“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 father treated was longtime Sea Bright resident, Jim Bishop. A famous writer-author, he was a patient for about 15 years in the 1950s and 1960s. For a deeper dive on the man, his 1981 memoir A Bishop’s Confession, is an utterly fascinating read. The guy 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) on the subject of Jesus Christ’s death. His 1957 bestseller, The Day Christ Died, is a quick reading, 272-page tome. It’s a historic, not religious, account of that fateful, 24-hour time period culminating on April 7, 30 AD. Bishop’s “hour-by-hour, you-are-there” delivery style was then unique in publishing.
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, researched for 25 years and 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 (21 books in total), 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.
The son of an Irish cop, Bishop would dine with and write about three American Presidents and call John Wayne, Jimmy Cagney, Jackie Gleason, and Jimmy Hoffa good friends. Actor Bert Lahr was a frequent visitor to Bishop’s borough home at 766 Ocean Avenue (a condo development since 1981).
“The natural beauty of Sea Bright will always be attractive.”
—Jim Bishop, 1959
Bishop parents had been Sea Bright summer renters since the mid-1920s; he bought his own riverfront home in 1956 (the same year he was made and honorary member of the Sea Bright Chamber of Commerce). During the late 1950s, he had some verbal battles with borough elected officials (especially Mayor Tom Farrell) over his sometimes caustic columns on the Sea Bright way of life. Thomas Farrell first got involved in Sea Bright politics in 1938 winning a borough council seat as a Democrat and was a borough power for a quarter-century. First elected Sea Bright mayor in 1944, he would hold the seat until 1963 (except for 1951-53). The Jersey City native was a racetrack mutual clerk and cargo longshoreman. He died in December 1984 (his grandson is John Farrell, who managed the Boston Red Sox to the 2013 World Series title).
Bishop was a popular and prolific newspaper columnist with Hearst for 27 years until retiring in 1983. His “Jim Bishop: Reporter” column was syndicated three times a week in 200+ newspapers nationwide at its peak. Granted the authority to “go anywhere, write anything,” one June 1960 column covered his visit to my father’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 25 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.
Bishop and his wife, Kelly, had four daughters: Virginia, Gayle, Karen and Kathleen. The Jersey City, NJ, native died in July 1987 at age 79. My father, who received free copies of Bishop’s books, 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.