The Trouble With Harry Jay Katz

Harry Jay Katz's act is wearing thin. Philadelphia's aging libertine is facing lawsuits, accusations and bankruptcy. Still, the party must go on.


Harry Jay Katz greets me at the door of his East Falls home. It’s 10 a.m. on a brutally hot Wednesday. Katz is clad in a white beach jacket and swimming trunks. In his left hand, a celery stick peeks out of the top of a plastic cup holding a Bloody Mary. He has already done the morning chores: calls to his mother Selma, brother Phil, and pals Bykofsky and Ron Pennock. Our meeting was scheduled to be a brief session, laying down ground rules, but Harry has other ideas. He loans me a swimsuit. I go upstairs to change. On the stairs is a life-size cutout of Wilson Goode wearing a RENDELL FOR MAYOR T-shirt. The bedrooms are pretty much as his kids left them years ago, with video arcade games and a vintage 1983 rock poster of The Police.

Past a cluttered kitchen, where there are BB guns and an Old South statuette of a grotesquely featured black man eating a watermelon, is a sprawling backyard that frequently attracts deer. Harry has installed a plastic doe standing under a Deer Crossing sign. “The real ones come over here and start humping the plastic one,” Katz says, laughing. “The stupid shits.” Near the plastic deer is Katz’s whirlpool.

Soon, we’re lounging poolside in the relentless sun. A cabana stocked with beer and Coke is nearby. All one hears are birds and the gentle trickle of water dripping off the pool’s slide. Katz applies some lotion and begins speaking a bizarre hybrid of street lingo— he refers to black people as “nigs”—and baby talk: “Hey, sweetie,” he says into the phone, “your baby’s making wee-wee. Call back in ten.”

It’s just a few days after Ira Einhorn’s capture, and Katz has a lot to say on the subject. He thinks the CIA might have framed Einhorn and implies that he helped the hippie guru procure a passport to get out of the country. “Ira came over to see me the night before he allegedly left,” says Katz. “He said, ‘I have confidence being in front of a jury of my peers.’ I said to him, ‘Ira, you’re a smelly, long-haired Jew wearing a dashiki with body odor, with sandaled feet that make you look like a member of MOVE, and you allegedly killed a blond Christian cheerleader? My sagacious counsel to you is, when you’re in the can making license plates, make me HJK1.’ With that, I never saw him again.”

As the sun beats down, Katz switches from vodka to Heineken. At 1 o’clock, Katz has cheesesteaks delivered for lunch. Afterward, with the mercury close to 100 degrees, we move our discussion to the water. Katz dives in and gracefully swims a couple of laps, his long arms turning like paddle wheels. Winded, he takes a perch on the pool’s steps.

As Katz reapplies suntan lotion, I bring up the name of Susan Delplanque (the widow of newscaster Jack Jones), who dated Katz in 1995. In fact, Delplanque had a date scheduled with Katz the night that Valerie Sheridan drowned in his hot tub. Katz broke it. The next day, Delplanque heard of Sheridan’s death on the radio. Stunned, she drove to Harry’s house. She was further devastated to find Harry in the company of yet another woman. Delplanque drove home, closed the garage door, and attempted suicide. Katz, thinking Delplanque was in a bad way, called her daughters, who saved her.

A few days later, Delplanque denied to the Daily News that Harry’s actions had led to her suicide attempt, blaming it on the fourth anniversary of her husband’s death. “That’s B.S.,” says Katz, sounding downright offended that someone else might get credit for triggering Delplanque’s trauma. “I had a date with Susan planned for that evening. I blew Susan off because I preferred spending the evening with two women who were interested in all three of us.”

Katz estimates that he has slept with more than 4,000 women. In particular, he remembers 24 hours in Russia.

“Three on one, four on one, I love bisexual women,” he says, squinting into the setting sun. “It gives me a wonderful intermezzo, so the pressure’s off for a little while. The most ever was in St. Petersburg 2 years ago. Over the course of 24 hours, I had 15 women in my suite— not bad for an old guy, right?”

HARRY JAY KATZ’S paternal grandfather was the kosher-chicken king of New York City. In the 1920s, he also owned Jewish theaters that featured Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor. Then the crash came. The theaters and poultry business were gone. Despondent about his losses, Katz committed suicide. He left a lucrative insurance policy, however, that paid his son, Lawrence, about $1 million.

Seventeen at the time, Lawrence played around a bit. He bought a schooner and sailed to Tahiti. He tried polo. After attending New York University, where he played basketball, Lawrence married Selma Green, from the Bronx. Once he finished law school at St. John’s University, he entered business. On Christmas Day 1940, the second of three children, Harry Jay, was born.

In 1948, Lawrence Katz bought the Fidelity Machine Company, which developed equipment to mass produce hosiery. Back then, Jews were discriminated against in the market, and Katz initially had a difficult time. Then in 1951, he connected with an 80-year-old inventor, Walter Larkin, who thought he was close to inventing a machine that could mass-produce seamless stockings. Larkin told Katz that he thought better when he was driving, so Katz bought the man a car. Somewhere around Arizona, Larkin called and said he had figured it out. Katz told him to fly back. Soon, Fidelity Machine Company was mass-producing the revolutionary machines. For 5 years Katz sold the machinery only to Jews.

In 1955, the Katz family, now consisting of Harry, Philip, and sister Terry, moved to Melrose Park. Five years later, Lawrence sold Fidelity and began an early retirement of traveling and tending to his world-class stables. Eventually, he would purchase Camden’s MacAndrews and Forbes, a mass processor of licorice, which would much later become Ron Perelman’s holding company.

Despite the family wealth, Harry Jay Katz spent his youth working odd jobs. Besides one as janitor, there were stints as a pinsetter at the Jersey shore, and as a caddie. After graduating from Pennington Prep, he attended Penn State, where his image was formed. Nicknamed the Great Katzby, he tooled around State College in his Mercedes and on an Indian Chief motorcycle. He had his own house and threw lavish parties. However, the high life ended soon after he dropped out of college. After a brief stint in the Army, Katz, 23, married Julia Mae Levin in 1964. In 1965, Susan was born, followed by David the next year. As the 1960s exploded around him, Katz enjoyed married life and worked as an investment banker.

Things changed in 1967, when he found himself on his way to Chicago for a meeting with Hugh Hefner to discuss investment opportunities. He stayed at the Playboy Mansion. “Cleavage and spiked heels changed my life,” Katz says today. “Boink! Back in those days, who had sex? If you got dry-humped, it was a blessing. All of a sudden, I am with all these magnificent women. That’s when my marriage started to go.”