For about a decade, from 1960 to ’69, Joey Bishop was king of all media — or at least, court jester, roastmaster to the king. The comic, sometimes called the mascot of the Rat Pack (he referred to himself as the Mouse of the Rat Pack), wrote most of the jokes for Sinatra & Co., and in 1961, he served as MC to another chairman, John F. Kennedy, at the honorary Rat Packer’s inaugural celebration. He co-starred with Frank, Dean, Sammy, and Peter Lawford in such RP movies as 1960’s Ocean’s Eleven. As it turned out, he outlived them all; the last surviving Rat Packer, Bishop died Wednesday at 89. But he deserves to be remembered for more than just being upstaged by Frank and Dino and Sammy; he was, in a way, a TV trailblazer.
In 1961, long before Garry Shandling or Jon Stewart, he had his own faux talk show, The Joey Bishop Show, in primetime. Later in the decade, he got a real desk and hosted the late-night Joey Bishop Show for more than two years, serving as the first real challenger to Johnny Carson’s 30-year throne. (Actually, it wasn’t Carson who ultimately killed the Bishop Show, but Merv Griffin, when he entered the late-night arena in 1969.) Bishop’s announcer: a fellow scrapper from the Bronx, a young man named Regis Philbin. So we have Bishop to thank for that, too. His career never really came back after that, though he went on to guest-host for Carson more than 200 times. As he had done so many times before, he had to cede the spotlight gracefully, ultimately for good.
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