February 2014 Column in the Irish American News




Mike Houlihan

I had drinks with my crazy brother Brian one night over the holidays. When we were kids we called him Tommy, but about thirty-five years ago he insisted that everybody start calling him “Brian”.  Maybe he figured he’d done enough damage with one name so he should start using an alias. But what’s in a name? This rose by any other name would still be a hooligan!

We went to Glascotts on Halsted for our reunion, not far from his bachelor pad on Clybourn. He’ll be seventy this month and he’s the original dirty old man, hoping to meet some dirty old ladies at the senior citizen complex where he lives. The only cougars Brian will be meeting these days would be staying at Sheehy’s.

Forty years ago we hung out in this neighborhood, in this very bar. Like time travelers now, we sit and marvel at the changes today. Once we were the young bucks chasing chicks in Glascotts. Now we’re the creepy old guys sitting off to the side ogling the trixies on their I-phones.

I order a couple of pints and Brian and I talk of the good old days, growing up on the ol’ southside. The Hallidays were our next-door neighbors then; widowed Muriel and her eight kids, a great family. Ray was the oldest Halliday and he and Tommy went to Brother Rice together every day, after eight years of Christ the King grammar school. They were the same age and they were pals.

I had just run into Ray myself at my brother Danny’s wake a few weeks earlier and he was the usual gregarious, energetic, spitfire he’d always been. He told me he was sorry to have missed Tommy and he asked me to send his regards.  I told my brother this in Glascotts and he proceeded to tell me an old story.

When they were both about sixteen, Ray had a job as a busboy at the Martinique/Drury Lane on 95th Street.  It wasn’t until Tommy watched him one night in Waxman’s drug store drinking coke after coke from the pop machine and scarfing Mallo bars that he realized, “Ray is making some serious coin!”

Hey Ray, can you get me a job bussing tables at the Martinique?

“Maybe!” Ray said with a huge grin as he consumed his candy.

The next day as they were thumbing home down 95th Street from Rice, Ray told the driver, “Let us off here, I’ll take you in to get you the job”

Tommy was amazed.


“Yeah, come on.”

So Ray took him into the Martinique/Drury Lane complex and was giving Tommy the world tour. He took Tommy into the kitchen to look at the food, then the place where all the tablecloths and napkins were stored, the walk-in freezer, and the whole shebang. Meanwhile my bro is getting irritated with Ray’s culinary class and wants to get to sign up for his new career as a busboy.

Okay I get it. Now who do I have to meet to get the job?

Ray chuckles like Ronald Reagan and says, “Well!”

Suddenly he lights up and grabs Tommy by the elbow. “Say, how would ya like to shake the hand of Pat O’Brien?”

Pat O’Brien?

“Yeah, Pat O’Brien!”

Pat O’Brien the movie star?

“He’s a friend of mine! He’s doing “Father of the Bride” at the Drury Lane. He’s my buddy, come on.”

Ray raced up a set of stairs and led my brother down a long hallway and up to a door that he then knocked on with authority.

In those days Tony DeSantis, the impresario behind the Drury Lane, had a swanky apartment built adjacent to the backstage area for the stars who appeared at his theatre. It was convenient and classy for the stars and nobody bothered you, until Ray Halliday knocked on Pat O’Brien’s door.

Pat O’Brien was the legendary Irish actor, best friends with Jimmy Cagney and Spencer Tracy, and had appeared in hundreds of classic films, usually as the friendly priest who steered the gangsters along the right path. He was also memorable for playing the title role in “Knute Rockne, All American” as he urged the lads back to the gridiron to “win one for the Gipper!”

My brother was skeptical of Ray’s friendship with the actor but didn’t want to miss the chance to shake hands with the great Pat O’Brien. Tommy had show biz aspirations himself and thought maybe Cagney and O’Brien could discover him and cast him as a young Spencer Tracy in their next gangster flick.

Ray rapped on the door three times very insistently as Tommy looked over his shoulder and wondered what he would say to Pat if he opened the door. Maybe some bologna about being Irish and how his mom went to mass every day and how he has five brothers and a sister and they’ve seen all his movies.

Ray is pounding on the door now and finally it opened and there he was, Pat O’Brien.

He looked much older than he did in the movies of course because most of them were made in the forties. Brian told me, “I kind of half expected to see him wearing his roman collar like the priests he played in “Angels With Dirty Faces”, and to hear him say, ‘Hi ya fellas, whaddya know, whaddya say?’”

“But he actually reminded me more of Dad, in his dress pants and wearing one of those t-shirts with the spaghetti straps, ya’know a wife beater. And he also looked very pissed off!”

Pat looks at the two teenagers and barks, “What is it?”

Ray goes into his routine, “Hiya Pat, it’s me Ray, remember?”

“Yeah, the bus boy, whaddya want kid?”

I want ya to shake hands with my next-door neighbor Tommy Houlihan!

Pat O’Brien turns and stares at him and I think that’s probably about the time my brother had the first inclination to change his name.

Brian tells me,  “Pat O’Brien now has smoke coming out of his ears, and his blood pressure starts boiling. Whatever he had been doing when Ray knocked on the door was a lot more important than shaking hands with the busboys buddy. He slammed the door on us and said, ‘Get lost!’ or words to that effect.”

I asked Brian, “Did ya ever get the bus boy job?”

He didn’t. But I’m sure Brian can use that Pat O’Brien story on some of the ninety-year-old cougars in his building. None of the other dirty old ladies would remember him.