New York City March 15 1914: Born to Jewish immigrant parents, American funnyman, Joe E. "Ooh! Ooh!" Ross, (born Joseph Roszawikz) makes his first appearance on the World stage.
Plump Joe E, all five feet, six inches of him, left Seward Park High School at the age of 16 to become a singing waiter at the Van Cortlandt Inn in the Bronx. When the cafe added some girl dancers to the bill he was promoted to announcer and then he began to bring a new humorous side to his act, adding some jokes and so the natural course for him was to became a comedian.
"I used to sing heartbreaking songs to the hoodlums......they'd cry in their beer. With a voice like mine, I guess I was lucky they didn't shoot me." Joe E. later recalled.
In 1938, he appeared at the Queens Terrace, near Jackson Heights, New York. Jackie Gleason had already been playing there for 16 weeks, and the manager was about to ask Gleason to stay a while longer. Joe E. heard of the opening, auditioned for it, got the contract, and also stayed the full 16 weeks. Joe E. then turned burlesque comic on the Chicago-based Schuster circuit known to the trade as The Western Wheel.
Later Joe E. would say, "Burlesque taught me more about acting those eight and ten-minute skits -- than I've ever picked up in my night work.”
His career was interrupted by World War II. He served in the Army Air Corps at Camp Blanding, Florida, before being stationed in the green, and at the time, not so pleasant land of England.
Discharged at the war's end, he was quickly appearing in clubs and night spots throughout America. He became the new MC and resident comic at Charlie's Inn, Miami also starring was June Burnett as the resident singer.
Getting more popular now, he was touted as the New Comedy Discovery when he appeared at the Walton Roof, Philadelphia.
1946: Back in the sunny city of Miami with a stint as MC and comic at the Club Bali.
1947: Appears at the Famous Door, Miami then it was off to share the top comedy spot with Bob E. Byron at the Swan Club, Philadelphia.
He then became an announcer-comic at Billy Gray's Bandbox in Los Angeles. Head- lining was Billy Gray in the featured slot. He earned high praise with his sharp-tongued delivery and likeable personality. His material was fresh and timely and his delivery was easy.. A relatively unknown here, he clicked very early on earning call-back after call-back.
Joe E. still loved the concept of stand-up comedy before a live audience......he would return to this medium with every chance he could get.
In 1948 it was reported that he had passed away by some news outlets.....his friend and agent, Sol Tepper (left) got a wire and was asked to clarify the breaking story......alarmed, he phoned the New York hotel room where Joe E. had based himself. There was no answer, so upon Sol's insistence the hotel management opened the room to check.......the room was empty and the bed unslept in. Later that same afternoon, Sol got a phone call from Joe E. ---- he demanded to know where he was and told him of the wire.....Joe E. started to laugh uncontrollably......"Gee, Sol, I know what happened. I was working in New Orleans and laid a bomb. I spoke to the Coast and told a few guys I'd died there. They're not in show business so they must have misunderstood."
Roles in such films as Maracaibo, with Cornel Wilde, and Hear Me Good, with Hal March, followed.
In 1955 the classic comedy You'll Never Get Rich (later known asThe Phil Silvers Show) came to television land. This laugh-out-loud televisual treat proved to be an enormous hit right across America......eventually Worldwide too.
But tragedy hit the show when Harry Clark (Sergeant Stanley Sowici) tragically died at a very early age. The creator, Nat Hiken now had a real problem on his hands, when he had to bring in another character to play a mess sergeant.
"I was in Miami at the Club Ciro," Joe E. later recalled, "when Nat Hiken first saw me. He was at the club with Phil Silvers when I did, amongst other things, an imitation of Wallace Beery, that they liked. That was when Nat decided that I would be the guy to play Sergeant Rupert Ritzik in the Bilkoseries."
Davey Starr, Joe E. and Betty Page
By July, he was working at Club Charles. Baltimore, when he dropped in at the rival
Chanticleer Club. Joe E. was eyed by one of the club operatives who heckled, "See, if you'd
worked here we'd have brought you back in four weeks," "You can still do it!!" Joe riposted.
Early 1953 Joe E. guest stars alongside, Jeanine Frances, Pat Flannery, Mona Rae, Bobbie
Lynn, Rosanna, and Dick Kimball at the Toddle House, Culver City, California.
Also in that same year, Baltimore beckoned again, when Joe E starred alongside LaDonna Lee,
at the Eddie Leonard Spa Club.
His ties to burlesque where there for all to note, and in 1954 Irving Klaw, of Manhattan,
produced a feature-length theatrical film called Teaserama which was to be a re-creation of
a burlesque show. Also featured were a host of "artistes" numbering Tempest Storm, Betty Page, Vicki Lynn, Trudy Wayne, Cherry, Lolly Rawson, Davey Starr, Twinnie Wallen, Spanish dance team Peppe and Roccio and pianist, Don Main. The finished movie was released nationally the following year.
Nat Hiken liked the gravelly voice and general look of the man, even though casting this toilet-mouthed comedian would seem like a gamble. Kevin Pines was asked to locate Joe E. He phoned him up whilst he was performing in Hawaii. "Hi Kevin Pines here from The Phil Silvers Show." Immediately Joe E. shouted down the phone, "F**K YOU" - and then hung up!! He thought it was a wind up.
Eventually they got their man, but during rehearsals he kept fluffing his lines. Nat came up with a master plan, he told him to play for time by saying "Ooh! Ooh!" - and give himself that bit longer to remember his part. The rest is history, the catchphrase would stick with Joe E. throughout his career. He made Ritzik memorable.The character was henpecked, dumb, and greedy, always an easy mark for Bilko's schemes. The Phil Silvers Show ended in 1959, Joe E. had appeared in 85 episodes.
"Of all the people in the world, I never expected Joe E. Ross to die not only with his boots on but fully clothed. Even though he did not die in the saddle, it is rumoured that on the day of his death the flags on Eighth Avenue -- New York's Boulevard des Hookers -- were lowered to half-mast"
Mickey Freeman (Private Fielding Zimmerman in the Bilko show.............quote from the book Behind the lines with Phil Silvers.
He appeared in an episode of Goodyear Theater...this show was called Hello, Charlie......here Joe E. played a
safecracking convict who is summoned from his prison cell after a girl gets trapped in a large safe.
Nat Hiken went on to produceCar 54, Where Are You? and cast Joe E. as Patrolman Gunther Toody of New York's
Fred Gwynne, another Bilko alumnus, played Toody's partner, Francis Muldoon. Of course, Toody could usually be
counted on at some point to say, "Ooh! Ooh!" and his new catchphrase, "Do you mind.....Do you mind!"
"It's nice going to the mail box these days, Bilko is on its second or third run around on TV and those residual checks
just keep rolling in regularly." said Joe E. at the time.
He became so identified with his policeman role that he recorded an album of songs entitled Love Songs from
a Cop. Roulette Records released the LP in 1964. Ooh! Ooh! press 'save file' to download the song to your PC!!
Joe E. also starred as Gronk in Sherwood Schwartz's ill-fated 1966 sitcomIt's About Time, which featured
two 1960s American astronauts who were thrown back in time to the prehistoric era.
After this failure he returned to his first love the nightclub scene.
Yet, he still had time to appear in quite a few movies:
1967: Tony Romeas a bartender (see video below)
1968:The Love Bug as a detective although billed as Joe E. ross in the credits
1969: Judy's Little No-No as Jose
1970: The Juggler of Notre Damefollowed by The Boatniksas mad sailor
1971: The Naked Zoo as Mr. Barnum followed by Revenge Is My Destinyas Maxie Marks
1973: The Godmothers as Gino followed by Frasier, the Sensuous Lionas Kuback
1974: How to Seduce a Woman as a bartender
1975:Alias Big CherrythenHot Neon and finallyThe World Through the Eyes of
Children as Michael
1976:Slumber Party '57as a patrolman
1977: The Happy Hooker Goes to Washingtonas a Night Watchman
1979:Gas Pump Girls followed by Skatetown, U.S.A.
1981:The Woman Inside
Joe E. also made numerous guest appearances on television.
He went on to be a prominent and very popular, even to this day, cartoon
voiceover artiste. During the 1970s, he played the stereotypical bumbling
sergeant in many cartoons such as Hong Kong Phooey (see video right
as Sgt. Flint), Help! It's The Hair Bear Bunch (as Botch) and his gravelly
tones were used on countless other toons too.
Curiously, he also did the voice for Toody for Hanna-Barbera's Car 54
cartoon spin-off that was a staple part of the animated series called
Wait Till Your Father Gets Home.
Sadly, Joe E. died of a heart attack on August 13, 1982. He was stricken while
performing in the clubhouse of his apartment building in Van Nuys, California,
a suburb of Los Angeles. He was buried in Forest Lawn-Hollywood Hills Cemetery..
On his tombstone are inscribed the words "This Man Had a Ball". He had a
provision in his will that he be given a comical send-off. He got his wish, as mostly
comedians attended his funeral.
"Is it a bet?" asks the inimitable Sergeant Ernest G. Bilko in the classic Bilko show called A Mess Sergeant Can't Win