Comedian Joey Bishop, the last living member of the original Rat Pack has taken his Final Taxi at 89.
The Rat Packers of this era – Sinatra, Peter Lawford, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr and Bishop – became famous for their appearances at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas in shows that combined music and comedy, and Bishop wrote much of their material. The group had a reputation for hard drinking and womanising, but the mournful-looking Bishop – whose principal vice was golf – never subscribed to that aspect of Rat Pack life.
One thing many people forget about this group this that they played an important role in the desegregation of Las Vegas hotels and casinos in the early 1960s. Sinatra, Bishop and the others would refuse to play in or patronize those establishments that would not give full service to African American entertainers including Davis. Once Rat Pack appearances became popular and the subject of media attention, the Las Vegas properties were forced to abandon segregation-based policies.
Born in New York, Bishop grew up in Philadelphia as Joseph Abraham Gottlieb. He adopted his professional name in the late 1930s when he and two friends worked the Borscht Belt comedy circuit as the Bishop Brothers.
Bishop managed to combine a deadpan delivery with a fine sense of timing and was a brilliant ad-libber who was said never to memorize his gags.
In 1954 he was opening for Sinatra at the Copacabana in New York when, in the middle of his act, Marilyn Monroe walked in wearing a flowing white ermine coat. Bishop waited for her to sit down before saying: “Marilyn, I told you to wait in the truck.” And perhaps no other comic could have got away with the line: “Mr Sinatra will now speak of some of the good things the Mafia has done.”
In the 1950s, he cracked television, appearing on most of the variety hours—including Ed Sullivan’s and Dinah Shore’s.
In 1961, NBC signed him for The Joey Bishop Show, a Saturday night sitcom which featured Bishop as a talent agent and introduced a young Marlo Thomas to television as a series regular. The comedy’s first season drew critical pans despite garnering respectable ratings. The show was reformatted in 1962-63 to resemble The Danny Thomas Show with Bishop playing a comedian with his own television series. The sitcom moved to CBS in 1964-65 but was mauled opposite Bonanza, falling to 97th in the seasonal ratings, and was canceled.
Bishop was a periodic and popular substitute for Johnny Carson during his vacations from the Tonight Show when he was host. In 1966, ABC signed Bishop to do a nightly 90-minute talk/ variety show live from Hollywood opposite Carson, who was in New York. The Joey Bishop Show premiered in April 1967 and featured a young Regis Philbin as Bishop’s announcer-sidekick.
By the late 1980s, Bishop became an increasingly nostalgic figure, though he did a series of interviews when Nick at Nite began airing repeats of his sitcom in the early 1990s.
Joey Bishop is listed as #96 on Comedy Central’s list of the 100 greatest standups of all time.
Coincidentally, the “Sands” hotel and casino in Atlantic City where he and the Rat Pack preformed and which had been scheduled for demolition months prior, came down less than 24 hours after Bishop’s death.
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