Nearly a century with ‘A living landmark’
By Michael Perlman
“My recommendation to a young person is to follow your heart and become whatever you want. Don’t give up easily and just persevere,” said 98-year-old Lawrence, New York resident Bea Franklin, lovingly known as “SuperMom.”
The nickname was bestowed upon her by her son Kenjamin “Ken” Franklin, a notable music and media agent of RadioActive Talent, Inc.
However, his mother is the most influential person in his life. Franklin’s other sons are Rick and Bruce, who also admire her very much.
Franklin discusses her family history with much passion. She was born Bea Strauss on June 30, 1924, was raised in Philadelphia and would settle in a sunny corner house on Continental Avenue and Exeter Street in Forest Hills during her childhood.
Her father was Isaac Mayer Strauss, better known as Jack Strauss, who founded the automotive company, Pep Boys, as Pep Auto Supply in Philadelphia in 1921.
The co-founders were officially listed as W. Graham Jack Jackson, Emanuel Rosenfeld, Moe Strauss and Moe Radavitz.
Today, there are over 1,000 shops nationally and in Puerto Rico, with the closest addresses in Jamaica, Queens.
At the time, she and her family resided in Philadelphia, where the main shop was based.
She explained, “Manny and Moe were in the Navy together during WWI, and they decided that since automobiles were up and coming, they came up with the idea of having auto supply stores.”
Pep Boys influenced other forms of culture and was featured in a “Saturday Night Live” skit.
Upon relocating to New York, her father founded Strauss Stores.
He told his brother Moe that he would not serve as a competitor in Pennsylvania. He did not have much money.
She reminisced, “My father went to a bank and saw the manager, who asked, ‘What are you going to offer for collateral?’ and he replied, ‘My good name,’ which stayed with me for many years. He would have enough money to open five stores and a warehouse.”
“I was always very proud of my dad,” said Franklin, whose father’s professions included a lawyer, prior to the automotive field.
Franklin acquired his business mentality. She recalled, “We used to go for walks every Sunday and talk. I was a senior in high school and a business manager for the yearbook, and was chosen to be a speaker at Columbia University. I was petrified and told my dad, who said, ‘You go up there and you’ll be in front of a couple hundred young people who are business managers. Don’t give up the thought that they would love to be in your position. Ever since then, I kept that in mind.”
She was married to Jerry Franklin from 1945 until his passing in 1996.
She remembers him as being very modest. He was a corporal and an Army photographer during WWII, whose images offered a first-hand window into the invasions spanning Europe and North Africa.
His inventory also documented the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp. Some photos are publicly uncirculated and others have been published in history textbooks and available at the FDR Presidential Library in Hyde Park, New York.
“My job was putting pictures into albums. Most had locations on the back. He had seen a lot, but didn’t discuss it with his family,” she said.
Jan. 27 marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“High schools should have a course on the Holocaust. They need to know what went on and what can happen anytime, anywhere, if we are not vigilant,” she said.
Franklin recalled her husband’s photographic talents that led him to capture the cream of the crop in entertainment, including Humphrey Bogart and his wife at the time, Mayo Methot, Joe E. Brown and Mickey Rooney. She continued, “There was his famous picture of President Franklin D. Roosevelt sitting in a jeep with General Eisenhower and General Patton at Castelvetrano Airfield in Sicily. It was the only time that they were recorded being together.”
This was after conferences at Tehran and Cairo on Dec. 8, 1943.
She witnessed definitive moments, such as the iconic photo-op of “The Kiss” on V-J Day on Aug. 14, 1945 in Times Square, featuring a U.S. Navy sailor and a dental assistant (a stranger), who were photographed by Alfred Eisenstaedt.
At the time, she was a student at NYU and took the subway uptown. This was eight days after atomic bombs exploded in Hiroshima and Nagasaki at WWII’s conclusion.
According to Franklin, it is never too late to achieve your dreams. She returned to college when she was 45 and achieved a master’s degree in library science at CW Post to become a school librarian. Since there were no openings, she became a permanent substitute in her area of expertise in Nassau County.
Besides Franklin’s father’s influence, she takes much inspiration from her husband, whose motto was “Think positively.”
She recalled, “He never wanted to hear anything negative in the house. We didn’t complain about headaches.” As for today, she said, “You get further with having positive thoughts.”
Franklin, a graduate of P.S. 101 who relocated to Forest Hills at age nine, shared a treasure trove of memories, illustrating her community’s humble nature and unique characteristics.
Much time was balanced between school, friends and synagogue.
Today, she and her son anticipate the reopening of the 1930s-era T-Bone as the T-Bone Diner & Delicatessen. “I had a date with my husband at the T-Bone Diner,” she said.
Another outstanding memory was attending Forest Hills Jewish Center with her family.
“Forest Hills Jewish Center was formed by a couple of Jewish couples. From a store, they purchased a wood-frame house on Kessel Street. The sanctuary was the living room and dining room. The bedrooms were where I had my religious education.”
That was followed by a two-story stone and brick building on Kessel Street, which still bears a “Forest Hills Jewish Center” inscription in its façade.
“By the time I got married, they were very excited about a new Forest Hills Jewish Center on Queens Blvd,” she continued.
She reminisced, “I would often have lunch with my mother at the Stratton (a popular restaurant and nightclub at 108-36 Queens Blvd). When the subway opened in 1936, it cost a nickel, and the LIRR cost a dime to get to Manhattan in the ‘30s.”
Some of her other cherished memories were patronizing what was known as “Forest Hills Village,” consisting of Austin Street and Continental Avenue.
One destination was Peter Pan Bakery on Continental Avenue and Hamburger Express at 72-04 Austin Street, where a locomotive would deliver meals to patrons.
It was also a favorite for her son, Kenjamin. That would sometimes follow with a visit to the popular Eliot’s on Austin Street, a shop specializing in boys’ clothing.
She would attend movies at the former Forest Hills Theatre on Continental Avenue, beginning in the 1930s and at the Midway Theatre since its opening in 1942.
Forest Hills Stadium was often frequented by Franklin and her friend Adele, who attended tennis matches featuring legends Don Budge and Alice Marble.
She also befriended legends including boxer Rocky Graziano, who would come to her home.
For nearly a century, Franklin attended a vast array of shows.
“I had my 18th birthday party at the [prestigious] Hotel Astor Roof Garden in Times Square in 1942, when Frank Sinatra was first making a name for himself. The Tommy Dorsey band was playing and Sinatra was his vocalist,” she reminisced.
Franklin is unique in additional ways, such as by being heterochromatic. She has one blue eye and one brown eye, a trait found in 200,000 people spanning the planet.
At 98, she maintains an active lifestyle. Along with her son, Rick, she meets many actors who are in touring companies of “Fiddler on the Roof,” among other Broadway shows.
She still remembers her earliest Broadway show, “Brother Rat,” which ran from 1936 to 1938. “It was about a military academy. My brother was a cadet, which is how we got tickets. When I was in high school, I would save up my money, and a friend and I would see a matinee.”
She recently attended “Aladdin” and “Some Like It Hot.”
Today, her passion has taken her to Memphis, Tennessee, Scottsdale and Phoenix, Arizona and Buffalo, New York, in support of her acting friends. Next in line is a cruise in February.
She is also an avid reader.
“All of my sons are successful in business and are content with their lives. That’s what makes me happy,” she said.
Additionally, she takes great pride in her three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Franklin rehashed “thinking positively” as her key to longevity.
“Life is very good. I would like to be around as long as I am healthy and able to do what I like to do,” she continued.
Stay tuned for next week’s column for part two, spotlighting the success stories of Kenjamin Franklin, with many unique Forest Hills memories.