Just A Neighborhood Guy Comic Cozy Morley Long Ago Made It Big In Philadelphia And At The Shore. He Never Forgets A Joke, And People Keep Laughing. They Love Him. It's A Wacky World.

Posted: August 25, 1996

``I went to the doctor. I told him, `When I look in the mirror, I can throw up.' He said, `Your eyesight is perfect.' ''

Cozy Morley never forgets a joke. Perhaps, really, it is that he never gives up on a joke. He found some that made people laugh about 50 years ago. Those same people are still laughing when Morley tells them the same joke.

``I think when people come to see me, they see a brother-in-law, a family member, a cousin, a friend,'' said Morley. `` `Cozy, loved to see you. Keep up what you do. Don't ever die. You're keeping the past alive. I hope everything's OK with you.' It's wonderful!''

Wonderful can hardly describe it to the hundreds who pack five nights a week into Viva's, the lounge off the casino floor at Trump's Castle Casino Resort, to see the 71-year-old Morley do his act. On a recent Friday night, they were not only in the lounge, but were lined up deep behind the rails that separate Viva from the casino floor.

Viva's may not be the main Castle showroom, where the national acts like Jackie Mason perform. But Mason and his ilk have never performed to such adoration. When Morley tells his corny jokes, plays his banjo or clarinet or ocarina, dances a Mummer's strut, or sings a song older than dust, invisible bubbly hearts hover all over the room.

``You can't help but love the man and what he does,'' said Susan La Maina, whose 40 years in Cherry Hill can't take the first 25 of South Philadelphia out of her, having seen Morley for the third time this summer at the Castle. ``Cozy reminds us that Philadelphia is a place of love.''

* ``The Irish, we are a great people. We invented the toilet seat. The Italians came along and put a hole in it four years later. . . . You can't shoot a wet noodle. My people, the Irish, they get so drunk. They have a firing squad in a circle. Ah, you have to laugh at yourselves. It's a wacky world.''

* A couple of generations ago, every town had its Cozy Morley, the guy who was wildly popular at home and completely unknown everywhere else. It is said that more than two million people packed into Morley's old Club Avalon in North Wildwood to see him during the 32 years he owned it. And that was just the summers. Morley often performed 52 weeks a year at places like the old Erie Social Club at Bridge and Tulip Streets (which he also owned for a while) and, on a really hot date, Palumbo's at Ninth and Catharine in South Philadelphia.

Then came TV, which skyrocketed some stars and harpooned others. Stars flickered and blazed from Cozy's native South Philadelphia: Eddie Fisher, Mario Lanza, Joey Bishop. But Cozy was too busy working and, in summers, running his Club Avalon, to leave town.

``I never considered myself a great entertainer. Just like a neighborhood guy,'' said Morley, drinking an orange juice at an empty table in Viva's after his show. ``I'm afraid if I ever went 50 miles in any direction, nobody's ever heard of me. My whole life has been here.''

Morley hasn't done bad in that life. He figures his real estate holdings alone to be in the tens of millions.He and his wife, Bobbie, choose to live in middle-class Westmont, just off the Cooper River, and summer in Wildwood, that most simple of Jersey Shore towns.

``I'm a funny kind of a performer. I don't get heckled,'' said Morley. ``Don Rickles and Buddy Hackett have wonderful minds and they thrive on that. But me, I try to ingratiate myself with the audience like I'm their brother, their uncle, their cousin.''

* ``What a wacky world! I don't say anything bad about my friends, the Italians. I went into an Italian restaurant the other night and ordered chicken in the basket. All the legs were broken.''

* Watching Morley's act is like going through a roller-coaster of corn. Several ethnic jokes are followed by Morley playing a New Orleans funeral march on the clarinet with a five-piece backup band. A few more semiblue jokes lead up to Morley's simple anthem, ``On the Way to Cape May,'' for which he switches to banjo, with a two-hundred-voice audience singalong.

The song describes an old-time fellah's courtship of his gal driving south of Atlantic City to Cape May. ``On the way to Cape May, I fell in love with you,'' it goes. ``I was captured by your smile, as we passed by Sea Isle. My heart was gone, when we reached Avalon.''

Morley, still in his fitted tux, stands outside the entrance to Viva's after his show with a box of audiotapes and videotapes and a pen for autographs. He sells the tapes without guile or embarrassment for $15 a pop. He has no agent, no manager, no writer, no entourage but himself. He shakes every male fan's hand and demands a peck on the cheek from every woman.

``I came all the way from Florida to see you. My nephew lost your tape and I had to buy another one,'' says Mary Harrison, blushing as she kisses his cheek. She drags the nephew, Bill, who is in his 20s, over to meet Morley.

``Got to admit,'' Bill says. ``I laughed tonight. Laughed a lot.''

``When young people come in, they like me,'' Morley says. ``Of course, they don't make a point to come in unless they are dragged in by their parents. `I don't want to see that guy. Hey, I like that guy! He's funny.' It's wonderful.''

Morley's nickname is borrowed. He used to hang around in Irish South Philadelphia with an older entertainer named Cozy Dolan. People thought they were father and son. Morley would insist otherwise. It didn't matter. He became Little Cozy.

He was already Little Thomas, the scrawny kid from Third and McKean who practiced as many instruments as the older guys at the nearby Quaker City and Fralinger String Band Clubs would let him borrow. He loved big-band music and contorting his stringy body to make people laugh.

He claims he was fired from every job he had - from working at the Publicker liquor factory to attending the men's room at the old Adelphia Hotel on Chestnut Street - until an ex-boxer and club owner named Eddie Suez told him he should get up a comedy music act. A dozen years or so later, Morley scraped up a $15,000 down payment to buy Suez's Club Avalon, where he was already the nightly act.

Suez hadn't put a dime into the joint in years. Morley spent at least three times that in renovations. He brought in plywood tables and put a few nails in the loose floorboards. He affectionately called the place ``The Toilet,'' but people, 1,100 a show at capacity, adored the discomfort just to be caressed by Morley's act. Even into the late 1980s, he never charged more than $2 a drink, rarely served more than pretzels. Finally, building inspectors closed him down in 1989 and he eventually razed the building.

``I loved it more than any place. I could have renovated. To this day, I wish I had,'' said Morley.

But Morley has few laments about not staying around. Though he booked some of the hottest entertainers of his time in his early days in Wildwood - people like Julius LaRosa, Johnny Ray, the Four Lads, Dennis Day and Carmel Quinn - none ever asked him to accompany them on their bigger stages.

``They all liked me, too. Every one of them were national names,'' he said. ``Maybe I'm wrong, but when you are at the top, your personality changes. I never got like that. But, look, locally here, I'm as big as you can want to get. That's wonderful. That's something to say.''

* ``I love the Polish people, my neighbors. My wife is Polish. In fact, there was this Polish counterfeiter. The feds admired him. They told him he did the best two-dollar bills they had ever seen. They asked how he did it. `I just rubbed the 0s off the 20s.' What a wacky world!''

* The glitter of the Viva - with its black, sequined curtain behind Morley and its obnoxious blinking lights leading to the slots around the corner - don't compliment Morley's homespun act. But that is of little matter to his audience, which howls at the punchlines they are actually repeating along with Morley. They have probably seen him at one of the zillion benefits he has performed over the years. Hospital visits, church socials, nothing has been too small for an old joke and a big check from Morley. After the demise of the Club Avalon, he feared that his career was at an end.

``When you have your own club, at least you know where you are going,'' he said. He cut back, tried to enjoy his wealth. But the jokes and songs had rattled around too long to die quietly. When the Castle called last summer, he came smiling.

``I'm overwhelmed. I really am,'' he said. ``I was real nervous and they were a little dubious because of my age. But right from the start, it's been like this. What a wacky world.''

IF YOU GO Time: Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8 p.m., Fridays at 9 p.m., and Saturdays at 8:30 p.m., through Sept. 21.

Price: Free, with a one-drink minimum.

Place: Viva's Lounge, Trump's Castle Casino Resort, Huron Avenue and Brigantine Boulevard, Atlantic City.

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