Quick-thinking comedian Joey Bishop was on stage at New York’s Copacabana when Marilyn Monroe arrived wrapped in a glamorous white ermine coat. “I told you to sit in the truck,” Joey told her, drawing a big laugh.

At the height of his fame in the 1960s, every young stand-up comedian aspired to be Joey, but his rise was swiftly followed by a career decline. In his 50s, Joey found himself back to playing nightclubs again.

The Bronx-born performer received his first big break when Frank Sinatra invited Joey to open for him in the early 1950s. “He was a scowling comedian. He bellyached about things in a funny way,” says William J. Birnes, co-author of Deconstructing the Rat Pack: Joey, the Mob and the Summit.

In 1960, Joey joined Frank, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford in Las Vegas for an event billed as the Summit. The performers would shoot the movie Ocean’s 11 during the day and do two shows a night at the Sands casino. The act was a huge hit, making Las Vegas the country’s entertainment capital and giving the group a new nickname: the Rat Pack.

Rat Pack members
Photo by Warner Bros/Kobal/Shutterstock

After two decades as a stand-up, the mania surrounding the Las Vegas engagement brought Joey new opportunities. His sitcom The Joey Bishop Show debuted in 1961, and he became a frequent guest host of The Tonight Show. “Instead of appreciating what he got, Joey became carried away with himself. He developed a swelled head,” said Richard A. Lertzman, another author of Deconstructing the Rat Pack.

In fact, when Frank asked Joey to fill in for him on some dates at the Cal-Neva Lodge, a resort he partly owned, “Joey started giving him a list of demands — including $50,000 and a private jet,” Lertzman said. It did not sit well with Frank, who felt responsible for Joey’s meteoric rise. “Not only did [Frank] hang up on Joey, but he completely cut him from the Rat Pack.”

Joey’s role in 1964’s Robin and the 7 Hoods went to another actor. “There is also a wonderful video of the Rat Pack from a charity performance in St. Louis,” says Birnes. “And the host is Johnny Carson, not Joey Bishop.”

Still, Joey persevered. In 1967, his dream came true when he got his own 90-minute late-night talk show. Although other members of the Rat Pack appeared on The Joey Bishop Show during its three-year run, Frank was never a guest. Unable to compete with The Tonight Show, it was canceled in 1969, crushing Joey. 

Though he ended up outliving the other members of the Rat Pack, Joey always resented that he didn’t get the respect he deserved. “One guy wrote that I worked with the Rat Pack occasionally,” Joey complained. “Occasionally! I know I sound bitter, but I have a right to.”