Today is the birthday of Joe E. Ross (1914-1982). Ross had gotten his start as a singing waiter as a teenager. By that time vaudeville was already a thing of the past. He spent the bulk of his live performing career in burlesque strip joints and night clubs, doing a rough and raw comedy act very much at odds with what tv viewers known from his characters on Nat Hiken’s The Phil Silvers Show (1955-1959) and Car 54, Where Are You? (1961-63). He also played a caveman on Sherwood Schwartz’s short-lived 1966 sit-com It’s About Time, and did cartoon voice overs in the 1970s on shows like Hong Kong Phooey (which is where I first encountered him.)
See this excellent article about the real Joe E. Ross by Kliph Nesteroff on WFMU’s blog. It’s pretty excellent and pretty definitive.
Now, I watched this hilarious episode of Car 54 yesterday. In doesn’t particularly showcase Ross as Patrolman Toody, but it has so many top notch character actors, it’s like an orgy of pleasurable television viewing. In addition to cast regulars Ross, Fred Gwynn and Al Lewis , this episode also features Kenneth Mars, Charles Nelson Reilly, David Doyle (Bosley from Charlie’s Angels), several faces I recognize but don’t know the names for, and in a tour de force comic part as Office Schauzer’s wife Sylvia, the incomparable Charlotte Rae (see here for an account of my historic encounter with her).
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc