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September 18, 2014

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Brian Greenspun shares his father’s fondness and admiration for Rat Packer Joey Bishop

Comedian Joey Bishop, the last remaining member of the famous Rat Pack, died last week at age 89. He was out of the public spotlight for almost a generation, which means there are millions of younger people who never had the benefit of his wisdom, humor and friendship.

Sun founder Hank Greenspun wrote many columns about his good friend Joey and many of the antics that made Las Vegas entertainment the envy of the world.

The following column was written March 8, 1974. Not only does it share some of Joey's humor but there is an irony that can't be ignored. People complained about gas prices 30 years ago. Can you imagine the outrage of dollar-a-gallon gas?

By Hank Greenspun

When misfortune strikes me it is usually under the most fortunate circumstances.

Other persons might run out of gas in the middle of Death Valley, but when I hit an empty tank, it is right next to a gas station.

That's how I learned yesterday that 20 gallons of gas cost in excess of $11, which doesn't include the tip for bringing a can of gas to start the car.

With many people the price of gas has become a critical issue and I am not diminishing the extent of the additional burden on the breadwinner. But has there ever been a crisis in the nation that has so affected the American sense of humor? It appears we have gone totally buggy over gas.

This was the topic of discussion between Joey Bishop and me at lunch the other day after a short run on Newport Harbor in Joey's boat, "Son of a Gun II".

Joey, who was a superstar in Las Vegas for many years, when Jack Entratter ran the Sands Hotel, and has been absent from Strip marquees for too long a time, was telling me that he can't understand why people are so concerned about gas going to $1 a gallon.

Joey has the energy crisis practically solved if people would just put their needs in proper priorities.

For instance, Binaca is not nearly as important to a person's every day existence as gasoline and when we extend the price of Binaca out to its true cost, it comes to $920 a gallon.

A gallon of Scotch sets a man back $36 and he thinks nothing of drowning his sorrows over energy costs in quarts and quarts of booze.

Chanel No. 5, when its cost is extended from the 1/4-ounce vial to a gallon capacity, runs over $1,600 and men think nothing of paying it to make time with a girl when a gallon of gas in a car will take them much further.

Preparation H, runs into staggering cost figures if measured by the gallon and, as Joey explains, what use is it put to?

Joey believes that if gas becomes too expensive it will make better men of all of us. Because it is not the helps but the obstacles, not things made easy but the great difficulties we are faced with, that make men.

If gasoline should go out of sight and travel becomes very difficult, he also has a solution for the problem. Any soft drink at 10 cents a bottle costs about 80 cents a gallon. Some might go as high as $1 for seven cans but think of the amount of energy generated in the human system by the intake of a gallon of carbonated fluid.

There's enough gas there to take you around the world but make sure you're first in line wherever you go, Joey advises. Otherwise you can get ulcers.

It appears a humorist like the good Mr. Bishop can be more effective in the energy crisis than Bill Simon, the head man in Washington who creates more misery than the petroleum shortage calls for.

And as long as Joey has provided me with some sort of solution for our current woes, which no one else seems able to do, I intend to tell him where his favorite expression stems from.

Joey has long been identified with the phrase "son of a gun." It is his trademark and his hallmark.

With Joey's eloquence, it becomes a multi-faceted expression displaying shock, whimsy, despair and even glee. It's the slight halt in his delivery which punctuates the mood.

His boat is named "Son of a Gun, II."

The origin of the phrase stems from ships so his boat is rightly called.

Years ago women were permitted passage aboard warships for those men who could not get shore leave. And when women and men are thrown together it is averred there might be some amorous activity. And the only places hidden away enough from view for such goings on were near the ship's cannons.

Offspring resulting from such engagements were sometimes of uncertain paternity. And in an allusion to such an unfortunate fellow, the old sailors did not refer to him as the son of some specific man, but "the son of a gun."

I guess in jest, Joey has hit many a fellow right on the head.

It's during periods of crisis that Americans create much of their humor and it's especially true during wars by the young men at the front lines.

Joey Bishop is more than a star entertainer. He is a humorist, a wit and a delightful story-teller.

Hurry home, Joey, if Las Vegas ever needed you, it needs you now.

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