Joe E. Lewis
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|Joe E. Lewis|
Lewis in 1969
January 12, 1902
New York City, New York
|Died||June 4, 1971
New York City, New York
|Cause of death||Heart Attack|
|Resting place||Cedar Park Cemetery, Emerson, New Jersey|
|Other names||Joey Lewis|
|Home town||New York City, New York|
|Spouse(s)||Martha Stewart (1946-1948; divorced)|
In Chicago in 1927, Lewis refused the request of Jack "Machine Gun" McGurn (an Al Capone lieutenant) to renew a contract that would have bound him to sing and perform at the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge, which was partly owned by Al Capone. After refusing, because he had been offered more money by a rival gang to appear at their own club, "The New Rendezvous," he was assaulted by three enforcers sent by McGurn in November 1927 in his 10th floor Commonwealth Hotel room. The enforcers, who included Sam Giancana and Leonard Gianola, mutilated Lewis (his throat and tongue were cut) and left for dead. It took him a few years to learn to speak again. Capone, who was fond of Lewis, was displeased with the assault, but was not about to take action against one of his top lieutenants. He proceeded to provide Lewis with $10,000 to allow him to recover properly and eventually resume his career.
Lewis toured in the USO shows with Ray Bolger in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Joe appeared in the movies Too Many Husbands (the 1931 short comedy), Private Number (1936), The Holy Terror (1937), Private Buckaroo (1942), and (playing himself) Lady in Cement (1968). He appeared frequently on The Ed Sullivan Show, was the "Mystery Guest" three different times on What's My Line, and was interviewed on Person to Person in 1956. In 1946 he married actress Martha Stewart; they divorced in 1948. Random House published Lewis's biography The Joker Is Wild written by Art Cohn in 1955.
Lewis and Frank Sinatra had a longtime friendship predating Sinatra's portrayal of the comedian in the film The Joker is Wild. In 1961 Sinatra signed Lewis to record for his label, Reprise Records. The result, It Is Now Post Time, is one of the first LPs released by Reprise, and one of the few recorded examples of Lewis at work as a stand-up comedian. On his live album Sinatra at the Sands (1966), Sinatra says that even though he recently celebrated his 50th birthday, he would have the body of a 22-year-old man "if I hadn't spent all those years drinking with Joe E. Lewis."
Portrayal in film
- The Big Show (1926) - Abie
- Private Number (1936) - Smiley Watson
- The Holy Terror (1937) - Pelican Beek
- Private Buckaroo (1942) - Lancelot Pringle McBiff
- Lady in Cement (1968) - Himself (uncredited, Final appearance)
- Obituary Variety, June 9, 1971, page 54.
- Nesteroff, Kliph (2015). The Comedians. New York: Grove Press. pp. 54–5. ISBN 978-0-8021-2398-5.
- Joe E. Lewis - IMDB Biography
- Weird Chicago: Legend Of The Green Mill
- "More Old Jewish Comedians". Playbackstl. Retrieved 2008-04-12.
Early in his career, Lewis was assaulted by one of Al Capone's thugs for declining an offer to perform at Chicago's Green Mill club, a Capone hideaway. He was beaten so badly it took him several years to learn to speak again. Despite the life changing incident, Lewis remained friendly with many of the Outfit's associates.
- "It Is Now Post Time," Joe E. Lewis, Reprise Records, 1961; "Sinatra At The Sands", Reprise Records, 1966.
- "Sometimes the Grave Is a Fine and Public Place". New York Times. March 28, 2004.
Cedar Park Cemetery in Paramus [sic] tends toward performers. Martin Balsam, who won both a Tony and an Oscar, was buried there in 1996. Joe E. Lewis, the comic whose rough life was portrayed by Frank Sinatra in the 1957 movie, The Joker Is Wild, is nearby. (As are two illustrious nonperformers, the Nobel Prize writer Isaac Bashevis Singer and the poet Delmore Schwartz.)
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