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Terry Haller: Our day with a comedian

By Terry Haller

I used to do television show development at Procter & Gamble and I lived on Mount Adams —Cincinnati’s Greenwich Village — just across the street from the Eden Park Theater. We knew some of the actors and every so often my wife Anna and I would hang out on the theater patio at intermission time, mingling with the crowd.

One Sunday afternoon, as the crowd was returning to its seats, a man in a black suit beckoned us to come in and see the rest of the show. We thought he was an usher, so we went in.

After the show the “usher” stopped us and asked where we were going.

“Home,” we said.

“I’ll give you a lift,” he offered.

“Oh no, we just live across the street,” we said.

“Can I join you?” he asked. “And bring my girl friend?” he added.

Haller

Haller

He insisted on driving. He had a rented Cadillac convertible. We all piled in for the 30-second drive. I thought I recognized this guy from his guest gigs the “Tonight Show,” but wasn’t sure. I recognized his girlfriend though.  She was a cocktail waitress at the Blind Lemon, our neighborhood tap house.

This usher was, of course, Irwin Corey. Even back then he was a lot more famous than we knew. Controversial comic Lenny Bruce once described Corey as “one of the most brilliant comedians of all time.” We only remembered him vaguely as a guy in a rumpled tux and sneakers who started every gig by saying “However.”

We kept no liquor at our place, an apartment in the ground floor of an old house with a view of the Ohio River, but we had beer. Mr. Corey and his blond companion each had a beer and then Anna, still earnestly British after having landed on these shores only months before, made tea.

Our guests responded as if witnessing a solemn formality of English upper class.  Mr. Corey spent the tea ceremony balancing his teacup and deciphering Anna’s accent.

Mr. Corey flirted a little with his cocktail waitress, and she welcomed his interest as if star-struck. At this point our Siamese cat, Fang, entered the room and Mr. Corey’s focus shifted to her. Fang hopped up on Corey’s lap and stayed there, as the cocktail waitress turned sullen.

As evening approached, it being apparent we had no food in the apartment, Mr. Corey and friend prepared to leave, and as he did so, invited us to be his guests at the “Living Room,” a downtown nightclub later on that evening.

There was something disquieting about nightclubbing in downtown Cincinnati on a Sunday night. You had the feeling you were with the city’s lost souls, the lonely, the divorced, the new arrivals in town, the melancholy and the potential suicides.

Mr. Corey greeted us at the club. He remembered Anna’s name, but not mine. We had a couple of drinks.

He then fed Anna a few questions to ask him when he got into this act. Anna’s English accent put a spanner into the works, as a Brit might say, throwing Corey’s timing off. The audience couldn’t understand a thing Anna said and soon stopped paying attention to Corey’s act.

The evening ended ugly, as I suppose they often do on a Sunday night in nightclubs in provincial towns back in 1963.

Terry Haller is an Oxford resident. You can reach him at hallerraven@hotmail.com.