VEN as he entered his hundredth year, Irwin Corey
remains an irreconcilable opponent of a Jewish state. Furthermore,
don’t call him a Jew. "That’s pejorative." He prefers to be called a
Hebrew. That sounds more respectful in his lefty circles.
Corey’s been striving for respect over a
lifetime in the socialist trenches. He said he tried to join the
Communist Party but they rejected him. They accused him of being an
The goofball actor/comedian was certainly
a wild one for fifty years on the comedy circuit, where he was
billed as The Professor, renowned as the World’s Foremost Authority.
His cutting edge ramblings and improvised satire won him acclaim
among his peers and critics.
"I don’t have to use four-letter words,"
he said proudly. "The audience does. They say, ‘What the fuck is he
And that’s the way it went at his 100th
birthday celebration on July 29 at the Actors Temple on Manhattan’s
West Side. Comedian Bob Greenberg, a board member of the
temple, along with the rabbi, Jill Hausman, produced a
love-fest that Corey will remember for the rest of his life.
More than 200 friends and fans, shlepping
homemade greeting cards and unique baseball caps, squeezed into the
sanctuary to pay tribute to the zany star, a disheveled figure
holding court in a wheelchair. "Life is worth living only if you
have friends," he said. "So many people came out to see a relic like
As it was pot luck, Greenberg’s wife
Theresa brought a homemade vegetarian pasta salad, the Friars
sent cases of Coca-Cola, and Sarge’s restaurant donated cheesecake.
You had to talk to Corey close up on his
left side. He is stone-deaf in his right ear and blind as a bat in
his right eye. "That makes him an authentic lefty," Greenberg
"How do you feel?" I asked.
"I feel like 99," Corey said.
I reminded the demented Professor of the
time he participated in a Purim event by Minyan of the Stars two
decades ago. He read a portion of the Scroll of Esther and concluded
with an improbable statement by Mordechai: "Always remember:
wherever you go…there you are."
The old coot is still quick with the
quips: "Ten years ago we had Johnny Cash, Steve Jobs and
Bob Hope. Today we have no cash, no jobs and no hope."
The bold-face names at Corey’s birthday
party included Joe Franklin, 88, the veteran late-night talk
show host; Ervin Drake, 95, composer of such famous songs as
It Was a Very Good Year and I Believe; and Corey’s son
Richard, a painter/actor. Also comedy writer Jeffrey
Gurian, radio producer Myra Chanin, and comedians
Gilbert Gottfried and Kenny Kramer.
"Life is very short," Corey said. Fran,
his wife for 70 years, was still a spring chicken when she died
three years ago at age 95. She taught him that marriage is a
three-ring circus. First there’s the engagement ring, next there’s
the wedding ring, and then comes the suffering."