"Professor" Irwin Corey, Comic Master of Intellectual Doublespeak, Dies at 102
The Brooklyn native spoofed smart people and appeared in the films 'Car Wash' and 'The Curse of the Jade Scorpion.'
"Professor" Irwin Corey, who forged a long career in show business using a talent for "intellectual doublespeak" — comic stream-of-consciousness riffs that went absolutely nowhere — has died. He was 102.
A jumbled mix of Albert Einstein and Charlie Chaplin who billed himself as "The World's Foremost Authority" on just about anything, Corey died Monday at his home in Manhattan, his son, Richard, told The Washington Post.
Outfitted in a black frock and string tie and looking like a dowdy, wild-haired professor, the Brooklyn native was a familiar presence on variety shows and talk shows in the 1960s and '70s, appearing on programs hosted by the likes of Jackie Gleason, Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Joey Bishop, Mike Douglas, Johnny Carson and later David Letterman. Lenny Bruce was a big fan.
Corey skewered high-minded folks with "professorial" utterances that were endless goofball streams of academic-sounding nonsense. He began most of his sentences midstream with, "However …"
Perhaps Corey's most memorable spoof of the elite came when the famously shy Thomas Pynchon asked him to accept the author's National Book Award for fiction in 1974 for Gravity's Rainbow. To those assembled at the luncheon, Corey rambled on with a loopy, off-the-wall discourse on literary theory.
One of his more famous fatuisms – "If we don't change direction soon, we'll end up where we're going" — was the sort of thing that might have been said by Yogi Berra. "Wherever you go, there you are" was another one of his philosophical truisms.
Corey's career spanned eight decades, ranging from vaudeville, stage and radio to TV and motion pictures.
At age 87, he appeared in Woody Allen's The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001). Three years later, he won rave reviews for his Broadway performance as a flustered court clerk in Sly Fox, which starred Richard Dreyfuss.
In the manic Michael Schultz film Car Wash (1976), Corey was hilarious when he was mistaken for a "pop-bottle bomber" and got chased around the premises.
The New York Times asked him about the meaning of life in a 2008 interview, and he answered as only he could:
"One of the things that you've got to understand is that we've got to develop a continuity in order to relate to exacerbate those whose curiosity has not been defended," he said, "yet the information given can no longer be used as allegoric because the defendant does not use the evidence which can be substantiated by."
Then he asked, "What was the question?”
Corey was born on July 29, 1914. His parents were so destitute, they placed him and his five siblings in the Hebrew Orphan Asylum of New York. He performed in nightclubs around New York, was a groundbreaker in improvisational comedy in the 1930s and performed as one of the "New Faces of 1943" on Broadway.
Corey thrived on not only lampooning the pretentious but also on satirizing social institutions. In 1959-60, he ran for president years before Pat Paulsen of the Smothers Brothers fame did it. Corey's campaign, on Hugh Hefner’s Playboy ticket, mocked the system: "I will run for any party with bottle in hand," he said.
Corey made his big-screen debut in How to Commit Marriage (1969), starring Gleason and Bob Hope. He portrayed Marlo Thomas' father on Broadway in 1974's Thieves, written by Herb Gardner, and they reprised their roles for a 1977 film that also starred Charles Grodin, who had directed the play.
Gardner then brought Corey back to play a spry octogenarian in the 1996 release I'm Not Rappaport, and the actor appeared opposite Robin Williams that year in Francis Ford Coppola's Jack.
Fran, his wife of 70 years, died in 2011.