Billy Bishop was born on December 26, 1921. He had a lifetime career in magic filled with adventure, and all of the ups and downs of show business. Billy's father, Carl Bishop, who was a registered spitball pitcher and baseball player was known by his baseball nick name "Bitty". After baseball he owned a car dealership until he lost during the Great Depression. He went on the road using his baseball contacts. Being a salesman, he sold a health tonic. That moved the family and young Billy around the states.
Billy Bishop An' Ann
Deciding to settle in the state of Oregon, he left his growing family east. In a new car, he went west, stopping off in Chicago. While in Chicago, his new car was stolen with all his money and clothes, including his start-up money for a new business. This did not stop Bitty Bishop. One of the things for fun that Bitty used to do was put on a cork black face and sing songs like Eddie Canter in local Vaudeville theaters on contest nights.
Luck was with him. He looked in the paper and found several Vaudevilles in Chicago houses offering a cash prize for a first place for the contest that night. He went from Vaudeville house to Vaudeville housem and when the evening was done, had more than enough money for a meal, hotelm and a bus trip to Oregon.
Billy Bishop on the stage of Broadway's famed Palace Theater.
"If you had an act, you would dream about working the Palace"!
There must be a show business gene in the Bishop family because Billy got into magic early. His parents encouraged this because magic put the person in front of people talking. Moving around the country at a young age, Billy had developed a stutter!
The Newspaper Billing for the RKO Palace Theater. Note Billy Bishop "Bish The Magish" is the Second Act on the Bill. The Date Is Thursday, February 16, 1950!
Magic helped this and the stutter turned into a nervous laugh that later became young Billy's trademark. Billy started off carrying the props of an older magician in the hood named Chandler Stevens. Later came a club called the Royal Order Of Scarlet Wands. He met Jimmy Stoppard and Rolland Hamblen, two people that inspired and helped him. At a young age, Billy Bishop was a student of Erdnase, and could second and bottom deal using the Erdnase method and grip.
Jimmy Stoppard was the first winner of the Houdini award with his Phantom Ray. Billy Bishop was the last winner of the award with his rope tie. He arranged to promote the Wizard of Oz toy promotion with a magic show in one of the Portland Department stores. He did many shows for the local clubs and organizations, developing the rope tie and his laugh that would become his trademark.
Harry Blackstone came to watch a young Billy Bishop perform as
the "Wizard Of Oz" for Lipman and Wolfe Department Stores!
Billy went off to play the big one - WW2 . Flying dangerous missions in a P38 Lightning with only cameras he photographed before and after battles well into enemy lines as a "photo Joe." He became a Major and commanding officer of his squadron at the young age of 24.
Retuning to the states, he settled in Oregon and went back into show business. From there, he went to the Reno PCAM convention and won the Sweepstakes Trophy for showmanship and general excellence. He was also the President of the Portland SAM and booked Dai Vernon to lecture there.
The Billing Outside the RKO Palace Theater. Billy Bishop is Second on the Bill and Note the Movie, Mark of the Gorilla, a Jungle Jim- Johnny Weissmuller Movie!
Then, after finding his life long partner, Ann Dawson (who became Ann Bishop), he decided to get into show business big time. He landed with the best agent in New York, Mark Leddy. From there it was the Ed Sullivan Show, Billy Roses Diamond Horseshoe, and tours up and down the east cost (from the Catskills to the tip of Florida).
Billy Bishop An' Ann on the Stage of Billy Roses Diamond Horseshoe... A New York booking that lasted over 6 months.
Billy Bishop entertained in show business with some of the top names. He knew Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, The Will Maston Trio, Sammy Davis Sr., Jack Benny, Billy Gillbert, Jay Marshall, Carl Ballentine, and more.
"If you were working in those days, Billy said, you're bound to run into people sooner or later". After several years of success in New York, Billy came back to Oregon to work and perform in night clubs on the west cost.
He reunited with old friends like Lee Grable, Virgil and Julie, Desmond, Stan Kramien, Stan Greer, Jimmy Stoppard and Rolland Hamblen. Billy made the cover of Genii Magazine in September of 1950.
I used to ask him about magicians he met while we played chess. I remember asking him the first time he met Charlie Miller or Frank Garcia. He would say, "Charlie Miller I met in a night club when he was younger." At that time he was going out, visiting magicians and watching all the magic acts he could. He was looking for ideas to put in his show.
Frank Garcia was a young magician behind the magic counter at Tannan's magic shop. This was where a young Billy Bishop purchased a dove pan for a stunt that they did on the Ed Sullivan Show.
He moved to Wisconsin, pioneered a children's television show, and got so much work from Chicago, he decided to move there.
Chicago was very good from performing on television, and doing club dates and night clubs - according to Jay Marshall, "Billy Bishop was one of the most working acts in the city. I think he worked so much, he wore out 3 lids to the canvas covered box. He had to; He had 6 kids to feed."
After raising 6 kids, Billy Bishop later owned two magic shops that were a hobby retirement activity. He pioneered the video, Magic Age, with two video magic sets. One was produced by SS Adams, and was marketed all over the world.
He had a major stroke in 1993 that pushed him into semi-retirement. About 6 years later, he passed on while in his sleep. was on the morning of his birthday, December 26, 1999.
He was a great family man; I know this because I am his son. He was a great showman of the old school, and I have seen him do shows under the worst show business conditions. This includes outside in the wind, rain, sun, and snow. He treated everyone with respect and kindness, no matter where they were. From his list of friends that reads like a who's who in magic and all of show business, all of them talk about what a fine fellow he was.
As Don Alan once said to me: "Your Mom and Dad were one heck of a great act!!"
Billy Bishop An' Ann - Standing Ovation!
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