Stu Bykofsky: DEATH SILENCES A GIVE-BACK GUY

Frank Talent loved to make kids' lives better, as here, in 1971, when he - dressed as Batman - visited young Mark Emmons in St. Luke's Hospital's pediatrics ward.
Frank Talent loved to make kids' lives better, as here, in 1971, when he - dressed as Batman - visited young Mark Emmons in St. Luke's Hospital's pediatrics ward. (DAILY NEWS FILE PHOTO)
Posted: September 12, 2011

FRANK TALENT sat silently in a wheelchair, in a pleasant apartment in the Northeast that had been rented for him to die in. I saw him a week ago and he was supposed to have a few weeks or months left.

The cheerful dynamo who had for decades joyfully played Batman - in full costume at countless children's parties (for free) - was in and out of consciousness. Seeing the effervescent quipster pale and drained was hard, but worse was his silence. As doctors lost their battle with his brain cancer, as the tumor grew, it rendered him speechless.

That he felt no pain was a blessing. That he couldn't speak . . .

Frank's voice was his trademark, a bullfrog's croak run through a blender. One of a kind. Now silenced at 75.

Frank's vocation was Municipal Court, where the gregarious imp knew everyone and wore numerous hats in four decades of service. His avocation was entertainment.

A sought-after emcee, Frank never saw a microphone he didn't caress. His long list of charities included the Sunshine Foundation, the Multiple Sclerosis Society and Children's Hospital.

Frank was already ill when his beloved wife, Gussie, died in June. His Summerdale home was so filled with sadness, Frank's relatives arranged for the apartment where his caregiver nephew, Eric Savoy, came to stay 24/7, helped by other relatives and friends. No one wanted to see Batman in a hospice.

When Frank passed Friday evening, he was with friends and kin.

A product of West Philly, Frank spent a chunk of his youth in St. Joseph's orphanage. He was grateful that St. Joe's helped him, and that may explain, in part, why he was a give-back guy who couldn't say no. Since Frank and Gussie had no kids, every neighborhood kid became Frank's. Stray animals, too. Gussie and Frank loved animals.

He was once asked if his dog was housebroken. "He's housebroken," Frank quipped. "Everything in the house is broken."

He also loved public service, he loved promoting wrestling, he loved show business and showing off, and, of course, children.

In Muni Court, he was a friendly father to those baffled by the arcane titles and procedures. Some of the bewildered were journalists (including me).

I think Frank was a frustrated newspaperman at heart. He liked the company of reporters, he wrote letters to the editor and eventually achieved the apotheosis of journalism by landing a column with Jimmy Tayoun's Philadelphia Public Record.

His column was called "The Snooper," but you didn't need Wikileaks to name the author. Like so much of "inside Philadelphia," it was an open secret. As the Snooper, Frank shared secrets, supported causes and settled scores.

Before print, he had scored work in TV, had his own wrestling radio shows, even a bit part playing a TV reporter in "Blow Out."

Never shy, Frank became friends with Fats Domino simply by introducing himself to the New Orleans R&B legend after a show. In 1981, when the Eagles were in N'awlins for the Super Bowl, Frank stayed with Fats, who lives in the Ninth Ward.

Frank also was devoted to Frank Rizzo, and was his unpaid PR man and problem-fixer, sometimes skirting the rules he knew so well, for a good cause.

The private Frank, if there was such a thing, umpired Catholic League baseball games and took at-risk boys off the street and got them into sports, after getting them uniforms.

That's how I'll remember Frank Talent: Loud. Giving. Funny. A Philadelphia original with a voice that could crack ice and a heart so warm it could boil water.

God bless you, Frank.


Email stubyko@phillynews.com or call 215-854-5977. See Stu on Facebook. For recent columns:

www.philly.com/Byko.

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