"I've had great success being a total idiot."

Happy Birthday, Jerry Lewis!

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Jerry Lewis (born March 16, 1926) is an American comedian, actor and singer. Lewis grew to fame in comedy duo Lewis and Martin, where Dean Martin performed the straight man to Lewis's slapstick humor. The two would perform together in clubs, on the radio, on live television and in many films. After the duo went their separate ways, Lewis continued to star in films and eventually directed them too. Later in his life, Lewis taught directing classes at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles where his students included Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Lewis has numerous awards and two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He is best known for his roles in The Bellboy (1960), Cinderfella (1960), The Nutty Professor (1963) and The King of Comedy (1983).

JerryLewis2Joseph Levitch was born in Newark, New Jersey to Jewish parents. His father was also an entertainer and his mother played piano on the radio. Lewis started performing on-stage alongside his parents at venues in the Catskill Mountains, New York. When he was a teenager, he developed his comedy routine of miming and exaggerating lyrics that played from a phonograph. He began using Jerry Lewis as his stage name and for a brief time wanted to join the military, but was denied due to health reasons.

"I have some very personal feelings about politics, but I don't get into it because I do comedy already."

 

 

 

Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin first met in 1945. They began to perform together at nightclubs starting the following year. After a few unsuccessful written acts, they decided to throw away their material and improvise. Suddenly, their true personalities and comedic chemistry came out. Their style consisted mostly of slapstick and broad, vaudeville humor. The audience loved them, and the pair were hired to perform at nightclubs across the East Coast. Before they knew it, the duo was earning $30,000 a week at New York's Copacabana. They said that the secret to their routines was to ignore the watchful eye of the audience and just have fun together.

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Martin and Lewis

Martin and Lewis's first live television debut was in 1948 on Toast of the Town with Ed Sullivan. They also hosted The Colgate Comedy Hour several times. The two starred on some other television shows before making a move into film in 1949. They were signed with Paramount Studios and starred in My Friend Irma (1949), My Friend Irma Goes West (1950), At War with the Army (1950) and Hollywood or Bust (1956). They starred in over fifteen Paramount films together and by the end, were a well-established comedy team who drove every production.

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Martin and Lewis on Colgate Comedy Hour Ep. 21

"I really am opinionated, but not for long. I have found myself coming off of what I think of something because the guy I'm talking to makes better sense than I am. I have so many points of view, I can't keep track of 'em, because I talk to too many people."

The Errand Boy Pantomime

By the end of the 1950s, Lewis and Martin's relationship was dwindling as Lewis got more attention and larger parts. Their partnership officially ended in 1956 and Lewis continued his career in film, now solo. DC Comics published a series called The Adventures of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis (later: The Adventures of Jerry Lewis) from 1952 until 1971. The stories would feature the comedians in funny scenarios where they later met other superheros and characters from the DC Comics world. The comic books inspired Filmation Cartoons to start an animated series called Will the Real Jerry Lewis Please Sit Down. The show was full of caricatures, stereotypes and had a laugh-track.

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Lewis as a typewriter in Who's Minding the Store?

In 1957, Lewis appeared alone in The Delicate Delinquent. The film was directed by Warner Bros' Frank Tashlin, who lent the film a Looney Tunes-esque humor and sensibility. Lewis tried his hand at singing and his first song Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody became a chart hit. Lewis's album Jerry Lewis Just Sings came out at the end of the decade. By this time, Lewis felt hindered by the man who had produced all his films, Hal B. Wallis. Their contract together ended in 1960.

JerryLewis5In 1960, Lewis starred in comedy Cinderfella which was followed shortly by The Bellboy. The latter film was shot in a Miami hotel on a very tight budget and deadline. Lewis would perform in said hotel in the evenings and after Paramount decided not to fund the feature, Lewis decided to direct himself. Lewis acquired and taught himself how to use cameras, close circuit television and video assist. This allowed him to have full control of his own work and finish films very quickly and cheaply. Over the next few years, Lewis appeared in, directed and even co-wrote The Ladies Man (1961), The Errand Boy (1961), The Patsy (1964) and The Nutty Professor (1963).

"From 1936 on, I have taken more falls than any other 20 comedians put together. From the time I was 21, I've taken them on everything from clay courts to cement to wood floors, coming off pianos, going out a two-story window, landing on Dean, falling into the rough."

 

The Nutty Professor Trailer

In 1963, Lewis moved into television with several short-lived attempts at his own show. ABC's The Jerry Lewis Show ran on Saturday nights in the autumn of 1963 but failed to find its audience. Lewis was given a variety show on NBC which ran from 1967-69. By this time, Lewis was in his 40s and no longer the dappy comedian who had the relentless energy and youthful vigor of his early days. Lewis moved to Los Angeles where he taught directing classes. He was especially impressed by the film Amblin', directed by his student Steven Spielberg.

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Buddy Rich and Jerry Lewis - Drum Solo Battle

JerryLewis7Lewis made a film called The Day the Clown Cried in 1972, about a Nazi concentration camp, but decided not to release it. It wouldn't be until the early 1980s that Lewis would reappear on the silver screen in films Hardly Working (1981) and Scorsese's The King of Comedy (1983). Lewis then worked on some stage musicals and on Broadway. When Dean Martin's son died in a plane crash, Lewis appeared at the funeral. The two performers reunited for a show in Las Vegas, 1989, joking "Why we broke up, I'll never know." After Martin's death in 1995, Lewis wrote and published a memoir entitled Dean and Me: A Love Story.

Lewis continues to appear in small film roles and television cameos to this day. He lives in Las Vegas and suffers from a range of health issues that have never seemed to keep him down entirely. Lewis also served as national chairman of the Muscular Dystrophy Association for many years. In 2006, the French Minister of Culture awarded Lewis the "Légion d'honneur", and called him the "French people's favorite clown." Lewis has six sons and one adopted daughter and his life was documented in film Martin and Lewis (2002).

The Last American Clown, Full Documentary

"I don't want to be remembered. I want the nice words when I can hear them."

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Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Sunday, 16 March 2014
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