Monday, August 21, 2017

Remembering Jerry Lewis

As I'm sure you are aware, on Sunday, August 20, the world lost a comedy legend. Jerry Lewis passed away at the age of 91. 

Because Lewis and his work was a part of my life, I feel I must take his passing as an opportunity to reflect on the many hours of laughs and entertainment he provided for me over the past 57 years. This post is my tribute to the life of Jerry Lewis.  

Because they are so readily available through the internet, along the way, I will be sharing some of my favorite clips from Jerry Lewis movies. 

The most successful portion of Jerry Lewis' career began just after WWII and continued until I was about 12 years old. I only got to see him in a movie at the theater once. But thanks to the wonder of television I got to enjoy his movies just the same. 

As I was growing up, if Jerry Lewis was on TV it was on at our house. His movies, both those with Dean Martin, and those he starred in alone, were iconic to us.

Back then TV was the only access to old movies so when a Jerry Lewis movie was on it was almost always "must see TV".  

First in his career was the 10 years of success he experienced as part of a team with Dean Martin.   
My favorites Martin & Lewis movies were: Never Too Young, The Stooge, and Living It Up. 

Here's a link to a You Tube clip of my favorite moment from "Never To Young". Lewis plays Wilbur Hoolig a grown man pretending to be a 12 year old boy. He's being chased by both a love struck girl and a villain played by Raymond Burr. He ends up on stage with Dean Martin and the Interstate Choir:
Martin & Lewis: I Like To Hike

Here's a clip from "The Stooge". Lewis plays Ted Rogers who becomes part of Dean Martin's act. Martin & Lewis In "The Stooge"

"Living It Up" is my favorite Martin/Lewis film. Part of the reason is that Janet Leigh is their costar. But the plot is so 1950s that it's very entertaining.   

Lewis plays Homer Flagg a railroad worker from Jackson Hole, New Mexico who, along with his doctor (Martin) pretends that he is terminally ill with radiation poisoning, just to get a free trip to New York. 

Here are a couple of You Tube clips. One shows Lewis' talent as a dancer and the other is a song that is vintage Martin/Lewis. 

Homer Flagg Dances In "Living It Up"

Martin & Lewis In Living It Up

I liked Jerry Lewis' solo performances in: The Geisha Boy, Rock A Bye Baby, and of course the outstanding, Nutty Professor. Not only were those films classic comedies; they also showcased Lewis' range as an actor. 

My mother and sister loved "The Geisha Boy". They cracked up laughing every time they saw it. In this clip, Lewis plays a magician traveling on a plane with his rabbit. The Geisha Boy

"Rock A Bye Baby" is the film that has Lewis singing the song "Rock A Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody". It gave him his only Top 10 pop hit in 1956. But my favorite song from the film is a song that Clayton Pool (Lewis) sings to the triplets left in his care. In this clip, the babies' grandfather joins in with their caretaker. It shows Lewis' ability to effectively be the exact opposite of his typical character. Jerry Lewis/Rock A Bye Baby

The last movie clip I want to share with you is from "The Nutty Professor". 

Julius Goes To The Gym

My cousin Gary, my best friend growing up, loved the Nutty Professor character, Julius Kelp... much that he once impersonated him for a summer camp group picture.  

I've got one final clip I want to share with you from a Jerry Lewis movie. 

In "Who's Minding The Store" Lewis performs my single favorite bit of his career: a pantomime to the Leroy Anderson composition, The Typewriter Song.

While searching through You Tube for the clips you just watched, I discovered that you can also find full length versions of most of Lewis' movies. I plan on going back and watching them myself over the next few weeks. 

Of course, the thing that I will always remember Jerry Lewis for, mostly, is his many years as host of the MDA Labor Day Telethon. 
In 2008, I wrote a blog post all about how much the annual program, which he hosted for 43 years, meant to me and my family. Here's a link to that post:
Jerry Lewis Telethon: A Labor Day Tradition

Jerry Lewis' last significant movie role was in 1982, as Jerry Lanford, a late night talk show host who gets kidnapped, in Martin Scorsese's "King of Comedy." 
A movie that starred Robert Dinero. It was the only time I saw Jerry Lewis on screen in the theater. I really liked the film and it put the name "Rupert Pupkin" forever in my brain. 

Earlier I mentioned Jerry Lewis' biggest pop hit that was included in "Rock A Bye Baby." In the 1980s when I became a fan of the Dr. Demento show on the radio, I discovered another recording by Jerry that was more typical of the zany Lewis style. It was called:
Sunday Driving. Click the link to listen. 

A few years after moving to Kentucky, I read a book by Jerry Lewis called "Dean and Me". It got me interested in seeing more of their performances other than their movies. I bought a 4 DVD set that had a lot of clips from Martin & Lewis hosting the Colgate Comedy Hour on NBC in the 1950s. 

I've included a link to a full episode of this program from November 1950. It's 40 minutes long so you might not want to watch all of it. But if you do you will see that this is a typical example of what Martin & Lewis were like together. 

Also it gives you an idea of what TV was like back in its infancy. Take notice that opening credits list "All In The Family" creator, Norman Lear, as one of the show's writers.  
Colgate Comedy Hour Circa 1950

I also remember a TV show that Lewis did by himself when I was really young. Here's a clip of him singing a song to a puppet, Bobo the clown. It's was his show's theme song and still one I always connect to him.
Jerry Lewis Sings "Smile"

I hadn't seen or heard much from Jerry Lewis since he left his position with the MDA back in 2011. 

A couple of years ago, I also saw a very good biographical documentary on PBS a few years ago. It highlighted Lewis' innovations as a film maker. Occasionally, I would see him do a TV interview.  You could tell by looking at him that his health was declining. 
  My most recent encounter with Jerry Lewis came during my recent tour of the Fabulous Fox Theater in St. Louis. 

In one of the backstage dressing rooms was a mural left by the 1997 national touring company of the revival of the play "Damn Yankees". 
It starred Jerry Lewis. Just to the left of my shoulder in this picture is Lewis' autograph. 

As a fan of his entire career, naturally, I was saddened by the news of Jerry Lewis' death on Sunday. But it also took me back a bit because it was the same day as the 18th anniversary of the day my father died as well. 

I don't remember my dad being a huge Jerry Lewis fan but I do know that he really liked his typerwriter routine. Although I think of and miss my dad a lot on August 20th, watching that clip earlier made me miss him even more. 

I want to conclude this post with one final tribute to Jerry Lewis. It's the You Tube clip from Labor Day 2010. It was the last time Jerry Lewis hosted the MDA telethon. He closed it out with his signature song. The clip is a little long but the part I want you to see is between the 3:04 and 5:07 mark. It was the way he ended the show every year. This time he barely gets through it. 
Jerry Lewis: You'll Never Walk Alone

Thank You Jerry Lewis for all you have meant to me, my family, and friends. You were one of a kind. Your legacy will always be the hours and hours of laughs and entertainment you've left behind for us all. 

No comments: