Joey Bishop: The Truth About The Last Of The Rat Pack

Show business wonder Joey Bishop found fame as a television host, comedian, actor, and entertainer, but most of all, he is remembered as a regular member of the Rat Pack. The group, whose members ruled the entertainment industry, was made up of a rotating club of several performers and actors. It crystalized into a five-person core by the early 1960s. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop gained popularity and notoriety. During their peak, according to Biography, they attracted audiences of 34,000 at their shows at the Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

But those golden days were not always filled with glamour and glory. In fact, according to a recent book, Deconstructing the Rat Pack: Joey, the Mob and the Summit by Richard Lertzman and Lon Davis, Bishop was generally hated. "Combined with a volatile temper and a tendency to scapegoat others, he leaves a legacy that's a mile wide and an inch deep," said Deadline in its review of the book. 

Bishop, who died at 89 in 2007 — the last living member of the Rat Pack — had a big supporter in Sinatra. Frank liked that comic Joey entertained, but still allowed the crooner to supply most of the star power. The two met in the early 1950s. After watching Bishop's show at the Latin Quarter in New York City, Sinatra offered him a gig opening for him at Bill Miller's Riviera club. Soon they performed often enough that he was called "Sinatra's comic," according to the New York Times.

Bishop leaves the Rat Pack

Eventually, even Sinatra had enough of Bishop's antics. Without Frank's backing, producers, directors and other artists were loath to work with Bishop. None of the Rat Pack, though, acted like poster boys for good behavior. Part of their cool allure relied on their devil-may-care attitudes, their hard drinking and partying. The group had their share of bad publicity — like their connections to the mob, said Vanity Fair.

Still, the group of friends always got the job done. "I never saw Frank, Dean, Sammy or Peter drunk during performances. That was only a gag. And do you believe these guys had to chase broads? They had to chase 'em away," said Bishop in an interview quoted by The Hollywood Reporter

Despite early success, the Rat Packer often struggled finding the sweet spot again. A self-titled sitcom, The Joey Bishop Show, was canceled and revived, airing first from 1961-1964 and then again from 1964-1965.

His late-night talk show, also called The Joey Bishop Show, launched in 1967 as an alternative to the popular Johnny Carson-hosted The Tonight Show. It found an audience, but only temporarily, ending in 1969. Despite the cancellation, Bishop enjoyed a career as a substitute host for Carson, emceeing Tonight 177 times, according to Reuters

Bishop floated around different projects — some nightclub gigs, guest appearances on game shows like What's My Line and television series such as Murder, She Wrote. He even got a few movie roles. He "never regained the popularity he had in the 60's," according to The Times.