Joey Bishop, the stone-faced comedian who found success in nightclubs, television and movies but became most famous as a member of Frank Sinatra's Rat Pack, has died at 89.
He was the group's last surviving member. Peter Lawford died in 1984, Sammy Davis Jr. in 1990, Dean Martin in 1995, and Sinatra in 1998.
Reviewers often claimed that Bishop played a minor role, but Sinatra knew otherwise. He termed the comedian "the Hub of the Big Wheel," with Bishop coming up with some of the best one-liners and beginning many jokes with his favorite phrase, "Son of a gun!"
The importance of the Rat Pack is that they were instrumental in desegregating Las Vegas Hotels specifically and the larger world of stage and television entertainment generally. Motown groups and African-American singers were welcomed in the entertainment world, but mixed-race groups were rare to none. Wikipedia points out that The Rat Pack:
played an important role in the desegregation of Las Vegas hotels and casinos in the early 1960s. Sinatra 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.
Of course, welcoming customers of different races would take longer, but it was a start. This clip is from The Joey Bishop Show, which ran from 1967-1969 (hence you gotta love the Nehru Jackets, baby.)
Executive Producer of The Professional Left Podcast. On staff at Crooks and Liars since 2007. Master's degree from Harvard. Happy wife of Driftglass. Mother of three geniuses. Obsessive knitter. Blogs at http://bgalrstate.blogspot.com. .