When you think of the legendary group of performers known as The Rat Pack, the big names that come to mind right away are Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. Then you have guys like Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop, who were members for a time, but didn’t end up with the lasting legacy in the group as the other three. But this didn’t happen accidentally. Both men had falling outs with other members of the group that led to them essentially being ostracized. In this video, we’re taking a look at the rise and fall of Joey Bishop. So join us, as Facts Verse presents: The Real Reason Joey Bishop Got Kicked Out of the Rat Pack.
In the late 1950’s, Joey Bishop had begun to make a name for himself as a popular stand up comedian. He had been working hard on the various stand up circuits since the 1930’s, and was finally finding success on the stage. As such, he was beginning to get noticed by bigger names. One of these was legendary crooner, Frank Sinatra. Frank enjoyed Bishop’s act so much, he offered Joey slots to open for him. This was obviously a huge get for Bishop, and he jumped at the chance. The shows were a hit, and the two formed a bond as they performed together. The timing was perfect for Bishop, as Sinatra was about to organize a series of shows with his buddies that would forever solidify the existence of The Rat Pack. And Bishop was asked to be a part of it.
The Formation of The Rat Pack
The creation of the Rat Pack had a lot to do with Frank Sinatra, but it also came from the mind of Al Freeman, the publicist for the Sands Casino in Las Vegas. His mission, in the late ‘50s, was to find ways to make Vegas a destination known for partying. Prior to that, it was a more sleepy town with casinos and some entertainment, but it was nothing like the Vegas it soon became. There were some performing regulars at the time – names like Jimmy Durante and Cyd Charisse. And while those two were certainly famous and legendary, they were past their prime by then, and weren’t drawing in younger crowds. At the same time, Frank Sinatra was looking for ways to make sure his career didn’t start to take a downhill turn. He had had a lot of success so far, but was now in his 40’s. So he wasn’t exactly the fresh, new face in the biz. He and Freeman brainstormed on assembling a crew of entertainers that might draw a new, hipper crowd to the Sands.
He had recently filmed a movie called “Some Came Running” with his buddy Dean Martin. So Dean became the first recruit for this new group. They also connected with Sammy Davis Jr., making it a trio. Sinatra then pitched the idea of including Joey Bishop, since he had already been doing a stellar job as his opening act on the road. He was even being referred to in entertainment circles as “Sinatra’s comic” so it seemed a natural fit that Bishop be asked to join this upcoming project. Peter Lawford a writer and actor who was perhaps best known as JFK’s brother in law, joined as well. This was in part because he penned the script for Ocean’s 11, which would be the first project that the pack would do together.
Sinatra came up with a plan that would incorporate the new group, and potentially make the Sands, and by extension, all of Las Vegas, a bigger destination spot than it had been. It made a lot of sense too – it was close to Los Angeles, there were casinos, and there was a lot of money floating around. It seemed a perfect spot to start attracting tourists from all over. Once production was set up to shoot the movie Ocean’s 11, which would film in town, Sinatra had the idea that the crew would perform double duty. They’d shoot the movie during the day, then head over to the Sands each night and do live shows. They ended up doing two shows each night during the month of February, 1960, and they billed the shows as “The Summit.”
The shows took off like wildfire. The Sands hotel had around 2,800 rooms in this building. And yet they got 35,000 ticket requests for “The Summit” when the show started up. People were coming in from all over to see the show, and celebs were heading in from Los Angeles to come check out the spectacle. In one famous moment, Marilyn Monroe walked in while Joey Bishop was on stage. Bishop, in a moment of improvised comedy, said, “I told you to sit in the truck.” The crowd, and Marilyn, roared with laughter.
And so, the legend of the group had begun. The press was already referring to them as The Rat Pack, despite the fact that it wasn’t a name they gave themselves. Sinatra even reportedly despised the name. It had been given to them by actress Lauren Bacall, one night while her husband, Humphrey Bogart, was hanging out with them. They had all just returned from Vegas to NYC, and she commented that they looked like a pack of rats. It wasn’t meant to be a compliment at the time, but the name stuck.
The Carefully Curated Image of the Rat Pack
The group leaned into the idea of “The Summit” being a big party that the audience was invited to. With the help of publicist Freeman, the gang put on a show of being drunk, frisky, and flirty. They looked like they were having a booze-fueled party on stage every night. But this was actually just a ruse. While some of them, especially Sinatra, were known to enjoy alcohol, they weren’t actually drinking on stage during these shows. Nor were they actually like the ‘skirt-chasing’ hound dogs they portrayed. It was all an attempt to careful curate an image of a group of slick partying types, so that the show and the town would feel like a big party. And it worked. In the recent book, “Deconstructing The Rat Pack: Joey, The Mob and the Summit” Richard Lertzman and Lon Davis describe the crafted personas. They talk about how, even today, people are under the impression that it was a group of guys in their 40’s who were boozing it up on stage, making up all of their lines as they went, and chasing after women in the audience. And this reputation spread like crazy throughout the country, prompting those astronomical ticket requests. But as Dean Martin’s daughter, Deanna, later revealed, her dad (and potentially the other guys) was sipping on apple juice all night, and pretending it was whiskey. Lertzman and Davis agreed with this sentiment, pointing out that it would have been quite difficult for a group of men their age to party that hard each night, and then be on set to film Ocean’s 11 at six each morning. Instead, the authors said that these were businessmen who knew how to make money through their talents.
Even Bishop admitted the whole thing was a ruse. He was once quoted as saying he never saw any of the other guys drunk during shows. And he scoffed at the idea that they would be chasing after women. They were some of the most sought-after men in the country – so they were the ones having to chase away the advances of women all over.
Things seemed to be going incredibly well for Bishop and the Rat Pack. Their legend was growing by the month, and they were all working a ton and making great money. Bishop went from a headlining comic to having his own TV show, and guest hosting The Tonight Show. It was every comedian’s dream career. Sadly, for Bishop, his success started going to his head. His downfall with the group was swift and harsh. At one point, Sinatra was slated to do a string of dates at the Cal-Neva Lodge. Sinatra was part owner of the hotel, so he had a lot of control over who performed there. He ended up having a scheduling conflict, so he asked Bishop to fill in for him for a series of nights. Unfortunately, Bishop’s ego prevented this from happening. Instead of simply saying yes, he gave Frank a bunch of demands. He asked for $50,000 for the shows, and that he be flown there via a private jet. And while some people might have simply said no, Sinatra was a man with a short temper. He reportedly hung up on Bishop without saying anything. And that was that. Not only did Bishop lose the gig, he was completely kicked out of the Rat Pack from then on.
Sinatra made sure that the role in Robin and the 7 Hoods that had been set aside for Bishop went to someone else. And in a notable performance the Pack gave at a charity event, it was Johnny Carson who hosted instead of Bishop. He had been fully shut out, all because he thought he deserved VIP treatment. And perhaps he did. But clearly Sinatra didn’t appreciate being dictated terms to.
Bishop held a grudge about being kicked out of the group for years, especially angry at Sinatra. On his talk show, he invited the other members to be guests over the years, but he never invited Frank. And according to Richard Lertzman, he went to his grave bitter about the whole affair. Lertzman characterized Joey as angry and resentful at not only the Rat Pack, but at the entertainment industry as a whole. He even felt that his association with the Pack ended up overshadowing many of his individual accomplishments over the course of his career.
Now it’s time to hear from you. Did you know that Joey Bishop was kicked out of the Rat Pack because he demanded $50,000 and a private jet for a gig? Let us know in the comments section below!