Jerry Lewis

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This article is about the entertainer. For other people of the same name, see Jerry Lewis (disambiguation).
Not to be confused with Jerry Lee Lewis.
Jerry Lewis
Jerry Lewis - 1960s.jpg
1960s publicity photo
Birth name Joseph Levitch
Born (1926-03-16) March 16, 1926 (age 90)
Newark, New Jersey, United States
Medium Stage, film, television, radio
Genres Character comedy, physical comedy
Spouse
  • Patti Palmer (m. 1944–80)
  • SanDee Pitnick (m. 1983)
Children 7 (including: Gary Lewis)
Signature Jerry Lewis signature.svg
Website jerrylewiscomedy.com

Jerry Lewis (AM) (born March 16, 1926) is an American comedian, actor, singer, film producer, film director, screenwriter and humanitarian. He is known for his slapstick humor in film, television, stage, radio and recording. His career began in 1946, with an act together with actor, singer and recording artist Dean Martin, forming the team of Martin and Lewis, which performed live in nightclubs, and in television programs, theatrical movies and radio shows until 1956, when the two men parted ways after ten years as a duo.

Then since 1957, as a solo, Lewis went on to star in many more films, such as The Delicate Delinquent (his debut as film producer), The Bellboy (his debut as film director, screenwriter and development of video assist), and The Nutty Professor, as well as many television shows and appearances, music albums, live concerts and more. Lewis served as national chairman of the Muscular Dystrophy Association while, for over 40 years, hosted the annual Labor Day broadcast of the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon.

Lewis has won several awards for lifetime achievements from the American Comedy Awards, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Venice Film Festival, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Early life[edit]

He was born Joseph Levitch[1] (some sources say Jerome Levitch) on March 16, 1926, in Newark, New Jersey, to Russian Jewish parents.[2] His father, Daniel Levitch (1902–1980), was a master of ceremonies and vaudeville entertainer[3][4][5] who used the professional name Danny Lewis.[6] His mother, Rachel ("Rae") Levitch (née Brodsky),[7] was a piano player for a radio station. Lewis started performing at age five and would often perform alongside his parents in the Catskill Mountains in New York State.[8] By 15 he had developed his "Record Act", in which he exaggeratedly mimed the lyrics to songs on a phonograph. He used the professional name Joey Lewis, but soon changed it to Jerry Lewis to avoid confusion with comedian Joe E. Lewis and heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis.[9] He dropped out of Irvington High School in the tenth grade. He was a "character" even in his teenage years pulling pranks in his neighborhood including sneaking into kitchens to steal fried chicken and pies. During World War II he was rejected for military service because of a heart murmur.[10]

Career[edit]

Teaming with Dean Martin[edit]

Main article: Martin and Lewis
With Dean Martin in 1950

Lewis initially gained attention as part of a double act with singer Dean Martin, who served as straight man to Lewis' zany antics in the Martin and Lewis comedy team. The performers were different from most comedy acts of the time because they relied on their interaction instead of planned skits. They quickly rose to national prominence, first with their popular nightclub act, next as stars of their own radio program. Martin and Lewis made many appearances on early live television, their first on the June 20, 1948, debut broadcast of Toast of the Town with Ed Sullivan on CBS (later The Ed Sullivan Show). This was followed on October 3, 1948, by an appearance on the NBC series Welcome Aboard, then a stint as the first of a series of hosts of The Colgate Comedy Hour in 1950. The duo began their Paramount film careers as ensemble players in My Friend Irma (1949), based on the popular radio series of the same name. This was followed by a sequel My Friend Irma Goes West (1950).

Martin and Lewis in 1955

Starting with At War with the Army (also from 1950), Martin and Lewis were the stars of their own vehicles, in fourteen additional titles at Paramount, ending with Hollywood or Bust (1956). All sixteen were produced by Hal B. Wallis. Attesting the team's popularity, DC Comics published the best-selling The Adventures of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis comics from 1952 to 1957. As Martin's roles in their films became less important over time the partnership came under strain. Martin's participation became an embarrassment in 1954 when Look magazine used a publicity photo of the team for the magazine cover but cropped Martin out of the photo.[11] The partnership ended on July 24, 1956.

Post Martin and Lewis-era[edit]

While both Martin and Lewis went on to successful solo careers, for years neither would comment on the split nor consider a reunion. They made occasional public appearances together between their breakup and 1961 but were not seen together until a surprise appearance by Martin on the Labor Day Muscular Dystrophy Telethon in 1976, arranged by Frank Sinatra.[12] The pair eventually reconciled in the late 1980s after the death of Martin's son, Dean Paul Martin, in 1987. In 1989, the two men were seen together on stage for the last time when Martin was making what would be his final live performances at Bally's Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Lewis pushed out a birthday cake for Martin's 72nd birthday and sang "Happy Birthday" to him, and joking, "why we broke up, I'll never know."[13]

Solo[edit]

1950s to 1970s[edit]

After the split from Martin, Lewis remained at Paramount and became a comedy star in his own right with his first film as a solo comic, The Delicate Delinquent (1957). Meanwhile, DC Comics published a new comic book series The Adventures of Jerry Lewis from 1957 to 1971. Teaming with director Frank Tashlin, whose background as a Warner Bros. Looney Tunes cartoon director suited Lewis's brand of humor, he starred in five more films, and even appeared uncredited as Itchy McRabbitt in Li'l Abner (1959). Lewis tried his hand at releasing solo music in the 1950s, having a chart hit with the song "Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody" (a song largely associated with Al Jolson and later re-popularized by Judy Garland) as well as the song, "It All Depends on You" in 1958. He eventually released his own album titled, Jerry Lewis Just Sings.[10][14] By the end of his contract with producer Hal B. Wallis, Lewis had several productions of his own under his belt. In 1959, a contract between Paramount Pictures and Jerry Lewis Productions was signed specifying a payment of $10 million plus 60% of the profits for 14 films over a seven-year period.[15]

In 1960, Lewis finished his contract with Wallis with Visit to a Small Planet (1960), and wrapped up work on his own production, Cinderfella, which was postponed for a Christmas 1960 release, and Paramount, needing a quickie feature film for its summer 1960 schedule, held Lewis to his contract to produce one. Lewis came up with The Bellboy. Using the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami as his setting—and on a small budget, with a very tight shooting schedule, and no script—Lewis shot the film by day and performed at the hotel in the evenings. Bill Richmond collaborated with him on the many sight gags. Lewis later revealed that Paramount was not happy financing a 'silent movie' and withdrew backing. Lewis used his own funds to cover the $950,000 budget. During production Lewis developed the technique of using video cameras and multiple closed circuit monitors, which allowed him to review his performance instantly. His techniques and methods, documented in his book and his USC class, enabled him to complete most of his films on time and under budget. Lewis followed The Bellboy by directing several more films that he co-wrote with Richmond while some were directed by Frank Tashlin, including The Ladies Man (1961), The Errand Boy (1961), It's Only Money (1962), The Nutty Professor (1963), Who's Minding the Store? (1963) and The Patsy (1964).

in The Jerry Lewis Show (1973)

Lewis directed and co-wrote The Family Jewels (1965) about a young heiress who must choose among six uncles, one of whom is up to no good and out to harm the girl's beloved bodyguard who practically raised her. Lewis played all six uncles and the bodyguard. On television, Lewis starred in and hosted three different programs called The Jerry Lewis Show. The first was a two-hour Saturday night variety show on ABC in the fall of 1963. The lavish, big-budget production failed to find an audience and was canceled after 13 weeks. His next was a one-hour variety show on NBC from 1967 to 1969. Then a test of a syndicated talk show for Metromedia in 1984 was not continued beyond the scheduled five shows. By 1966, Lewis, then 40, was no longer an angular juvenile, his routines seemed more labored and his box office appeal waned to the point where Paramount Pictures new executives felt no further need for the Lewis comedies and did not wish to renew his 1959 profit sharing contract. Undaunted, Lewis packed up and went to Columbia Pictures, where he made several more comedies.

Lewis taught a film directing class at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles for a number of years; his students included Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.[16] In 1968, he screened Spielberg's early film, Amblin' and told his students, "That's what filmmaking is all about."[17] Lewis starred in and directed the unreleased The Day the Clown Cried in 1972. The film was a drama set in a Nazi concentration camp. Lewis rarely discusses the experience, but once explained why the film has not been released, suggesting litigation over post-production financial difficulties. However, he admitted during his book tour for Dean and Me that a major factor for the film's burial is that he is not proud of the effort.

Stage work and recent years[edit]

Lewis has also appeared in stage musicals. In 1976, he appeared in a revival of Hellzapoppin' with Lynn Redgrave, but it closed on the road before reaching Broadway.[18] In 1994, he made his Broadway debut, as a replacement cast member playing the Devil in a revival of the baseball musical, Damn Yankees, choreographed by future film director Rob Marshall (Chicago).[19] Lewis returned to the silver screen in Hardly Working (1981), a film he both directed and starred in. Despite being panned by critics, the movie eventually earned $50 million.

Lewis hosting the MDA Telethon in 1981

Lewis made his critically acclaimed performance in Martin Scorsese's film The King of Comedy (1983), in which Lewis plays a late-night TV host plagued by obsessive fans (played by Robert De Niro and Sandra Bernhard). Lewis continued to work in small films in the 1990s, such as his supporting roles in Arizona Dream (1994) and Funny Bones (1995). He appeared on television on one episode of Mad About You's first season in 1992, playing an eccentric billionaire.

Lewis has remained popular in Europe: he was consistently praised by some French critics in the influential magazine Cahiers du Cinéma for his absurd comedy, in part because he had gained respect as an auteur who had total control over all aspects of his films, comparable to Howard Hawks and Alfred Hitchcock. In March 2006, the French Minister of Culture awarded Lewis the Légion d'honneur, calling him the "French people's favorite clown".[20] Liking Lewis has long been a common stereotype about the French in the minds of many English-speakers, and is often the object of jokes in Anglosphere pop culture.[21] "That Americans can't see Jerry Lewis's genius is bewildering," says N. T. Binh, a French film magazine critic. Such bewilderment was the basis of Why the French Love Jerry Lewis (2001), by Rae Beth Gordon.[22] In 2009, Lewis traveled to the Cannes Film Festival to announce his return to cinema, after a 13-year absence, for the film Max Rose, his first leading role since Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy.[23][24]

In 2012, Lewis directed a musical theatre version of The Nutty Professor (with score by Marvin Hamlisch.[25][26]) at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in Nashville from July 31 to August 19 over the summer. The book is by Rupert Holmes. In March 2014, Lewis selled out his one-man show at the La Mirada Theater For The Performing Arts in La Mirada, California and a month later that year, his hand and footprints were cemented outside of the TCL Chinese Theatre. In early 2016, Lewis appeared in the crime film The Trust, with Nicolas Cage as the lead role.

Personal life[edit]

Family[edit]

Lewis has been married twice:

  • Patti Palmer (née Esther Grace Calonico),[27] a former singer with Ted Fio Rito;[28] married October 3, 1944, divorced September 1980[29]
  • SanDee Pitnick; married February 13, 1983; a 32-year-old Las Vegas dancer; married in Key Biscayne, Florida[30]

He has six sons (one adopted) and one daughter (adopted):

With Patti Palmer
With SanDee Pitnick
  • Danielle Sara Lewis (adopted March 1992)[29]

Health concerns[edit]

Lewis in 2005

Lewis has suffered from a variety of illnesses and addictions related both to aging and a back injury sustained in a comedic pratfall from a piano while performing at the Sands Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip on March 20, 1965.[35][36] The accident almost left him paralyzed. In its aftermath Lewis became addicted to the pain killer Percodan for thirteen years.[35] He says he has been off the drug since 1978 and has not taken one since.[36] In April 2002, Lewis had a Medtronic "Synergy" neurostimulator implanted in his back,[37] which has helped reduce the discomfort.

He is now one of the company's leading spokesmen.[36][37] In the 2011 documentary Method to the Madness of Jerry Lewis, Lewis said he suffered his first heart attack while filming Cinderfella in 1960.[38][39] In December 1982, Lewis suffered a serious heart attack. En route home to San Diego from New York City on a cross-country commercial airline flight he endured a minor heart attack on June 11, 2006.[40] It was then discovered that he had pneumonia as well as a severely damaged heart. He underwent a cardiac catheterization and two stents were inserted into one of his coronary arteries, which had become 90% blocked.

The surgery resulted in a return of blood flow to his heart and has allowed him to continue his rebound from earlier lung problems. Having the cardiac catheterization also meant canceling several major events from his schedule, but Lewis fully recuperated in a matter of weeks. In 1999, his Australian tour was cut short when he had to be hospitalized in Darwin with viral meningitis. He was ill for more than five months. It was reported in the Australian press that he had failed to pay his medical bills; however, Lewis maintained that the payment confusion was the fault of his health insurer. The resulting negative publicity caused him to sue his insurer for US$100 million.[41] Lewis has had prostate cancer,[42] diabetes,[36] pulmonary fibrosis,[35] and a decades-long history of heart disease. Prednisone[35] treatment in the late 1990s for pulmonary fibrosis resulted in weight gain and a noticeable change in his appearance.

In September 2001, Lewis was unable to perform at a planned London charity event at the London Palladium. He was the headlining act, and his band had taken to the stage, starting up their music while he was introduced, but he didn't appear, as he had suddenly become unwell, apparently with heart problems. He was subsequently taken to the hospital. Some months thereafter, Lewis began an arduous, months-long therapy that weaned him off prednisone and enabled him to return to work. On June 12, 2012, he was treated and released from a hospital after collapsing from hypoglycemia at a New York Friars' Club event. This latest health news forced him to cancel a show in Sydney.[43]

Charity work and partnership with MDA[edit]

Throughout his prolific career as an entertainer, Lewis became a world-renowned humanitarian and has supported fundraising for research into muscular dystrophy. Until 2011, he served as national chairman and spokesman of the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) (formerly, the Muscular Dystrophy Associations of America).[44] Lewis began hosting telethons to benefit the company from 1952 to 1959, then every Labor Day weekend from 1966 to 2010, he hosted the live annual Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon raising over $2.6 billion for the cause in donations, during a nearly half-a-century run.[45]

On August 3, 2011, it was announced that Lewis would no longer host telethons[46] and is no longer associated with the Muscular Dystrophy Association.[47] On May 1, 2015, MDA announced that in view of "the new realities of television viewing and philanthropic giving", the telethon was being discontinued.[48] In early 2016, Lewis made a online video statement for the organization on its website, in honor of its rebranding, marking his first appearance and comeback in support of the Muscular Dystrophy Association since his final Labor Day Telethon, seven years ago.

Other ventures[edit]

In 1969, Lewis agreed to lend his name to "Jerry Lewis Cinemas", offered by National Cinema Corporation as a franchise business opportunity for those interested in theatrical movie exhibition. Jerry Lewis Cinemas stated that their theaters could be operated by a staff of as few as two with the aid of automation and support provided by the franchiser in booking films and in other aspects of film exhibition. A forerunner of the smaller rooms typical of later multi-screen complexes, a Jerry Lewis Cinema was billed in franchising ads as a "mini-theatre" with a seating capacity of between 200 and 350. In addition to Lewis's name, each Jerry Lewis Cinema bore a sign with a cartoon logo of Lewis in profile.[49]

Initially 158 territories were franchised, with a buy-in fee of $10,000 or $15,000 depending on the territory, for what was called an "individual exhibitor". For $50,000, the Jerry Lewis Cinemas offered an opportunity known as an "area directorship", in which investors controlled franchising opportunities in a territory as well as their own cinemas.[50] The success of the chain was hampered by a policy of only booking second-run, family-friendly films. Eventually the policy was changed, and the Jerry Lewis Cinemas were allowed to show more competitive films, but after a decade the chain failed. Both Lewis and National Cinema Corp. declared bankruptcy in 1980.[51]

Filmography[edit]

Further information: Jerry Lewis filmography

Awards and other honors[edit]

Lewis' motion picture star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6821 Hollywood Blvd

Bibliography[edit]

Documentary[edit]

References[edit]

Notes
  1. ^ "World Over – 2015-12-17 – Jerry Lewis Exclusive with Raymond Arroyo". Jerry refers to himself as 'Joseph Levitch'
  2. ^ "Jerry Lewis". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved June 26, 2010. 
  3. ^ "Jerry Lewis Film Reference bio". Filmreference.com. Retrieved 2011-10-23. 
  4. ^ "The Official Jerry Lewis Comedy Museum and Store". Jerrylewiscomedy.com. Retrieved 2011-10-23. 
  5. ^ "Jerry Lewis on Dean Martin: 'A Love Story'". NPR. October 25, 2005. Retrieved 2009-06-16.  (online excerpt from book, with link to Fresh Air radio show interview of Lewis by Terry Gross)
  6. ^ In Person, p. 11
  7. ^ In Person, p. 12
  8. ^ "Jerry Lewis... The Last American Clown" on YouTube 90-minute documentary, 1996, narrated by Alan King
  9. ^ In Person, p. 85
  10. ^ a b Lewis, Jerry (2006). Dean and Me. Three Rivers Press. ISBN 978-0767920872. 
  11. ^ Clark, Mike (October 25, 2005). "'Dean & Me' really is a love story". usatoday.com. Retrieved January 15, 2013. 
  12. ^ "1976 MDA Telethon – Jerry Lewis, Frank Sinatra & Dean Martin Reunite". 
  13. ^ Lewis, Jerry; Kaplan, James (October 23, 2005). "'We Had That X Factor' (Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis)". Parade. Retrieved 2008-11-07. 
  14. ^ Lewis, Jerry. Jolsonville, quotes by Lewis
  15. ^ Krutnik, Frank (2000). Inventing Jerry Lewis. Smithsonian Institution Press. p. 105. ISBN 978-1560983699. 
  16. ^ Jerry Lewis: TV Guide Biography
  17. ^ Joseph McBride (1997). Steven Spielberg – A Biography. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 168. ISBN 978-1604738360. 
  18. ^ "Hellzapoppin 1976 revival, closed on the road before reaching Broadway". Broadwayworld.com. Retrieved 2011-10-23. 
  19. ^ Vincent Canby (March 13, 1995). "Theater Review: Damn Yankees; Finally, Jerry Lewis Is on Broadway". The New York Times. 
  20. ^ "Jerry Lewis in Top French Honour". BBC News. March 16, 2006. Retrieved 2008-05-14. 
  21. ^ Cecil Adams (October 1, 1999). "Do the French really love Jerry Lewis?". The Straight Dope. Retrieved May 4, 2015. 
  22. ^ a b Poirier, Agnes C. (May 19, 2013). "Le Grand Jerry Lewis". The New York Times. Retrieved May 21, 2013. 
  23. ^ McNary, Dave (May 15, 2009). "Jerry Lewis To Star In 'Max Rose'". Variety. Retrieved 2009-06-15. 
  24. ^ "Max Rose (2010)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved May 4, 2015. 
  25. ^ Jones, Kenneth. "Producers of Nutty Professor Hope to Earn Broadway Tenure for New Marvin Hamlisch-Rupert Holmes Show", Playbill, August 17, 2012, accessed August 19, 2013
  26. ^ Ng, David (August 2, 2012). "Jerry Lewis' 'Nutty Professor' musical opens in Nashville". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 18, 2013. 
  27. ^ In Person, p. 106
  28. ^ In Person, p. 104
  29. ^ a b "Who is Jerry Lewis". Digilander.libero.it. Retrieved 2011-10-23. 
  30. ^ "Jerry Lewis". CBS News. Retrieved May 4, 2015. 
  31. ^ In Person, p. 128
  32. ^ Pore-Lee-Dunn Productions (July 31, 1946). "Gary Lewis and the Playboys". Classicbands.com. Retrieved 2011-10-23. 
  33. ^ "Portrait of Jerry and Patti Lewis with Son". corbisimages.com. April 12, 1956. Retrieved January 9, 2012. 
  34. ^ "Joseph Lewis". contactmusic.com. January 7, 2010. Retrieved January 13, 2010. 
  35. ^ a b c d Clark, Mike (August 29, 2002). "Jerry Lewis Tells It Like It Is – And Was". USA Today. Retrieved March 6, 2009. 
  36. ^ a b c d "A Moment With ... Jerry Lewis, Comedian/Entertainer/Philanthrophist". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. April 10, 2003. Retrieved March 7, 2009. 
  37. ^ a b "Jerry's Story". Medtronic.com. May 17, 2011. Retrieved 2011-10-23. 
  38. ^ "A&E Profiles The Manic Genius of Jerry Lewis". Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. August 22, 1996. Retrieved March 16, 2015. 
  39. ^ "The Astounding B Monster | Cult". Bmonster.com. Retrieved 2011-10-23. 
  40. ^ Sciretta, Peter (June 14, 2006). "Jerry Lewis Suffers Heart Attack". /Film. Retrieved 2009-06-15. 
  41. ^ Price, Jenna (June 11, 2000). "Jerry Lewis Calls The Shots Now That He's Paid His Bill". The Canberra Times. 
  42. ^ Henkel, John (December 1994). "Prostate Cancer: New Tests Create Treatment Dilemmas". FDA Consumer (BNET). Retrieved 2009-06-16. 
  43. ^ Kenneally, Tim (June 13, 2012). "Jerry Lewis Rushed to Hospital After Friars Club Collapse (Report)". Chicago Tribune. Reuters. Retrieved June 13, 2012. 
  44. ^ "Jerry Lewis no longer MDA's national chairman". MSNBC. August 4, 2011. 
  45. ^ "Jerry Lewis wows ACTU crowd". ABC News. June 24, 2011. 
  46. ^ Brian Stelter (August 4, 2011). "Jerry Lewis Dropped From Labor Day Telethon". The New York Times. Retrieved May 3, 2015. 
  47. ^ "Jerry Lewis Screwed Again by MDA: They're Using His Old Clips With A List Stars to Promote Themselves". Showbiz411. July 27, 2014. Retrieved 2014-08-23. 
  48. ^ "Telethon that Jerry Lewis memorably ran pulls plug". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Associated Press. May 1, 2015. Retrieved 2015-05-04. 
  49. ^ Connelly, Sherilyn. "Bad Ideas from the 1970s: Jerry Lewis Cinema Franchises Were a Nutty Disaster". SF Weekly. Retrieved October 19, 2011. 
  50. ^ "Join Jerry Lewis (advt.)". Life. December 31, 1971. p. 75. Retrieved 2011-10-23. 
  51. ^ ccrouch. "Fantasy & Failure With Jerry Lewis Cinemas". Cinelog.org. Retrieved October 19, 2011. 
  52. ^ a b c d e f g h "Jerry Lewis Awards and Nominations". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved May 4, 2015. 
  53. ^ "National Winners | public service awards". Jefferson Awards.org. Retrieved 2014-08-23. 
  54. ^ "10 of the Top Male Comics With Their Own Show". I Am Entertainment. September–October 2013. p. 20 url=http://issuu.com/iamentertainment/docs/vol4iss24. 
  55. ^ "Goldene Kamera 2005: Ehrenpreis Jerry Lewis, Hörzu" (in German). Retrieved October 11, 2012. 
  56. ^ "Veteran Actor Jerry Lewis To Receive Humanitarian Award at Oscars],". Xinhua News Agency. February 23, 2009. Retrieved May 4, 2015. 
  57. ^ "Honorary Member of the Order of Australia (AM)" (PDF). Special Honours Lists. Governor-General of Australia. Retrieved January 2, 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]