Al Lewis (actor)

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Al Lewis
Al Lewis The Munsters 1964 (cropped).jpg
Lewis in The Munsters in 1964
Born
Abraham Meister

(1923-04-30)April 30, 1923
Manhattan, New York City, U.S.
DiedFebruary 3, 2006(2006-02-03) (aged 82)
Roosevelt Island, New York, U.S.
Other namesGrandpa Al Lewis
Occupation
  • Actor
  • activist
Years active1949–2002
Political partyGreen
Spouse(s)
Marge Domowitz
(m. 1956; div. 1977)

(m. 1984)
Children3

Al Lewis (born Abraham Meister; April 30, 1923 – February 3, 2006) was an American actor and activist, best known for his role as Count Dracula-lookalike Grandpa on the television series The Munsters from 1964 to 1966 and its film versions. He previously also co-starred with The Munsters’s Fred Gwynne in the television show Car 54, Where Are You? from 1961–1963. Later in life, he was a restaurant owner, political candidate, and radio broadcaster.[1]

Early life[edit]

Lewis was born Abraham Meister on April 30, 1923 in Manhattan; the son of Alexander Meister, house painter and immigrant from Minsk, Belarus, and Ida Neidel, garment worker and immigrant from the Russian Empire; his family was Jewish. Two brothers were Phillip and Henry.[2][3][4][5] He had originally given his birth year as 1910. His reputed early radio work in the mid-1930s would indicate the earlier birth date, as did an off-the-cuff remark on the TVLegends interview, 2002, where he says "not a bad memory for 92". Ted Lewis, his son, firmly said his father was born in 1923[6][7] in Brownsville, Brooklyn, New York.[8][9] Other sources placed his birth in Wolcott, New York,[7] but no official record of his birth has been published to date (2006), and officials in Wolcott say they have no record of any Meister. The Times wrote: "Lewis was born Albert Meister, probably in 1923, but he insisted that he was born in 1910. This, and Lewis's many other questionable stories, means that much of the actor's life is a broth of conjecture that his fans will no doubt squabble over for years to come."[7] On his application for a Social Security number, completed sometime between 1936 and 1950, Lewis gave his date of birth as April 30, 1923.[3] The 1940 census lists an Albert Meister "age 16" living on Douglass (today's Strauss) Street in Brooklyn, New York.[10]

In a 1998 interview with Walt Shepperd, Lewis said:

My mother was a worker, worked in the garment trades. My mother was an indomitable spirit. My grandfather had no sons. He had six daughters. They lived in Poland or Russia, every five years it would change. My mother being the oldest daughter, they saved their money, and when she was about sixteen they sent her to the United States, not knowing a word of English. She went to work in the garment center, worked her back and rear-end off and brought over to the United States her five sisters and two parents. I remember going on picket lines with my mother. My mother wouldn't back down to anyone.[11][12]

Education[edit]

According to a report in The Jewish Week, Al Lewis attended Yeshiva Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn, New York in his youth and "asked annoying questions to the teachers." Lewis then attended Thomas Jefferson High School, which he left in his junior year. He claimed to have attended Oswego State Teachers College (now SUNY Oswego), notwithstanding his lack of a high school diploma, and to have earned a Ph.D. in child psychology from Columbia University in 1941, of which Columbia has no record.[11] Lewis did send at least one of his children to Yeshiva in the San Fernando Valley.

Career[edit]

Acting[edit]

Al Lewis as Grandpa (back) with the cast of The Munsters, 1964

His acting career begins the well-documented portion of his life. He worked in burlesque and vaudeville theaters, then on Broadway in the dramas The Night Circus (1958) and One More River (1960) and as the character Moe Shtarker in the musical comedy Do Re Mi (1962).[13]

His earliest television work includes appearances on the crime drama Decoy and The Phil Silvers Show. From 1959 to 1963, he appeared in four episodes of Naked City. Lewis's first well-known television role was as Officer Leo Schnauser on the sitcom Car 54, Where Are You? from 1961 to 1963, also starring Fred Gwynne (Lewis reprised the role in the 1994 movie of the same name).[1] In the series, Lewis first played Al Spencer the Auto Body Man in two early first-season episodes, then landed the more familiar role of Officer Schnauser. He is best remembered as Grandpa on The Munsters, which ran on CBS from 1964 to 1966.[1]

In 1967, Lewis played the part of Zalto the magician in the Lost in Space episode "Rocket to Earth". His first role in a movie was as Machine Gun Manny in Pretty Boy Floyd (1960). He had small roles in The World of Henry Orient (1964), They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969), and They Might Be Giants (1971). He appeared as Hanging Judge Harrison in Used Cars (1980), played a security guard on an episode of Taxi, and had a minor role in Married to the Mob (1988). His last film role was in Night Terror (2002).[1]

Al Lewis caricature by Jim McDermott

Lewis was a recurring guest on The Howard Stern Show. In 1987, during a "Howard Stern Freedom Rally" against the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that was broadcast live, Lewis repeatedly shouted "fuck the FCC!" until Stern was able to take the microphone away from him. Stern and the station were not punished for Lewis's comments.

Unlike some actors, Lewis did not mind being typecast. He enjoyed acting out his Grandpa character—in the original costume—and got a surprising amount of mileage from such a short-lived role. "Why not?" he said. "It pays the bills."[citation needed]

In 1991, he appeared as Grandpa in an episode of Hi Honey, I'm Home on ABC. In 1991, he appeared in a low-budget movie titled Grampire (My Grandpa Is a Vampire in the U.S. version), wearing much the same costume as he did in The Munsters. From 1987 to 1989, Lewis hosted Super Scary Saturday on TBS in his Grandpa outfit. This was parodied in Gremlins 2: The New Batch with the character of Grandpa Fred (Robert Prosky).[citation needed]

Other pursuits[edit]

Lewis appeared in an episode of The American Experience where he recalled his experiences at Coney Island, which he frequently visited and worked at as a game barker. He was featured in the Atari 7800 videogame Midnight Mutants,[14] an action-adventure title with a Halloween theme. His appearance in the game mirrored his Grandpa persona in The Munsters.[citation needed]

In 1987, he opened an Italian restaurant named Grampa's Bella Gente at 252 Bleecker Street in Manhattan. In September 1989, he licensed a comedy club named Grampa's to an entrepreneurial family on New Dorp Plaza in Staten Island.[citation needed]

Politics[edit]

As a left-wing activist, he hosted a politically oriented radio program on WBAI (whose theme song was King Curtis' "Foot Pattin'") and ran as Green Party candidate for governor of New York in 1998. In that race, he sought to be listed on the ballot as Grandpa Al Lewis, arguing that he was most widely known by that name. His request was rejected by the Board of Elections, a decision upheld in court against his challenge.[15]

Despite this setback, he achieved one of his campaign objectives. His total of 52,533 votes exceeded the threshold of votes set by New York law (50,000) and hence guaranteed the Green Party of New York an automatic ballot line for the next four years (see election results, New York governor).[16] He said that, with no political machine and no money backing him, the likelihood of winning the governorship would be "like climbing Mount Everest barefooted".[17] In 2000, he sought the Green Party nomination for US Senate; he ultimately placed second in the primary, with about 32 percent of the vote, losing to Mark Dunau.[18]

Personal life and final years[edit]

Lewis married Marge Domowitz in 1956, with whom he had three sons, Dave, Ted, and Paul. The marriage ended in divorce in 1977.[1] In 1984, he married actress Karen Ingenthron, to whom he remained married for the rest of his life.[4][1]

In his final years, he resided on Roosevelt Island in New York City. In 2003, he was hospitalized for an angioplasty, and complications from the surgery led to an emergency bypass and the amputation of his right leg below the knee as well as all of the toes on his left foot. He died on February 3, 2006, of natural causes in Goldwater Memorial Hospital on Roosevelt Island in New York, NY. The hospital was closed permanently in 2013.[1] Following his body's cremation, his ashes were reportedly "placed in his favorite cigar box."[citation needed]

Filmography[edit]

Film[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1957 I Vampiri Assistant
1960 Pretty Boy Floyd Manny 'Machine Gun Manny'
1964 The World of Henry Orient Store Owner
1966 Munster, Go Home! Grandpa Munster
1969 They Shoot Horses, Don't They? Turkey
1970 The Boatniks Bert
1971 They Might Be Giants Messenger
1973 The Night Strangler Hobo
1974 Death Wish Guard At Hotel Lobby Uncredited
1974 Black Starlet Sam
1974 Coonskin The Godfather Voice, uncredited
1975 White House Madness Judge Cirrhosis
1979 That's Life
1980 Used Cars Judge Harrison
1987 Comic Cabby
1988 Married to the Mob Uncle Joe Russo
1988 Bum Rap Mr. Wolfstadt
1992 My Grandpa Is a Vampire Vernon Cooger
1993 The Garden Holocaust survivor
1994 Car 54, Where Are You? Leo Schnauzer
1996 Fast Money Poon
1996 South Beach Academy Uncle Gene
1998 Sidoglio Smithee Himself
2002 Night Terror Father Hanlon

Television[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1953–1957 The Big Story Willie 2 episodes
1957 Decoy Chi Chi Episode: "Queen of Diamonds"
1957 Brenner Logan Episode: "Thin Ice"
1959 The Phil Silvers Show Bruno the Mobster, Mobster Bengal, Mike 3 episodes
1959 Deadline Fletcher Episode: "Jail Break"
1959–1960 The United States Steel Hour Bartender, Paul Gordon 2 episodes
1959–1963 Naked City Mr. Carrari, Mr. Tanner, Harry McGoglan, Bookie, Gus, Mr. Pike 6 episodes
1961–1963 Car 54, Where Are You? Officer Leo Schnauser 44 eposides
1962 The Defenders Sergeant Cross Episode: "The Search"
1964–1966 The Munsters Grandpa Munster 70 episodes
1967 Lost in Space Zalto Episode: "Rocket to Earth"
1971 Green Acres Charlie Episode: "Star Witness"
1971 Night Gallery Mishkin 1 episode
1972 Love, American Style Bernie 1 episode
1973 The Night Strangler Tramp Television film
1973 The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie Grandpa Munster Episode: "The Mini-Munsters"
1973 Here's Lucy Lionel Barker Episode: "Lucy Plays Cops and Robbers"
1978 Ring of Passion Mike Jacobs Television film
1980 CBS Children's Mystery Theatre Episode: "The Treasure of Alpheus T. Winterborn"
1981 The Munsters' Revenge Grandpa Munster Television film
1981 Taxi Security Guard Episode: "On the Job: Part 2"
1981 Best of the West Judge Episode: "The Hanging of Parker Tillman"
1988 Super Scary Saturday Albert Einstein Grampa Episode: "War of the Gargantuas"
1990 Mathnet Ring Announcer Episode: "The Case of the Masked Avenger"
1991 Hi Honey, I'm Home Grandpa Munster Episode: "Grey Skies"
1995 Here Come the Munsters Restaurant Guest Television film

Theatre[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1958 The Night Circus Owner/Bartender [19]
1960 One More River Performer [19]
1960–1962 Do Re Mi Moe Shtarker, Fatso O'Rear [19]

Electoral history[edit]

1998 New York gubernatorial election[16]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Republican George Pataki 2,223,264 44.59%
Conservative George Pataki 348,727 6.99%
Total George Pataki (incumbent) 2,571,991 54.32% +5.53%
Democratic Peter Vallone, Sr. 1,518,992 30.47%
Working Families Peter Vallone, Sr. 51,325 1.03%
Total Peter Vallone, Sr. 1,570,317 33.16% -12.29%
Independence Tom Golisano 364,056 7.69% +3.51%
Liberal Betsy McCaughey 77,915 1.65% -0.12%
Right to Life Michael Reynolds 56,683 1.20% -0.10%
Green Al Lewis 52,533 1.11% N/A
Marijuana Reform Thomas K. Leighton 24,788 0.52% N/A
Unity Mary Alice France 9,692 0.21% N/A
Libertarian Chris Garvey 4,722 0.11% -0.07%
Socialist Workers Al Duncan 2,539 0.05% +0.01%
Blank – Void – Scattering 250,696 5.02% N/A
Majority 1,001,674 21.15% +17.81%
Turnout 4,985,932
Republican hold Swing
2000 United States Senate Green primary in New York[18]
Party Candidate Votes %
Green Mark Dunau 454 38.35%
Green Al Lewis 377 31.84%
Green Ronnie Dugger 353 29.81%
Total votes 1,184 100.00%

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Al Lewis, 95, Is Dead. Played Grandpa on 'The Munsters'". The New York Times. February 5, 2006. Retrieved 2010-10-10. An obituary of the television actor Al Lewis by The Associated Press on Sunday misstated his age. His son Ted Lewis says he was 82, not 95. ...
  2. ^ 1940 United States census extract which supports the 1923 year of birth
  3. ^ a b Record of "Al Lewis"; April 30, 1923 – February 3, 2006; SSN: 050-18-4924. Social Security Administration. Social Security Death Index. Provo, Utah: MyFamily.com, Inc., 2006.
  4. ^ a b Pitel, Laura (2006). "Actor and storyteller famous for his role as Grandpa Munster". Times Online. London, UK. Retrieved 2008-03-20. Lewis was born Albert Meister, probably in 1923, although he insisted that he was born in 1910. This, and Lewis's many other questionable stories, means that much of the actor's life is a broth of conjecture that his fans will no doubt squabble over for years to come...He is survived by his second wife, Karen, and by three sons from his first marriage.
  5. ^ "Henry Meister (1930–2017)". legacy.com. New York Times. Retrieved March 15, 2020.
  6. ^ Barry, Dan (February 11, 2006). "Hey, Whose Grandpa Didn't Tell Some Tales?". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-07-21. Newspapers across the country, including this one, published a small correction a few days ago. Al Lewis, the actor who played Grandpa in The Munsters, died on Roosevelt Island last week at the age of 82. He was not, repeat, not 95. A 13-year discrepancy in the age of a minor celebrity poses no threat to the well-being of our nation. Nor does it silence the laughter that Mr. Lewis continues to coax from us through sitcom perpetuity, or diminish the passion he demonstrated as an advocate for reform and the Green Party candidate for governor in 1998, when he was 88 – that is, 75.
  7. ^ a b c "Al Lewis, 95, Dies; Portrayed Grandpa on 'The Munsters'". The New York Times. Associated Press. February 5, 2006. Retrieved 2007-07-21. Al Lewis, the cigar-chomping patriarch of "The Munsters" whose work as a basketball scout, restaurateur and political candidate never eclipsed his role as Grandpa from the television sitcom, died on Friday after several years of failing health. He was 95 [sic] and lived on Roosevelt Island. Mr. Lewis died with his wife at his bedside, said Bernard White, program director at WBAI-FM in New York City, where the actor had been the host of a weekly radio program for years
  8. ^ Alpert, Lukas I. (February 5, 2006). "'Grandpa' Al Says Goodbye – 'Munsters' Star Lewis Dead at 82". New York Post. Retrieved 3 March 2019.
  9. ^ "'Grandpa Munster' Al Lewis dies", abc.net.au, May 2, 2006.
  10. ^ Ancestry.com
  11. ^ a b "Al "Grandpa Munster" Lewis runs for governor". New Times. Archived from the original on 2006-02-18. Retrieved 2007-02-14. Al Lewis figures he could be the next governor of New York state if he had a million dollars. All he needs, he says, is six television commercials and 25 to 30 radio spots running across the state for a month. Then he could turn the governor's mansion into a day-care center and kick every member of the state Legislature out of Albany.
  12. ^ *"No Joke: Al 'Grandpa Munster' Lewis runs for governor". Archived from the original on 2006-02-18. Retrieved 2007-02-14.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link) The New Times
  13. ^ Al Lewis at the Internet Broadway Database
  14. ^ AtariAge – Atari 7800 – Midnight Mutants (Atari), atariage.com; accessed June 9, 2015.
  15. ^ Green, David B. (February 3, 2015). "This Day in Jewish History The Actor Who Played Grandpa Munster Dies". Haaretz. Retrieved November 3, 2015.
  16. ^ a b "1998 Election Results Certified by State Board of Canvassers" (PDF). New York State Board of Elections. December 16, 1998. Retrieved April 30, 2021.
  17. ^ "Al gets fangs into Big Apple". BBC. August 11, 1999. Retrieved 2008-03-20. The 89-year-old, who played Hermann Munster's blood-sucking father-in-law, is hoping to become the Green Party's candidate and has formed a Senate exploratory committee.
  18. ^ a b "On Politics: New York — US Senate". Washington Post. Retrieved April 30, 2021.
  19. ^ a b c "Al Lewis".

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by
Green Party of New York Nominee for Governor of New York
1998
Succeeded by