8th he passed away.

Ted Simons: And he was still going at it.

John Dixon: He was still going at it, 71 years old. Just -- as I say, he was always collecting and his wall in his hospital room is covered with autographs of country fans.

Ted Simons: Great work, I'm glad we had you on to help celebrate the life of Johnny Franklin and we'll talk more about the exhibit, but thank you for being here, man. Good to see you.

John Dixon: Thanks for bringing me down.

Ted Simons: So to speak. We're not bringing you down. For goodness sake. See more of Johnny Franklin's photographs and memorabilia this weekend, the Sunnyslope historical society is hosting the free exhibition, the life and times of Johnny Franklin, Sunday, August 12th, from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m.

John Dixon:Arizona Music Historian;

Illustration of columns of a capitol building with text reading: Arizona PBS AZ Votes 2024

Arizona PBS presents candidate debates

airs July 26

Voter ED: Why Vote (And How to Do It)?

Three main characters from mystery shows premiering this summer

It’s the Summer of Mystery!

James Percival Everett Joins the PBS Books Readers Club
July 31

Join us for PBS Books Readers Club!

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: