Archive | August, 2017

So long Jerry Lewis and thank you for all the laughs by Michael Limon

21 Aug

A true comic genius and one of my childhood heroes has passed away.  Jerry Lewis, died at his home in Las Vegas on Sunday morning, August 20, 2017, at 9:15 a.m. He was 91. I was so disappointed with several local news stations in Los Angeles who chose to focus on  gathering protestors instead of paying tribute to this great man.  I decided to do something about this and to  write this brief biography on his life. It is for both those of us who grew up watching him as well as other younger readers who may have only heard of the man. You may find something here that you didn’t know about the man.

Jerry Lewis was a man of many talents, but mosty a comedian who wanted to make people laugh, and boy, did he!  You see Jerry explained the laughter himself on so many occasions and to many interviewers. They would ask him why he chose to act so zany. His answer was very simple and one that I and many other people could relate to. He spoke of being a nine-year old boy trapped in an adult body. Jerry chose to remain nine which allowed him to get away with many of the crazy antics that he did. He told those who chose to listen of a need that he had to make people laugh. It was something that he never truly understood but he just knew that he had to do it. Jerry truly enjoyed the sounds of people laughing. He knew this when he was just sixteen and started out with just a song on a record player to which he would mime the lyrics of a song.  It was the laughter that he had in mind one night in 1946 where he was performing in the Atlantic City’s 500 nightclub when owner Skinny D’Amato needed a replacement singer for the regular club  singer who was unavailable. Jerry suggested a man whom he has just met a year ago in 1945, Dean Martin. Their first show was not well received and after being threatened by the club owner (he would toss them in the East river with cement shoes)  Jerry quickly borrowed bits from his successful father Danny Lewis’s nightclub act. He quickly wrote a few skits down on the brown paper wrapper that his deli sandwich had been delivered in. He explained to Dean what he wanted him to do, and the rest they would just ad-lib. According to Jerry, the duo did so well that their act went of for 2 hours and 20 minutes.  This began a ten-year highly sought after and very lucrative nightclub act. They were the highest paid act in show business at that time.  In six weeks, they went from making $175 a week to six thousand a week. Month later they were paid twenty- thousand per show at the Capital Theatre. When they ended their ten year run, they had $250 million in contracts according to Jerry.  Their act was very different from other comedy acts at the time due to them relying on their interaction and not any planned skits. While Martin would sing, Jerry dressed as a busboy, would come in and suddenly drop plates on stage. Jerry would do his best to interrupt Dean as he tried to finish his song. The two men would chase each other on stage with Jerry picking up props and making up jokes on the spot.  The audience convulsed with laughter.  I wasn’t even born yet, but I would love to listen to my mother, who was in her teens, tell me how hot these two men were and how everybody wanted to see them perform. She never got the chance to see their nightclub act, but she heard them on the radio. From 1949 to 1953, the starred on “The Martin and Lewis” radio program. They also made several television  guess appearances which led to NBC giving them their own TV show, “The Martin and Lewis Show” in 1949. Also that year, they began making several films for Paramount starting with “My Friend Irma.” Sadly, the duo broke up after a ten-year nightclub run to the day and on July 24 1946, they gave their last live performance in the Copacabana Room on the East coast.  In 2005, Jerry wrote a book, “Dean and Me: A Love Story,”  in which he credits Dean with being the best straight man around, and for being the real star of the show while his monkey partner joked around at his expense. He wrote about loving Dean who was closer than a brother and how much he missed Dean when he died in 2005.

Lewis_and_Martin

 

Jerry went on to direct and write some very successful movies including my personal favorite, The Nutty Professor.  He has a ten million, seven-year movie contact with Paramount Studies earning 60 percent of the film’s gross profits.  During the making of the film The Bellboy, director Jerry Lewis used a “video assist” method by using a video camera and a monitor which enabled him to see exactly what the camera just shot. This method is still widely used in Hollywood today. Jerry Lewis spent a lot of his time hosting telethons for the Muscular Dystrophy Association which was very dear to him. It has been reported that he helped to raise 2.6 billion dollars over the years until 2010, when the MDA reported that he would not longer be their national chairman or host their telethons any longer.

Jerry Lewis was plagued by many illnesses, which included two heart attacks, diabetes, prostrate cancer, double bypass heart surgery, and he suffered from severe back pain from all the pratfalls that he took during his years with Dean Martin. He became addicted to the painkiller Percodan for thirteen years. Eventually, he would have an neurostimulator surgically implanted in his back to relieve his pain.

Jerry Lewis is survived by his second wife SanDee, five sons Gary, Ronnie (adopted) , Scott, Christopher, and Anthony and his adopted (1992) daughter Danielle, who after having six sons,  “changed my life forever.”   His youngest son Joseph Lewis  passed away in 2009 from a drug overdose. and his daughter Danielle whom he adopted in 1992.

Actor, director, writer, philanthropist, Jerry Lewis has contributed much to his profession over the years but the voice of that nine-year old boy who wanted to make people laugh is no longer with us. Thank you Jerry Lewis for everything you did, but mostly, for making all of us laugh when we needed it the most.

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