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.

ON A JUNE NIGHT, Harry and I have a drink at Tony Clark’s bar. Katz alternatively puffs on a Camel and swishes vodka around in his mouth like mouthwash. In front of us, a raven-haired barmaid ascends a ladder to pull a bottle off a top shelf. Katz gives me a nudge: “Hey, look at that ass.”

He makes a request of the barmaid: “Could you climb back up there? I could watch you climb all night.”

Our service deteriorates.

We jaywalk across Broad and pile into his Lincoln Town Car, owned by his brother but seemingly always in Harry’s possession. It’s about 10 p.m., and the Lincoln creeps down South Street. Katz is on the prowl. After we pass a pubescent girl wearing a halter top and cut-offs, Katz lets out a sigh. “Not so long ago, I had a girl at my house and we were about to make love,” he remembers. “I could have sworn she told me that she was 20, but it turned out she was 17. I said, ‘Could you excuse me for a minute?’ I called my lawyer, and he told me I was in the clear.”

We head into Jim’s Steaks at 4th and South. On the wall is a picture of him from his days as a columnist for the Drummer. A man in Bermuda shorts sees the picture and approaches: “Hey, you’re Katz from the photo.”

Harry and the man start talking. Turns out he’s a tourist from California here with his wife and two boys. Katz insists on giving them a tour of the city. Soon, Harry, four Californians, and I are bounding through Old City in the Lincoln.

Katz tells the Californians about the private fire departments of Colonial days. As he narrates, a burly guy walks by on the street. Harry rolls down the window: “Hey, you want to arm wrestle for big money?”

The man does not reply. We finally drop the family at Dave and Buster’s. Like a magician, Katz combs through his wallet and finds game cards for the two kids. Their parents thank Katz. Everyone exchanges phone numbers.

“Next time you’re in town, you guys will stay with me,” promises Katz.

Next stop is Paradigm, a trendy bar on Chestnut Street primarily known for having bathroom doors that fog up. Katz knows a waitress here, but she’s not too happy to see Harry. She hangs out at the other end of the bar, ignoring him.

Katz, meanwhile, starts hitting on Pam the bartender. A drop-dead-gorgeous brunette, she’s having no part of the shtick. “Man, you’re the worst fucking bartender in America,” coos Katz. Pam smiles sarcastically. So Katz resorts to one of his primary ploys, a war of attrition. He peppers Pam with a nonstop barrage of bad jokes, puppy-dog eyes and outright begging. The sheer persistence eventually wears down Pam to a point where fury is replaced by bemusement. “Won’t you give me your number?” pleads Katz. “I bet you live in Rittenhouse Square. Can I try and guess it?” Pam says no, but does take Katz’s card. Harry beams a smile of triumph. (The next day, Harry calls Paradigm, impersonates me and asks for Pam’s phone number for a story on bartenders. He gets the number.)

Eventually, the waitress comes over. It quickly gets ugly. “I was reading in the paper about Ira Einhorn, Harry,” she says. “You used the same pick-up lines he used: ‘When you sleep with me, and you will, it will be the best night of your life.’ You are the biggest liar I’ve ever met.”

Harry replies loudly: “That’s not what you were saying when I was fucking you up the ass.”

She stares at him, her eyes brimming with contempt. She starts taking off jewelry. “Here’s your watch back. When are you going to pay me the $1200 you owe me?”

While they were dating, it seems Katz charged car repairs on her credit card. He’s paying the minimum each month. Katz repeats his mantra: “That’s not what you were saying when I was fucking you up the ass.”

Eventually, she leaves, and Katz sighs in relief. “I’m glad I got the watch back,” he says. “It belonged to Valerie Sheridan.”

ON FRIDAY, March 3, 1995, Katz, Valerie Sheridan, and a second woman had a few drinks at Katz’s place, and then went to Manayunk for appetizers. After some barhopping, the trio returned to Katz’s house. Sheridan eventually headed outside in a robe. A half-hour later, Katz and his companion discovered Sheridan in the whirlpool. By the time paramedics arrived, rigor mortis had begun. The next day, Susan Delplanque attempted suicide.

Katz’s reaction to the tragedy received as much attention as the actual accident. News of the Sheridan drowning didn’t become public for a number of days. When Katz confided his predicament to Stu Bykofsky, the Daily News columnist urged Katz to lie low and hope nobody would notice. But word got out. Katz described Sheridan to the media this way: “We were soulmates. She had the same bullshit, and she could work a room beautifully…. She loved the hot tub. She was a woman of the water …” He summed up the Sheridan/Delplanque affair this way: “What a fucking weekend!”

Two weeks later, toxicology reports on Sheridan came back positive for drugs. Katz told the Inquirer she had a cocaine problem. He was cleared of wrongdoing, but the fallout continued. “Certain alleged friends dumped me like a hot potato,” says Katz. “People like Steven Korman from the Korman Corporation. He was my best friend and usher at my first wedding. Then there’s Stephen Klein [of the Klein Company] who I went to Penn State with.”

There was also a prominent split with District Attorney Lynne Abraham. The Katz family had been a patron of Abraham’s political career from the beginning, holding a number of fund-raisers for her. The morning after Sheridan’s death, Katz called Abraham for advice. Her husband, Frank Ford, answered the phone. Though Abraham and Katz never spoke, the D.A. personally observed Sheridan’s autopsy.

These days, Abraham no longer returns Katz’s phone calls, but they both attend Hanukkah and Passover dinners at the home of Katz’s mother, Selma. “I say hi,” says Katz. “At Hanukkah, Lynne was at my mother’s house, and I had gotten a photographer to take pictures. Lynne was standing by the bar, so I put my arm around her and said, ‘Why not take a picture of me and Lynne?’, which we had always done. The photographer developed the proofs, [but] I was missing the two shots of Lynne and myself. He was told by Lynne not to develop them. [Abraham declined comment.] Finally, he brings the proofs over. I blow them up to 5 by 7, and send one to Lynne at work and one to her house with a note saying ‘I know you would want this for your wall.’ She didn’t mention it next time I saw her. Fuck her.”