Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Jerry's live 1963 TV show — with amazing guest star Muhammad Ali

Even a Jerry Lewis fan can still be surprised. I discovered that when I finally saw a kinescope of one of the episodes of his ill-fated 1963 live TV experiment called, appropriately enough, The Jerry Lewis Show. Much has been said about the show, but only when you've seen it can you judge how much of a massive indulgence it really was. The biographies of Jerry note that he demanded full artistic control of the show from ABC, as well as a central Saturday primetime slot and that it be aired live from a theater to be constructed especially for the program (later renamed the "Hollywood Palace," it is of course the source of one of Dean's nastiest bon mots, the opening line from the first Hollywood Palace ep he hosted, wherein he thanked "Jerry, for building this lovely theater for me").

The program was taken off the air by ABC in a few weeks, as the ratings were dismal — Jerry never conquered TV after the Martin & Lewis teaming, even in the early Sixties when his films were riding high at the box office. However, we do have a record of this amazing (I have to use the word again, it's the only fitting one) indulgence. Here is another episode that someone has posted in its entirety on YouTube. I often mention the "old" and "new" being mingled on '60s variety series, you can't get any more hardcore than a guy who starts off his program with an up-tempo version of "When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bobbin' Along." (Jerry has never shed his utter devotion to Jolie):

And here is the moment when Jerry interviews (as the show was turned into a talk show somewhere in its short run) young dynamo Cassius Clay. Two big mouths tangle, and Jer does get "tough" with the mighty Ali, but both he and Phil Foster (not yet using the "YouthHair"!) are only teasin'. Having just finished the tough, grim, and beautifully written Nick Tosches bio The Devil and Sonny Liston, I found it interesting to hear Ali's remarks about the "big ugly bear." (He also likens Liston to a monkey, remarks that must've been enjoyed by some members of the audience who were not, let us say, sympathetic to the African-American cause):

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