Thomas "Cozy" Morley, 87, Shore entertainer

Posted: August 28, 2013

On a July Sunday evening in 2003, Cozy Morley took the stage in Washington Township, spiffy in white leather shoes, crisp white slacks, and a black silk shirt.

At 77, Mr. Morley seemed to know most of the audience at Washington Lake Park - or their families or neighbors or bartenders, for whom he had been telling jokes for more than 60 years.

Sitting up front in what a reporter called a sea of gray hair and lawn chairs, a 46-year-old woman introduced herself.

"My mother brought me to see you 40 years ago," she told him. "I thought it only appropriate I bring her to see you tonight."

On Friday, Aug. 23, Thomas "Cozy" Morley, 87, of Haddon Township and North Wildwood, the legendary Jersey Shore entertainer, died of complications from late onset diabetes at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden.

Mr. Morley was the owner of Club Avalon in North Wildwood from 1958 to 1992.

A niece, Leah Furey Bruder, said in a Monday phone interview that the club closed in 1989.

Mr. Morley was appreciated so much that in May 2003, North Wildwood placed a seven-foot bronze statue of him at the former site of the club.

A Haddon Township resident since 1986, he was inducted into the Haddon Township Cultural Hall of Fame on Sept. 18, 1998.

Born in South Philadelphia, Mr. Morley told an interviewer in 1985 that his family was poor enough that as a child he had to share one bed with his two brothers.

But when he was in sixth grade, his mother bought him a banjo and music lessons, which led to "a whirlwind of stoop performances, house parties, and club gigs."

At what is now Sts. Neumann Goretti High School, he played clarinet in the concert band and the saxophone in the marching band.

After graduation, he had a succession of jobs but, he told the interviewer, "I was always playing my instruments, making people laugh, and my bosses said I wasted too much time, so I was always let go."

When he made his solo debut at the Erie Social Club at Bridge and Tulip Streets in Northeast Philadelphia the year he turned 23, he played his instruments, the audience sang along, and he was nervous enough that he had to read his stories out of a little black book.

Over the years, his humor focused on the ethnic diversity of Philadelphia, and his Irish Catholic brethren were not immune.

Heard this one? "In our parish, we read the bingo numbers in Latin so the Protestants can't win."

How about this one? At a funeral for an alcoholic, "they had him cremated, and he burned for nine months."

Mr. Morley was hired for the summer of 1950, when he was 24, by Eddie Suez, the former prizefighter who owned Club Avalon.

Comedian Mickey Shaughnessy had caught Mr. Morley's act at a nearby club and persuaded Suez to have him join Shaughnessy at the Avalon.

Suez sold the club to him in 1958 and on opening night in 1959, Mr. Morley greeted the 1,100-seat, sold-out house with his soon-to-be-standard opening line about the bare-bones place: "Ain't this a toilet?"

After Club Avalon closed, he carried on.

Playing at the Copa Room of the Sands Hotel Casino in Atlantic City in July 2000, Mr. Morley and his audience were so linked, an Inquirer writer reported, that "all he has to do is feed the straight lines, and his audience provides the punch lines . . .

"He also works the cruise ships from time to time," the reporter wrote. "And you may see him almost anytime at special shows and benefits throughout the area."

Asked about his reputation for clean humor, niece Leah Furey Bruder said, "This wasn't his nature, to be dirty."

In his act, "he would make fun of you, hurt a feeling or two, but he never meant harm.

"He would insult everybody, insult himself equally. Anybody was fair game."

For instance: "I bought a suit with two pairs of pants, and burned a hole in the coat."

The proof of his harmlessness, Bruder said, was that "everybody felt that they knew him. He was so friendly to everybody."

Besides his niece, Mr. Morley is survived by his wife, Roberta, known as Bobbie, a brother, and several nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his first wife and a brother.

A viewing was set from 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday and from 10 to 11 a.m. Thursday at the Bradley Funeral Home, Route 73 and Evesham Road, Marlton, before an 11 a.m. funeral service there. Interment is to be private.

Donations may be made to the Cape May County Zoo, 707 North Route 9, P.O. Box 864, Cape May Court House, N.J. 08210 or www.capemaycountyzoo.org.

Condolences may be offered to the family at www.bradleyfuneralhome-marlton.com.


Contact Walter F. Naedele at 610-313-8134, wnaedele@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @WNaedele.

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