Cozy Morley statue in North Wildwood

by Brian McKim & Traci Skene on September 8th, 2010

Many years ago, we posted about the statue erected in honor of comedian Cozy Morley. (We theorized at the time that it may one of the few, if not the only, statue erected in honor of a comedian. Since then, we’ve stumbled upon the giant Will Rogers statue in Oklahoma… so we guess that counts as a statue erected to a comedian… and we suppose there are few more out there.)

We were on a mini-vacation the past couple days.  In Wildwood, NJ.  So, we set out Tuesday morning on our bicycles to find the statue.  We found it.  The concrete block at the base is allegedly a chunk of the front step of the original Cozy Morley’s nightclub:

Cozy Morley statue outside Westy's in North Wildwood, NJ (Photo credit: Traci Skene)

Anyway, the folks in North Wildwood, NJ, a shore town in the southern part of the state, honored Morley with the bronze likeness on the spot where Morley’s nightclub once stood. From 1959 through 1988, Morley entertained thousands. The shows are described as having had five acts, with Morley hosting, all backed by a full orchestra. The place was a classic shore dive– a clapboard exterior, patrons packed in like sardines (capacity: 1,200 people… but don’t tell the fire marshal)– but the customers were ecstatic and Morley’s legend grew. Stars often stopped by– Joey Bishop and Julius LaRosa are mentioned in any accounts of the summertime revues. The Male Half recalls tiny ads in the local daily, The Courier-Post, complete with a caricature of Morley with a packed lineup, listed in 8-pt. type, regularly appearing in that paper’s entertainment section.

The story gets weird sometime in the mid- to late-80s, when the Internal Revenue Service came a-knockin’. We vaguely recall what happened. Details are not easily found on the WWW, but, from what we recall, Morley (who allegedly owned the venue in North Wildwood, along with other property like motels) was forced to settle with the feds and it pretty much broke up the party. And we vaguely recall some sort of court order that forbade Morley from performing at his old venue. It was knocked down shortly after and an Irish pub now occupies the site.

Afterward, Morley continued to perform in the casino showrooms and lounges in Atlantic City. (The Halves of the Staff saw him perform to a packed lounge at the Trump Marina back in about 1994 or so. We don’t remember the circumstances, but we do recall that the audience was mostly seniors and the material was jaw-droppingly incorrect, politically– jokes about Irish, Jews, Italians, African-Americans, Poles, etc. And it was KILLING! Also sprinkled throughout were “naughty” gags about sex. It was a real throwback.) He continued performing in A.C. as recently as 2000, maybe more recently. We were standing up, near the bar. I think we were waiting for some other show to start, possibly Penn & Teller, in the main showroom.

We read a profile (sometime in the past six or seven years) in the Philadelphia Inquirer that was sufficiently reverent, but that also detailed how Morley was having trouble remembering his act. (The story described how he would occasionally consult his longtime drummer for cues. It was a heartbreaking account of a performer who had the will to perform but lacked certain necessary tools.)

We understand that Morley lives in the next town over, with his wife, Bobbie. We should look him up.

The man knew his way around an audience. He was comfortable as hell onstage and he had hours of material at his disposal– much of it street jokes, a lot of it probably written during the nearly three decades of taming hot, sweaty crowds of Philadelphians at the No. Wildwood club. He had a thick Philly accent and a relaxed, conversational approach. The word “institution” is thrown around loosely, but in the case of Cozy Morley, it’s fitting.