Saturday, November 28, 2009
Many people don't care for the comedy of Jerry Lewis, but just to think of him with a drinking glass stuck in his piehole makes me guffaw like Bristol Palin at an Abstinence Rally. And as his birthday approaches (3/16/26, as if you didn't know, but do you want to wait to plan this at the last minute?!) it is altogether fitting and proper to pay homage to the comic genius known to the few kids who would play with him on the playgrounds of Newark, NJ as Joseph Levitch. I said "homage" because that's the French word for cheese, right? How dumb would it be to pay "fromage" to the man idolized for having so much Gaul?
Jerry's parents were in vaudeville; his father called himself Danny Lewis and he was to climb the ladder of success to but middling fame, if that, in his career. But he elevated himself to top-rung status in the field of picking on his son. (After Jerry really hit the big time, he bought his father a Cadillac, only to hear the bitter old man say,"What? You couldn't afford a convertible?") Thanks to this constant humiliation from Danny, we have been left to deal with Jerry's need to "make us laugh, make us laugh" for many years. Jerry was doing pantomime to popular records in the mid-40s when he was noticed by a young singer from Steubenville, Ohio, named Dino Crocetti. Crocetti later changed his name to Dean Crocetti, but still never became famous. Just kidding! Jeesh! He changed his name to Dean Martin and took a liking to Jerry, whose last name fit perfectly with the dream they both shared of being a comedian named Martin N. Lewis.
The "N" stands for not funny, you're saying. Bear with me. Martin and Lewis were the zaniest of the post-war zany comedians, a group that included Abbott and Costello, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, and Richie Nixon. They were all over the place in a partnership that lasted exactly ten years, until July 25, 1956, when Martin stormed out, claiming that "Jerry had begun acting silly of late."
Dean Martin later became a respected college administrator, and Jerry Lewis went on to star in movie after movie. The very picture of a modern egomaniac, he's known for referring to himself in the 3rd person so often that a movie was written about that trait. Who can forget Joseph Cotten, as Jerry, in "The Third Man"?