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Remembering Harry Jay Katz

3 minute read
Harry Jay Katz and Chubby Checker in 2001. (Photo via harryjaykatz.com)
Harry Jay Katz and Chubby Checker in 2001. (Photo via harryjaykatz.com)

Harry Jay Katz, legendary self-promoter and a character described by the media for many years as a “man about town,” has died at the age of 76. Some people are saddened by this news. Others are not.

Katz was the last in a long line of Philadelphia “characters,” including long-forgotten names like Stanley Green and Lillian Reis. Like today’s Kardashians, he was more famous for being famous than for having done anything of substance. He had plenty of ideas, to be sure — including opening a Playboy Club in Philadelphia, running a Jewish-styled steak house called Hesch’s, resurrecting the Erlanger Theater, and promoting the World Football League — but none of these enterprises lasted. Those who knew him intimately, as I did, knew that everything would become about Harry rather than the enterprise itself, and that eventually, none of these things would last.

And none of them did.

A man of concepts

I came to Harry Jay in 1978 from the failing folk coffeehouse the Main Point. He had recently started a free weekly newspaper, ElectriCity, sort of an updated version of The Drummer, a publication he effectively put out of business via a lost libel suit stemming from a fictitious column he wrote about Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Elsa Goss. Harry Jay, always a man of concepts, hooked up with the H.A. Winston burger chain to distribute the rag. As for me, it seemed like a good idea at the time and I needed a job. It only took a call to Harry Jay, whom I had known peripherally for years, and who knew me as a writer for the Drummer, for him to hire me as music editor.

It was good for a while, at least for as long as he kept his nose out of things. His then-wife, Andrea Diehl, a fine writer/editor, was the editor of ElectriCity. And the ever-enterprising Harry, knowing that everyone wanted to be published, managed to get talents like Bulletin theater critic Ernie Schier, Philadelphia magazine film critic Dick Fuller, Inquirer classical music writer Tom DiNardo, and bunch of others, to contribute pieces to ElectriCity for the grand sum of five dollars per.

One issue, if memory serves, had exclusive interviews with the likes of Phoebe Snow, Buddy Rich, Max Roach, and Bo Diddley.

Questionable hires

But, as was his wont, Harry Jay had to make sure it was destroyed, Buddy Rich and Bo Diddley notwithstanding. He started hiring “columnists” like Frank Stallone; Rita Jenrette, Abscam wife turned Playboy model; faded model Apollonia; and just about everyone else who had a history of taking their clothes off in public. And, for reasons better off left undetailed, he instituted the infamous porno-oriented personal ads that were long a fixture of the Drummer. So much for journalistic credibility.

Perhaps the most infamous of our “contributors” was Ira Einhorn, hired by Katz as, if you can believe it, ElectriCity’s poetry editor — after Holly Maddux’s death. Einhorn, who hadn’t shaved and showered since 1957, visited me at my office one day. He was shaved, showered, wearing a coat and tie, and looking good. “Who do you think you are, Gregory Peck?” I asked him. “And by the way, where do you think you’re going?” He wasn’t seen again for years, though the FBI kept our offices at 12th and Spruce Street under surveillance.

A number of things did Harry Jay in, including his 24-hour party-boy lifestyle; his notorious habit of never, ever paying for a product or service; and the brouhaha surrounding the drug- and alcohol-induced death of Valerie Sheridan, whose body was found in the hot tub of Harry Jay Katz’s East Falls home.

But the reality is, what really did Harry Jay Katz in, is that — as happened with Stanley Green, Lillian Reis, and all the others — history simply passed him by.

For Dan Rottenberg's remarks about Katz, among other recent deaths, click here.

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