Few entertainers get lucky with a catchphrase or persona that makes them a household name. Jack Benny played on his cheapness and vanity attributes. Bob Hope was Old Ski Nose, Henny Youngman, the King of One Liners and Jackie Gleason- The Great One, just to name a few.
Milton Berle milked the show business lie that he stole other acts material. In fact, he was one of the few who legitimately paid for routines rented from the originators, but not the performers. Another comic may have done a bit in Vaudeville that Berle saw and wanted to revive on his television show. The guy who performed it in Vaudeville would get incensed because he considered it his act. But Berle was smart. He knew that the performer paid a gag writer to put together the bit. The rule was that the bit’s ownership stayed with the writer, not the performer. He would seek that person out and pay him for the use. Nothing wrong with that- that’s why they called it show business.
Joey Bishop was another one who got lucky with a persona as well as catchphrase. He coined the expression “Son of a Gun” when he first used it in a cameo appearance in a movie called Pepe and received such a tremendous amount of fan mail telling him how funny the bit worked in the film. He was also known as having a dour expression, sort of like the look on the face of a headwaiter when called out to listen to the complaint of a dining customer. Continue reading “Son of a Gun!”