Joe E. Lewis

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Joe E. Lewis
Joe E Lewis.jpg
Joseph Klewan

(1902-01-12)January 12, 1902
DiedJune 4, 1971(1971-06-04) (aged 69)
New York City, U.S.
Resting placeCedar Park Cemetery, Emerson, New Jersey
Other namesJoey Lewis
OccupationComedian, actor, singer
Years active1926–1971
(m. 1946; div. 1948)

Joe E. Lewis (January 12, 1902 – June 4, 1971), born Joseph Klewan in New York City, was an American comedian, actor and singer.[1]


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 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 in his 10th floor Commonwealth Hotel room, in November 1927, by three enforcers sent by McGurn. The enforcers, who included Sam Giancana and Leonard "Needles" Gianola, mutilated Lewis (his throat and tongue were cut) and left him for dead.[2] It took him several years to be able to speak again.

Capone, who was fond of Lewis, was displeased with the assault, but would not take action against one of his top lieutenants. He instead provided Lewis with $10,000 (equal to $148,985 today) to recover properly and eventually resume his career.[3][4]

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 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. The title references a well-known part of his act, holding up a drink on stage and saying “Post time!”. This is a horse racing term, meaning the race is about to start; its use here implies that the drinker is about to start on a long binge. 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."[5]


Lewis died of a heart attack in 1971, aged 69, and was buried in Cedar Park Cemetery, Emerson, New Jersey.[6]

Portrayal in film[edit]



  1. ^ Obituary Variety, June 9, 1971, page 54.
  2. ^ Nesteroff, Kliph (2015). The Comedians. New York: Grove Press. pp. 54–5. ISBN 978-0-8021-2398-5.
  3. ^ Weird Chicago: Legend Of The Green Mill Archived February 9, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ "More Old Jewish Comedians". Playbackstl. Archived from the original on May 2, 2008. Retrieved April 12, 2008. 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.
  5. ^ "It Is Now Post Time," Joe E. Lewis, Reprise Records, 1961; "Sinatra At The Sands", Reprise Records, 1966.
  6. ^ "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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