My friend Farrell, currently winning hearts and minds in Warsaw, Poland, just sent me the news – Joey Bishop is dead.
Bishop was a fixture of late night television in the late 60s, often subbing for Johnny Carson, then hosting his own talk show on ABC (where Regis Philbin got his network start… and nearly his end).
Hosting on the very weak ABC, versus the well established Johnny Carson, Bishop was an immediate underdog. His status as a member of Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack was a small mitigating factor, but in the end not enough.
Originially a standup comic (Comedy Central says he’s #96 on the all time 100 best), everything I’ve heard in the last decade or so said Joey Bishop was a very bitter, angry and not very nice guy. I’ve got a list of people like that, performers who felt they deserved more success than they got and couldn’t get over it. It seems like an awful way to live out your life.
Bishop was know for the phrase, “Son of a gun.” It was said in an almost question-like way. Typing the letters doesn’t have the same impact as hearing him say them.
Also entering the ‘file footage’ category yesterday was Teresa Brewer. Her top-40 hits, Ricochet and Music!, Music!, Music!, came too early for me to care about.
She’s important in my life, because she was the first ‘act’ I saw in Las Vegas. It was 1975, I was traveling the west with my friend Bob, and we went to Caesar’s Palace to see her open for Rowan and Martin.
The stage was large and full of people. We sat where the maitre’d sat losers and bumpkins – far from the action.
Rowan and Martin were hosting Laugh In at the time. It was one of the hottest shows on TV. They were OK. Teresa Brewer was dynamite.
I’d never seen a show like that before, with a polished performer and big band. This was old school Vegas, still extremely glitzy and moneyed. In the midst of her act, she brought on John Bubbles¹, someone I knew nothing about. When they tap danced, I was blown away.
She was tiny, but her voice was huge. I remember thinking how close her performance was to the original records I’d heard on the radio.
If, before I went, you would have asked if I wanted to see Teresa Brewer, I would have said, “No.” I left as a fan.
I’m sorry I never got to meet her to tell her that. A performer can never hear enough praise.
¹ – From Wikipedia: In 1978, John Bubbles spoke at the Variety Arts Theatre in Los Angeles as a participant in a seminar on vaudeville. Someone asked him who the best tap dancer was. Bubbles answered, “You’re looking at him.”