A Babylon Village native is on a mission to give one of that hamlet's favorite sons, Rodney Dangerfield, something the comedian made a career of saying he never got: respect.
With the blessing of Dangerfield's widow, he says, Long Island Rail Road mechanic Dave Irwin, 64, who now lives in Bay Shore, has nearly 1,800 signatures in an online petition to give Dangerfield, who died in 2004 at age 82, a statue in Babylon Village's Argyle Park. Once Irwin hits 3,000 signatures, he says he hopes to meet with village Mayor Mary Adams to make his case. Islip Town Councilman John C. Cochrane Jr. is supporting his efforts.
One bit of newly uncovered history is confirmation of Dangerfield's birthplace, he says. Dangerfield's birth certificate, a copy of which widow Joan Child Dangerfield showed him, contains a seal reading "Board of Health, Village of Babylon." Dangerfield's 2004 memoir, "It's Not Easy Bein' Me: A Lifetime of No Respect but Plenty of Sex and Drugs," says only "Babylon, Long Island," making no distinction between the village and the Town of Babylon. The comedy icon's 100th birthday would have been Nov. 22, 2021.
Dangerfield was born Jacob Cohen in what his memoir called "an eighteen-room house owned by my mother’s sister Rose and her husband," and lived there to about age 10. Town of Babylon official historian Mary Cascone determined this was at 44 Railroad Avenue in Babylon Village — sometimes mistakenly reported as 44 Railroad Avenue (now Acorn Street) in Deer Park. But according to municipal records, says Cascone, "In 1931, his aunt Rose Goldberger of 44 Railroad Avenue sold her property to the Babylon School District" — and now, like a Dangerfield punch line, the site is part of a high school parking lot.
Neither the Babylon Village Historical Society nor the village mayor's office responded to Newsday requests for comment.
Irwin, who was born at the former Southside Hospital in Bay Shore, lived in North Babylon until moving with his family to Babylon Village at age 5, living there until he was 28 and then staying on Long Island. A fan of Dangerfield's, he noted that in 2016, a mural honoring the comic went up in Kew Gardens, Queens, where Dangerfield lived after moving from the East Bronx. "I'm saying to myself, Why is no one stepping up and doing something in Babylon Village?" Irwin said.
About eight months ago, Irwin started a printed petition that garnered "300, 400 signatures," he says. "Five or six months go by, I wasn't gaining headway like I thought it was going to. I had people telling me you have to do it online." He had already started a Facebook page, The Rodney Dangerfield Project, and two months ago created the petition.
Helping along the way was his son, also named Dave, an architect in Joshua Tree, California, who tracked down the Dangerfield family attorney. "He left a message with the lawyer. That Tuesday I text my son, who says, 'Mrs. Joan Dangerfield just called me, we spoke for 15 minutes, she thinks what you're doing is so sweet, here's her number.' The following day I called Mrs. Dangerfield and she was onboard instantly and we talked for over an hour. Eight months later, we're on a first-name basis, talking to each other every week."
Joan Dangerfield, who had initially supported the Kew Gardens mural before castigating its execution by Italian artist Francesca Tosca Robicci, connected Irwin with the New Jersey design studio Bell Brothers, who created the computer-rendered statue on the petition page. A previous rendition that Irwin's son made had placed Rodney Dangerfield atop a small platform. "I sent that to Joan, and she told me that Rodney wouldn't have wanted to be on a pedestal, because he felt he was a regular guy. He didn't want to be above anybody. So we put him down at ground level."
Irwin also wrote a proposed message for an accompanying plaque: "I made millions of people laugh as I searched for love and acceptance. I lived a full life and came back to where it all started. Thank you, Village of Babylon, for giving me what I long for: respect."
He read it to Joan Dangerfield. "She got so emotional on the other end of the phone," Irwin remembers, "and said don't change a word."