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.

FIVE OF Harry Jay Katz’s favorite stories about, who else, Harry Jay Katz. Warning: He insists that they are not apocryphal, but don’t bank on it.

1. Katz met Maria Shriver when she was interning at KYW back in 1977. They dated for a while and remained friendly. Independently, Harry got to know Arnold Schwarzenegger. During the early 1980s, while Arnold was making his transition from Mr. Olympia to the Terminator, Schwarzenegger stopped in Philadelphia to visit Harry’s ailing father. On the drive over, a man in a Volkswagen cut Katz off. When Katz returned the favor, the man yelled “Jew motherfucker” at Katz. At the next light, Arnold got out of the car and twisted the other guy’s door off the hinges. “I cannot remember this incident,” says Schwarzenegger.

“Arnold’s a product of his environment,” says Katz. “His father was a member of the Brownshirts, a Gestapo member. And Arnold is 50 or 51 now, so Arnold had to be peripherally involved with the Young Nazis’ corps. Everyone had to. I had a little bit of difficulty with that, but we talked at length and got over it.” This is obviously wrong: “My father was not in the Brownshirts,” says Schwarzenegger, who has won a libel suit on this very point. “I was born in 1947, so there was no Nazi party. It was all outlawed in Austria. It is true Harry Jay Katz and my wife have been friends. We still consider him a friend. He has a great sense of humor, but we haven’t seen him in a very long time.”

2. In 1974, Harry Jay Katz encountered porn star Linda Lovelace trying to go legit in the years after Deep Throat. “Linda was in town with a show called Pajama Tops at the then-Locust Street Theatre,” recalls Katz. “She needed a hundred G’s, she owned the show, and they were out of money. She came to me at the Erlanger [a club Katz owned at the time], and I said, I’ll raise you the hundred thousand. I said, I’ll get you 10 guys, each of whom will give $10,000, but you gotta suck their cock, each one of them. My part of the deal is I go first, and I get the freebie. The finder’s fee. Each of the guys got their blow job and gave their check. I knew Sunday they were padlocking the theater and throwing her the fuck out, and it didn’t matter whether they gave $200,000. So Linda left town on Monday morning, and everybody stopped payment on their checks. And that took care of Linda.” (Ms. Lovelace could not be found for comment.)

3. In 1972, Katz turned his attention to writing of a sort. The Drummer, an alternative weekly in the vein of the Village Voice, hired him to write a weekly column, the “Katz Meow,” for $10 a piece. The columns, always a mixture of fact and fantasy, were due on Sunday, and Katz would rise at 4:30 a.m. that day to crank them out. He went too far in 1978, when he wrote a piece satirizing a feminist conference in Mexico City. He wrote that he and Elsa Goss, an Inquirer columnist, went down to the conference and sat at a table with Gloria Steinem and Bella Abzug. He suggested that Goss was fondling him under the table, that they later took a “delicious siesta” together, and visited bars featuring nude male dancers.

Goss filed a libel suit. At the April 1979 trial, she also testified that in 1975, an unknown person had marched in front of her residence with a sign reading “Harry Jay Katz Loves Fucking Elsa Goss.” Katz took the stand and stated that he was an unemployed man who relied on his parents to pay his bills. He also brought in, as an expert witness, now famous Rolling Stone satirist P.J. O’Rourke, who testified that Katz was operating within the boundaries of satire. The jury didn’t agree. Goss won a $130,000 judgment. Three months later, The Drummer folded. “Everyone knows I made the stuff up,” says Katz. “I couldn’t believe anyone took it so seriously.”

4. In 1974, Katz dabbled in professional sports, buying the fledgling World Football League’s Philadelphia Bell. When asked by Howard Cosell on Wide World of Sports why someone who didn’t know how many players were on a team would buy one, Katz answered succinctly: “cheerleaders.” The league publicly said that he had paid $1 million for the franchise. In fact, Katz got it for a dollar so that the WFL would have a team in the fourth-largest television market. One of the people who didn’t know that Katz got the Bell for free was his buddy Jack Kelly, Grace’s brother. After a few months, Kelly bought the Bell from Katz for $750,000. “Kelly wanted to buy the team,” remember Katz with a smile. “I said, ‘Hey, I had a really good year, and you guys can pay $750,000. I’ll take the loss.’ He [and his partners] ended up losing millions.”

5. Katz tells me of a woman from Boston he used to date. She started spending the weekend at his pad. He bought her clothes from Saks. Later, he found out something unusual. “Turns out she’s a witch,” he says. “But a white witch, a good witch.” Katz and the witch dated a while. One weekend, they flew down to Haiti. They piled into a car and drove into the country, where a ceremony was beginning. “A girl, maybe 14 or 15, is being led out in a white sheet,” remembers Katz. “And there’s all this chanting. Then a priest slits her throat, swear to God. That night I had the best sex of my life: I was like a dreadlocked Jew motherfucker savage.”

KATZ RETURNED from Chicago and his time with Hugh Hefner breathing a new idea: He wanted to open a Playboy Club in Philly. Ever confident, he rented 20,000 square feet in a building across from the Bellevue-Stratford. He made the newspapers by disclosing he had shown nude photos of prospective Bunnies to his wife.

The stodgy Philadelphia fathers were not amused. Mayor James Tate and the police department loathed the idea of a Playboy Club within spitting distance of City Hall, and Katz hit another stumbling block. Playboy Clubs required their members to charge all meals and drinks to their Playboy credit cards. Unfortunately, an archaic— and widely flouted—law prevented the buying of liquor on credit in Pennsylvania. Over the next 2 years, Katz lobbied Harrisburg to change the law, eventually succeeding. By then, however, he was $200,000 in the hole and enthusiasm had faded. The club never opened.

At the same time, Katz’s marriage disintegrated. Julie and Harry separated in 1970. To this day, Katz says Julie remains the love of his life. Nonetheless, the former Mrs. Katz had to file for bankruptcy in 1974, citing $71,550 in debts. In court documents, she testified that Katz verbally agreed to continue paying her credit card bills while they were separated. According to Julie, Katz stopped paying her bills in 1972, leaving her $16,550 in debt to department stores, other retailers and Continental Bank. Julie also asserted that some of the debt was from personal items Harry had charged to their joint account. Strangely, Julie’s largest creditors were Selma and Lawrence Katz, Harry’s parents. The couple had borrowed $55,000 from the Katzes, and Julie had signed a promissory note for the loan. “The only way I can explain it is that all transactions amongst the family were Harry’s,” testified Julie. “Harry’s and my life still were at a point where every now and then they would have to give us money to see us through. And at that particular point, we owed about $55,000. And they gave us the money, but they made us sign a note for it.” Katz says his parents never expected the money back.