The “Bishop” of Sea Bright
My physician-father had his share of “famous patients.” Including one reputed New Jersey mobster boss, who when asked by dad what would happen if he owed him a lot of money and couldn’t repay, replied, “Well doc, we wouldn’t hurt you, but we know where you family is.”
Another person my dad treated was longtime Sea Bright resident, Jim Bishop. A respected and colorful writer, he was a patient of my dad’s for about 15 years in the 1950s and 1960s. His 1981 memoir, A Bishop’s Confession, is utterly fascinating. He had a magic touch with words.
Bishop liked to delve into history with his writing. He authored the first popular book (other than The Bible, of course) on the subject of the death of Jesus Christ. His 1957 bestseller, The Day Christ Died is a quick reading, 272-page tome. It is a historic, not religious, account of that fateful, 24-hour time period culminating on April 7, 30 AD.
Other Bishop bestsellers included The Day Christ Was Born, The Birth of the United States, The Day Kennedy Was Shot, The Days of Martin Luther King, Jr, and The Day Lincoln Was Shot. The book on President Lincoln’s assassination, published in 1955, was the one that made him wealthy and famous my dad told me.
While Bishop grew to be a very rich author, it still doesn’t match the fortune that Bill O’Reilly has made with his “Killing” series of books on Lincoln, Kennedy, Christ, Patton and others.
Bishop also dined with and wrote about three American Presidents and called John Wayne, Jimmy Cagney, Jackie Gleason, and Jimmy Hoffa friends. Actor Bert Lahr was a frequent visitor to Bishop’s Sea Bright home north of the SB-Rumson Bridge.
“History is not harmed by making it something someone would want to read.”
A prolific columnist for the Hearst Corp. for 25 years, Bishop was syndicated in several hundred newspapers nationwide, where he had the power to “go anywhere, and write anything.” A June 1960 column by Bishop covered a visit to my dad’s medical office. The writer’s offering, entitled “Doctors Snare an Artful Dodger,” was a witty day-in-the-life account of his visit with three health care professionals — an internist, radiologist, and dentist.
Referring to my dad and his then Red Bank, NJ medical partner, Dr. George Sheehan, Bishop wrote, “When they heard that I was coming they flipped a coin. Kelly lost. So he probed, punched, listened, weighted, regarded, opened, closed, hefted and said wearily: You ought to lose 26 pounds. Otherwise okay.” Exhaustive as that examination may have been, Bishop recounts, the other two healers he saw that day were not nearly as accommodating of him as was my dad.
The Jersey City, NJ, native died in 1987 at age 80. My father, who got free books from Bishop, said that despite all his celebrity, Bishop was a “regular guy” who always sought to help others. “He was a self-made man, so fame never really changed him,” dad explained.