Scoopy’s Notebook, Week of Feb. 16, 2017

20170210_202925 copy 2
Richard Corey wearing the stand-up comic outfit of his father, Irwin Corey. Next to him on the easel is a photo of his dad playing the genie in the 1951 musical “Flahooley.” Even in his old age, his father would sometimes break into song, belting out tunes from the ill-fated production. Photos by Scoopy

‘However’…a gathering: Soviet-era flags and banners were draped across a table, as “The Internationale” and songs from “Flahooley” — Yip Harburg’s short-lived 1951 allegorical musical — were playing over the loud speakers, and a man was wearing a beat-up tuxedo and sloppily knotted string tie. The scene was a gathering last Friday at Greenwich Village Funeral Home, at 199 Bleecker St., for “Professor” Irwin Corey a.k.a. “The World’s Foremost Authority,” who died Mon, Feb. 6, at age 102½. The man wearing the famed comic’s garb was his son, Richard Corey, a musician and figurative painter. On an easel near him was an old black-and-white promo photo from “Flahooley” showing Irwin Corey as the genie Abou Ben Atom. With him in the shot was Elizabeth Logue, who had a brief dancing role as the “Flahooley doll come to life,” in what Richard described as “the most famous flop on Broadway.” The show closed after 40 performances. In the scene, Abou is in the hospital because Macy’s and Gimbels are in an uproar and all the capitalists have been trying to do him in for giving every kid a free Flahooley doll and destroying the market. “It was anti-capitalist, anti-McCarthy,” Richard explained, “the closest Harburg could get to ‘Das Kapital.’” A revival of “Flahooley” was presented at Theater for The New City a year or two ago, he noted. As Richard recounted the quirky plot, Barbara Cook came over the loud speaker singing “Come Back Little Genie,” and Richard softly sang along to the lyrics. Asked if Irwin would always wear the string tie like that — with one loop and a long dangling piece — Richard said yes, and

A banner of Lenin that the Coreys got in the Soviet Union. Irwin was a big fan of the early red leader.
A banner of Lenin that the Coreys got in the Soviet Union. Irwin was a big fan of the early red leader.

then demonstrated how, during his stand-up act, his father would sometimes pluck up the strand and peer at it like a ticker tape, then shout, “My God! We’ve been wiped out!” As for the red Soviet flags and banners, one sporting a portrait Lenin, Richard said his dad was a “died-in-the-wool atheist communist” and huge fan of the revolutionary red. However, he added of his dad, “He tried to join the Communist Party but they blackballed him — they thought he was an anarchist.” The two traveled to the Soviet Union together and visited Lenin’s childhood home. Although Irwin was an atheist, Rabbi Jill Hausman from the Actors’ Temple spoke at the gathering. “A female rabbi,” Richard stressed. In a humorous anecdote, he recalled how Irwin once accepted the National Book Award for novelist Thomas Pynchon. “Pynchon was a recluse,” he noted. “Thomas Guinzberg, the publisher of Viking Press, and Herb Gardner, a Broadway producer, had the idea to have my dad accept the award. He did his shtick. He said he was ‘honored to accept on behalf of Robert Python,’ and ‘I want to thank acting President Henry Kissinger. …’ ” Also at last Friday’s Bleecker St. gathering was Soho author Larry “Ratso” Sloman, who collaborated on Howard Stern’s two autobiographies, “Private Parts” and “Miss America.” “I knew Irwin when I edited National Lampoon back in

Irwin Corey playing the genie in "Flahooley," in 1951. He remembered the role fondly.
Irwin Corey playing the genie in “Flahooley,” in 1951. He remembered the role fondly.

the ’80s,” Sloman said. “We used him for some photo funnies. … He spanned a generation, influencing guys like Robin Williams. Irwin was also intensely political — he was blackballed. He paid the price. He stayed true. He was a beautiful, loving guy.” (On a local note, Sloman said he supports a tony Italian restaurant by Da Silvano’s former manager taking over the Prince St. space formerly home to Milady’s bar, which has sat empty for three years now. “Everybody in the neighborhood wants a restaurant there. They don’t want another chain store,” he said. “Sean Sweeney is against it,” he said of the Soho Alliance director. We’ll have more on that one later. …) James Drougas, owner of Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books, on Carmine St., was also at the Irwin Corey gathering. He said there will be a memorial at the Actors’ Temple at a future date. Drougas said Corey, with the help of his son and health aide, had been managing at home O.K. using a walker and spending most of his time in his electric lounge chair. He had lost most of his hearing — so people used a white board to communicate with him — but his mind was still sharp. But then he fell and was disoriented, and spent two weeks in the hospital. He then returned home for one last week before he died. A few weeks ago, Drougas noted, Cuban officials came to Corey’s home on Sniffen Court in Murray Hill to present him with the Amistad Award. “Amistad” means “friendship” in Spanish, and Corey was a big friend to the communist island nation. “They gave a lot of money and medical supplies to Castro,” Drougas noted. “It was one of the things you were allowed to send to Cuba.” Corey’s late wife, Fran, was an even more hardcore Communist Party member than he was, he added. Drougas recalled big Friday night dinners and Passover Seders — actress Susan Sarandon was a frequent guest — at Corey’s place. “Larry Storch was there for his 102nd birthday,” he said of the Corporal Agarn of “F Troop” actor. As for why the gathering was held at Greenwich Village Funeral Home on Bleecker St., Drougas said, “That’s where Fran had her cremation. I guess they always had this bohemian quality to

Fran and Irwin Corey.
Fran and Irwin Corey.

them. Irwin got started at the Village Vanguard. And it’s easy to see that the Village is culturally and ideologically much more of the Corey family than anywhere else. Peter DeLuca is a big fan, by the way,” he added of the funeral home’s director. Irwin will be cremated, too. Fran’s ashes had just been sitting in a bag on a shelf at home, and DeLuca reportedly gave two free cremation boxes for the couple — a $1,000 value. What about Professor Corey’s prodigious pot smoking, which we had always heard about from his pal and fellow stand-up comedian Randy Credico? “He attributes his longevity to that,” Drougas said. “He was a big smoker — I couldn’t keep up with him. I’d sometimes be a little nervous about going up there because I couldn’t handle it. They had some primo stuff. He was a big advocate.” The potent pot also might have helped alleviate some of the pain he suffered — the comic had shingles in his legs for the last 20 years. But it might not have been able to relieve another, far yuuger pain… . Sadly, like some other seniors we know, Corey reportedly began to go downhill after Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton. “His health started failing after Trump won the election,” Drougas said.