Watching Car 54, Where Are You? on DVD reminded me of how much I enjoyed the great Joe E. Ross. At least as a kid I liked him, one of those oddball performers that kept popping up here and there for no apparent reason. It certainly wasn't talent.
He started out life in show biz as a burlesque club comic, here's a cleaned up sample of his 1950's act as half of a duo with Dave Starr, crammed full of corny vaudeville routines but funny none the less.
He shot to stardom on Nat Hiken's The Phil Silvers Show / Sgt. Bilko as the imbecilic mess sergeant, Rupert Ritzik. His trademark phrase "Oooh, Oooh" sprang from an inability to remember his lines, he was stalling until the words finally came to him.
But sudden fame was like lighting a match to his flame, soon the unlikely TV star was gaining a reputation as a hard partier who was undependable on the set. His vivacious appetite for hookers, cigarettes, fatty foods, and booze were fueled by Hollywood's open embrace for that sort of behavior. He returned to the nightclubs when the Bilko series was cancelled in 1959.
Still, his charm was irresistable to the home audience so Nat Hiken, against his better judgement, cast him as one of the leads in his new series, Car 54 Where Are You, where Joe E. Ross proved even more difficult to control.
Car 54 was dropped after two seasons, a few years later Joe E. Ross landed the show I first saw him on, It's About Time. The kooky combo of Joe E. Ross and Imogene Coca clicked on the screen although they did not get along. Again his co-workers complained about his loutish behavior and that one season wonder was the comedian's last primetime series.
In the 1970s he was relegated to doing cartoon voices for Hanna-Barbera where he once again resurrected his "Ooh, Oooh" catch phrase to delight a new generation. Even that career was short-lived. He died in 1982 entertaining in an apartment complex clubhouse in Van Nuys, CA.
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