Joseph Abraham Gottlieb was born in the Bronx, New York on February 3, 1918. He was the fifth child of Anna and Jacob Gottlieb, themselves immigrants from Eastern Europe. At his birth he had the distinction of being the smallest baby ever born at Fordham Hospital, weighing in at a diminutive 2 lbs, 14 oz. As an adult he was to attain only 5'7'' in height.
The family moved when young Joseph was just 3 months old and he grew up in the tough neighborhoods of South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He dropped out of high school after 2 years and joined the military, serving in the US Army during WW II.
Joey finds his niche
Following his stint with Uncle Sam, Joseph discovered the entertainment business. He performed stand up comedy as well as emceeing at various clubs from South Philly to New York to Miami. Along the way he changed his name to Joey Bishop, a name he kept for the rest of his life. It was during these early years that he, along with fellow performers Morris Spector and Sammy Reisman, formed a comic troupe named "The Bishop Trio", a name bestowed upon them by their chauffeur who insisted they use his surname for the troupe in exchange for his services as a driver. When the troupe dissolved Gottlieb retained the name Bishop for his own stage name.
Rat Pack fame
In the 50s Bishop formed a friendship with Frank Sinatra which was his entré into the Rat Pack. Sinatra caught Bishop's act and hired him as an opener for his own act. Bishop, along with Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Peter Lawford reigned as kings in Las Vegas during the late 50s and early 60s. They usually held forth at the Sands, performing a rapid sequence of song and comedy in a seemingly chaotic manner. Joey Bishop's style was deadpan and cynical, a combination which won him fans. He never was to have the fame enjoyed by Sinatra, Martin, and Davis. His role was again that of an MC, introducing his more famous friends. He was also responsible for much of the Rat Pack's comic material. Sinatra called Bishop the 'hub of the Big Wheel', a measure of Sinatra's respect for the diminutive comic. Dean Martin and Joey Bishop were the only ones allowed to poke fun at superstar Sinatra, an honor never bestowed on either Peter Lawford or Sammy Davis, Jr. Once when Bishop heard Sinatra had almost drowned while filming, he wired Sinatra the message "I thought you could walk on water".
Bishop appeared with the Rat Pack in Vegas as well as working with them in films such as 'Ocean's 11', (the original), as well 'Sergeants Three'. Following these films Bishop appeared to have gotten on the wrong side of Sinatra and he was banned from the Rat Pack during pre-production of the film 'Robin and the Seven Hoods'.
Following the Rat Pack years
In the late 50s and early 60s Bishop found TV, appearing numerous times on Jack Paar's 'The Tonight Show'. Beginning in 1961 Bishop had his own show, aptly named 'The Joey Bishop Show', a program which ran until 1965.
Joey Bishop reappeared on the small screen again in 1967, once again in a vehicle named 'The Joey Bishop Show', a late night talk show format which included a young Regis Philbin as his sidekick. He was up against the immensely popular Johnny Carson and the show failed to gain traction against such competition.
Bishop continued making sporadic appearances on TV and in film. He was a popular fill in host on the TV talk show circuit, ironically standing in for Johnny Carson on 205 occasions, lending credence to the cliché "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." His latest credit was in 1996 in 'Mad Dog Time' in which he oddly enough portrayed a character named Mr. Gottlieb.
Joey Bishop married in 1941 to Sylvia Ruzga, a marriage which lasted for 58 years. The couple had a single child, a son named Larry Bishop. Joey lost his wife on September 22, 1999 after an 18 month battle with lung cancer.
During his association with the Rat Pack Bishop was a standout in that he didn't join in the off stage revelry of the others. He retired after performing to spend the evening with his family. He lived a very stable and comparatively staid life compared to his more famous friends.
Among the honors garnered by Bishop was a citation from Pope John XXIII for his work on behalf of the Boys Towns throughout Italy.
Joey Bishop made his final exit on Wednesday, October 17, 2007. He had spent his final years living at his beach front cottage at Santa Monica, California.
Joey Bishop passed away at Newport Beach, California of natural causes at the age of 89. He is survived by son Larry Bishop, grandchildren Scott and Kirk Bishop and long time companion Nora Garabotti.
Mad Dog Time (1996)
Betsy's Wedding (1990)
The Delta Force (1986)
Valley of the Dolls (1967)
Who's Minding the Mint (1967)
A Guide for the Married Man (1967)
Texas Across the River (1966)
Johnny Cool (1963)
Sergeants 3 (1962)
Ocean's Eleven (1960)
The Naked and the Dead (1958