So here it is now, a year later, lightly re-written and updated.
|In the beginning was Jerome Levitch|
of Newark, New Jersey.
I totally understand. In fact, I agree. I once spent a good 30 minutes on the phone with a friend as we watched, in horror, an HBO special taped in Las Vegas starring Jerry Lewis and Sammy Davis, Jr., another entertainer who didn't always understand the concept of "cool it for a second, will ya?" Much of what we saw was singularly, astonishingly appalling.
And I liked the guy. So much so that seeing Jerry in the Broadway revival of Damn Yankees 20 years ago is still a highlight -- make that the highlight -- of my theatergoing experience. And getting his autograph afterwards? I'm still shaking.
Maybe you have to be a guy from my generation to understand. And even if you are, you likely never cared for him. Again, I get it.
|As far as the French were concerned,|
it was Qui est Dean Martin?
And the Netherlands. In fact, Jerry won eight "Best Director" awards throughout Europe, where he also appeared in movies and TV specials that never aired in the U.S.
The critical acclaim heaped upon him on the Continent must confound American critics -- or, to be
|Yes, that Jerry Lewis.|
So it shouldn't be surprising that tributes poured in by the monkey-barrelful from the baby-boom generation of comedians. You'd expect them from Gilbert Gottfried and Jim Carrey. But what of Margaret Cho and Richard Belzer? Or, for that matter, Samuel L. Jackson, Cher, Penn Jillette and Mark Hamill? What do they see that American cineastes don't? Plenty.
|Even the world of adhesives was influenced.|
Again, that may come as a shock, even to me. Last year, TCM ran a 24-hour Jerry Lewis film festival. I watched the first and final movies he directed, The Bellboy (1960) and Smorgasbord (1983). Over the course of nearly a quarter-century, he appeared to have made absolutely no "progress" in the art of directing.
Of course, you can say the same thing about Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel, and, yes, Woody Allen, because their particular style works best for comedy: long takes, unfussy editing, no close-ups. In fact, it wasn't until I saw Midnight in Paris that I realized just how much Woody was influenced by Lewis. Jerry himself could have directed it, and it would have looked pretty much the same.
And yet, all anybody wanted to ask him about was working with Dean
|I'd say there was some truth here.|
While I always enjoy watching Martin & Lewis' television appearances, I confess never to have made it through even their more critically-acclaimed movies like Artists and Models or Hollywood or Bust. They always seem constrained by their scripts, whereas they could run wild on live TV.
|"Solid"-- as in "constipated".|
I still remember the hype surrounding the debut in 1963 of his Saturday night, live, two hour talk show -- perhaps still the biggest disaster in the history of television, show business, and mankind. His five year "iron-clad" contract with ABC was melted down in 13 weeks.
But this is the same guy who invented the video assist, which revolutionized the way directors made movies. Who, in his last 30 years, made a major switch in careers as a dramatic actor, winning acclaim in movies and TV shows like King of Comedy, Wise Guy, the way-underrated Funny Bones, and his final starring role in Max Rose. The guy who Woody Allen said was the greatest comedy director in movies. The same Jerry acclaimed as a genius across Europe.
|"Admit it -- you're gonna miss me!"|
I've heard from people with first-hand experience that plenty of actors and directors with stellar public reputations are, in reality, incredibly difficult, egomaniacal, condescending SOBs. It's to Jerry Lewis' credit that he always gave you the real deal, whether you liked it or not.