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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.

Ooh! Ooh! Bizarre Life & Death of Joe E. Ross
by Billy Ingram

TV Blog / Classic TV star Joe E. RossWatching 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 raunchy 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 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.

But sudden fame was like lighting a match to his flame, soon the unlikely TV star was gaining a reputation in town as a hard partier who was undependable on the set.

Co-star Hank Garrett recalled, "Where we shot in the Bronx we had a little cafeteria. You [ate] whatever you wanted and [then] you told the cashier what [you had eaten]. So, I [told the cashier] I had a tuna fish sandwich and a coffee or whatever it was and the cashier says, 'Three bucks.' Joe E. Ross would walk up and he didn't have to say a word. They looked at his clothes and they said, "Okay. You had the cottage cheese and the scrambled eggs.' It would be all over his uniform. He was quite the slob."

Ross' vivacious appetite for hookers, cigarettes, fatty foods, and booze were fueled by Hollywood's open embrace for that sort of behavior.

Author David Everitt wrote that Ross' celebrity inflated his already bombastic ego. "That the tail was actually wagging the dog," Everitt said. "Stardom, as Ross understood it, meant not bothering to learn his lines ... he believed that preparing for the scene was beneath him."

Ross developed a nasty attitude when it came to extras, the crew, guest stars, visitors to the set, anyone he deemed beneath him. He returned to the nightclubs when Bilko was cancelled in 1959.

TV Blog / Classic TV show Car 54 Where Are you starring star Joe E. RossStill, his charm was irresistable to the home audience so Nat Hiken cast him as one of the leads in his new series, Car 54, where Joe E. Ross proved even more difficult to control.

Car 54 was dropped after two terms and a few years later Joe E. Ross landed in the show I first saw him on, It's About Time, which I loved as a 9 year old.

The kooky combo of Joe E. Ross and Imogene Coca was hard to resist. Again his co-workers complained about his loutish behavior. Coca despised Ross because of his body odor (made worse by those heavy furs they sweated into as cave people) and for bringing his prostitutes on to the set. 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. Joe E. Ross died in 1982 attempting to do his nightclub act for a hundred bucks in a nearly empty room at a rundown apartment complex where he lived in Van Nuys, CA. You can read Joe E. Ross' cautionary tale here.

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