The French love him, I love him and those in his own country love to hate him. Many people consider him a relic of the past. Out of touch, with a big mouth and by today’s standards somewhat politically incorrect. I say give the guy a break. There are far more idiotic people in the entertainment industry and across this world that deserve to be ridiculed and criticised. This week, Jerry Lewis celebrates his 88th birthday, but I will always remember him as that skinny kid, one half of the greatest comedy teams of all time.
Jerry Lewis with Dean Martin featured heavily on my television screen on a Saturday afternoon growing up. Their antics on film made me laugh as a kid until my sides burst. For ten years from 1946 to 1956, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, bedazzled fans, firstly in America and later around the world. Then one day, it all came to an end. What happened ? Where did it all go so wrong, after years of being so right ? For years the two maestros would not comment on their split nor consider a reunion. In time, through this blog we will rediscover the joy that they gave millions and uncover a few of the commonly held reasons for their break up.
On 22nd July 1956 Jerry Lewis appeared on ‘What’s My Line’ to promote Martin and Lewis’ next to last motion picture release ‘Pardners’. The anguish on his face at losing his best friend and partner is evident in the clip I have linked below. He is asked by a panel of four people (blindfolded) a series of questions, so they can ascertain who’s the special guest. Jerry is usually almost always accompanied by Dean in promoting their pictures, however Dean through spite, anger or resentment had stopped promoting with Jerry towards the end of their professional career, leaving Jerry to appear on ‘What’s My Line” alone. 1956 was a horrible year for the two of them and a long drawn out ‘death’ would come 3 days after the ‘What’s My Line’ show at the Copacabana in Manhattan, New York.
During the show, Jerry is asked “Do you work alone ?”. Through loud cheers and laughter, Jerry’s angst is evident as he answers “No.” Unfortunately, Jerry knew deep down that this wasn’t going to be true anymore. The next question may as well have been delivered with a loaded gun to his heart “Are you about to work alone ?” If there was ever a moment that you wished that you could disappear, it was probably then for Jerry as he answers “Yes”. With the panel sensing who their special guest was, he is finally asked “Are you the funniest one of the two ?” Jerry doesn’t know how to answer the question and the host (moderator) next to him answers the question on his behalf. I don’t think I have ever heard or read Jerry say a bad thing about Dean. Jerry seems to have this amazing affection for Dean even towards the bitter end that we, as an audience may never truly appreciate or understand. Jerry would later add once the panel guessed who he was that “The reason why I was doubtful in answering because Dean’s pretty funny…”
And so the end of a beautiful partnership drew to a close in July 1956. Most people had hoped (back then) that it wasn’t true, which was most evident when the host spoke on the behalf of the panel and audience by saying that “…we have got to hope that Pardners as a picture title means that you and Dean aren’t really gonna break up and that you will stay together..”
Please join me next time as I retell the Martin and Lewis story from the beginning. Enjoy!
Not in my family growing up. His comedy was a staple. Sure it’s old now but he never needed to drop the F bomb to get a laugh. He is also the long standing face of raising funds for MD. His annual telethon was one of the highlights of end of summer. I loved his movies with or without Dean
I couldn’t unsee his movie “Hardly Working.” No Jerry Lewis for me.
Most of his films in the very late 60’s onwards including “Hardly Working’ are duds. Even he (I) admits that. Only standouts post 1960’s are King of Comedy and Funny Bones. Again, he isn’t everyones cup of tea, but he is hailed as firstly a comic genius by his peers and an innovative director (whose methods and techniques were studied in film school which included the likes of Steven Spielberg.)
Jerry Lewis will always be the Nutty Professor for me.
Mr. Horvat, what a most wonderful essay on the most wonderful duo in all of entertainment history Especially appreciates your tender and touching comments on Jerry’s solo appearance on “What’s My Line.” Appreciation for Jerry grew hugely upon reading his bio of their relationship, “Dean And Me: A Love Story.” Know that your reflections are being shared this day at ilovedinomartin. Looking forward to more of your prose on Martin and Lewis.
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Nice article. I thought he was great in King of Comedy
Thanks David. As you can tell I am a big Jerry Lewis fan ! Hope to retell their story when I get the chance. By the way, stay tuned I have something coming soon on Humphrey Bogart.