If you were a little bit older, or perhaps if you later watched the BBC2 re-runs of the US TV sitcoms The Phil Silvers Show and Car 54, Where Are You?, you would have eventually realised that Botch, Flint and both Car 54’s Gunther Toody and Bilko’s Rupert Ritzik were all portrayed by the same man – actor Joe E. Ross.
Born in 1914, Ross was a blue comedian whose career was interrupted by World War II: he served in the United States Army Air Corps and was stationed for a time in England. Discharged after the war, Ross went back to his former career of announcer and comic in Hollywood. He appeared in Irving Klaw's feature-length theatrical film Teaserama (1955), a re-creation of a burlesque show which starred Bettie Page and Tempest Storm. Before making the movie Klaw was principally known for producing bondage photographs which he sold through the mail.
In 1955 Ross was spotted by Nat Hiken and Phil Silvers, who were planning a new TV show called You'll Never Get Rich (which became The Phil Silvers Show but is probably best known as Sgt. Bilko). Ross was hired on the spot and cast as the mess sergeant, the henpecked Rupert Ritzik. Ritzik was a hit with viewers, his ‘Ooh! Ooh!’ catchphrase, which came from Ross's frustration when he couldn't remember his lines. After The Phil Silvers Show ended in 1959, Nat Hiken created Car 54, Where Are You? casting Ross as Patrolman Gunther Toody of New York's 53rd Precinct. Fred Gwynne (better known as Herman Munster), played Toody's partner, Francis Muldoon.
Like The Phil Silvers Show, Car 54, Where Are You? was a huge success, and it wasn’t long before an enterprising producer at Roulette Records decided it would be a good idea to drag Ross into a recording studio. The resulting, Love Songs from a Cop, was issued in 1964, the year after Car 54 went off the air. Roulette was run by Morris Levy, a notoriously shady individual, described as ‘one of the record industry's most controversial and flamboyant players’ by Billboard and as ‘a notorious crook who swindled artists out of their royalties’ by Allmusic. Featuring covers of such staples as Hello Dolly and When You’re Smiling Love Songs from a Cop is a horrible record, and about as funny as herpes. Produced by the infamous Hugo and Luigi, at least the sleeve notes acknowledge that Ross ‘is not about to give Frank Sinatra concern’. Surprisingly the album was also issued in the UK, by Columbia.
This would not be Ross’s only foray into the recording world: in 1973 Laff Records, which usually specialised in African-American comedians, released his album Should Lesbians Be Allowed to Play Pro-Football? On the cover Ross looks tired and bloated. Apart from a few cameos in some terrible exploitation movies, and the occasional job as a voice artist for Hanna-Barbera his career was over. Ross died in 1982: his grave marker reads ‘This Man Had a Ball’.
Anyway, here’s a brace of tracks from Love Songs from a Cop: Ma (She’s Making Eyes at Me) and Are You Lonesome Tonight.