Sunday, September 3, 2017

“Mean Jerry”: the underside of Deceased Artiste Jerry Lewis

“I live in a selfish, selfless kind of a cocoon. You cannot get by in this world, apparently, if you are a courageous, honest crusader and/or stand-up, straight-ahead man who will not take shit. I’ll sit in the corner and let you pound me if I’ve got it coming. If I don’t have it coming, you’d better know what you’re doing, because you are tangling with a goddamn son of a bitch.” — Jerry Lewis [Levy, p. 433]

I really did think Jerry Lewis would make it to 100 and appear on stage telling everyone to go fuck themselves. That would've been just like Jerry, who spent a good deal of his time being creative but also celebrated that creativity at great length and got easily angry at the people who worshipped him.

First, a word about my own feelings about the man and his comedy. I loved his stuff as a kid (as we all did) and then rediscovered him in the early Eighties, when he was making the talk-show rounds and doing desperate jokes (I mean really desperate — blacking out his teeth, making odd mouth noises, putting the drinking glass in his mouth, the “big lighter” bit, that sort of thing). 

My friends in college and I began our own little “cult” for Jerry that celebrated both his very funny years (the Fifties and early Sixties) and the desperately unfunny comic performer he had become.

So, I will declare it for the record, since even people who've seen some of the 23 episodes I've done about Jerry on the Funhouse TV show (the 24th aired this weekend) and read any of the 30 blog entries I've done about him here, think I dislike him entirely. Here it is… wait for it: I find Jerry Lewis funny! Yes, I said he was funny, actually funny and very imaginative.

The caveat to that? I am speaking of Jerry between the years of '48-'66, when he had structures for his completely anarchic, pretty much ridiculously non-narrative comedy. The films he made as part of the Martin and Lewis team are mostly awful — with the two Tashlins and a few others (The Caddy, Living It Up) being very enjoyable (if you're uncertain as to where to start with Jerry, you can't go wrong with Artists and Models). 

But their TV appearances, when not acting out a goofy sketch, are absolutely wonderful — there was something about that team that still can delight. Jerry called it “the union of a handsome man and a monkey.”

Tashlin and Jerry
From '56 to '66 the solo Jerry still has amazing moments. His work with Frank Tashlin, six solo films in all, are all wonderful, with Tashlin achieving something Jerry could never achieve himself: making the Jerry “kid” character charming. That is not to say that the films directed by Jerry aren't worth seeing — the first half-dozen (well, really, the first five) are a lot of rambunctious fun. 

The Nutty Professor is the only one that works at all in a straightforward narrative sense, but the initial films Jerry made are both very funny and wonderfully imaginative. Yes, his directorial style had many, many elements taken from Tashlin, but when he was working at the top of his form, Director Jerry made some very funny, wonderfully shot and edited, movies.

Now you know it: I am a fan of Jerry Lewis's work. That said, I should note that I coined (in the late '80s) the phrase “happy pain” (TM) to describe watching the worst of Jerry's films: the ones where he stretches jokes for endless amounts of time, didn't bother with a linear script, and basically seems like he's just either making it up on the spot or didn't properly rehearse or storyboard whatever the fuck is happening onscreen.

I also greatly enjoy Jerry's dual public persona: the perpetually nine-year-old “kid” who took great joy in making noises, dancing around, making goofy faces, and basically disrupting things in a very deliberate way; and his alter-ego, the greasy-haired sharpster who insulted anyone he encountered (even if they loved him and expressed that love — those people, especially!). A curt, rude, boorish, nasty bastard whose act had breaks where he could harass the band (meant to be funny and “ironic” but seemingly coming from a very real place) and doing humor that was unapologetically prehistoric.

There was a “man you loved to hate” vibe that emanated from Jerry. I've met many people who were diehard Jerry fans who excused all of his bad personal behavior, but I've also met many who either took that as part of the bargain (“he's a crazy comedian who is just a nasty guy offstage”) or who, like myself, took some delight in just how mean Jerry could be.

In recent years I've met a third category, people who met him and whom he was nice to — I can only assume that this is the Lou Reed Situation: if you met him at the right minute and/or he thought you were worthy of his attention, he could be a sweetheart. Otherwise, you bothered him by merely existing in his airspace. It's a fascinating archetype: the performer who *must* have an audience, who will die without an audience, but who does not want to interact with that audience (paging Bobby Zim) — if he must interact with them, he will tell them how little they mean to him, how they're wasting his time.

I saw this in person three of the four times I saw Jerry onstage. When he appeared on Broadway in Damn Yankees, there was no interaction possible — it was a set Broadway show that offered no Q&As or shtick with the audience. That said, it also included a small chunk of Jerry's nightclub act that was awkwardly shoehorned into the production.

The other three times, though — I will never forget them. In the first instance, he was doing his full act, during the “Jerry Lewis Unlimited Tour” in 1994. I saw him at Queens College and was flabbergasted at what his act really was. (I shouldn't have been, having watched him on the Telethon for so many years, but I thought surely someone had written him something new!)

Jerry showed film clips, told anecdotes, did some tap-dancing, did the “cane bit,” conducted the band, did shtick with the audience, sang (off-key, as always), and told jokes. Lots of them. Very bad, very old jokes. And often racist jokes – racist jokes of the type that little kids tell in the playground or sandbox. To wit, “How do Chinese people pick their names? They hold a silver platter and throw spoons up in the air. When they land — “'ching chong ding dong!!!' ”

Here are bits of that stage act, including a pathetic Mexican joke:

Jerry made no jokes about African-Americans or Italian-Americans (although the latter group was dying to made fun of). His Jewish jokes were always kind-hearted, Yiddish-accented, tales of the sort that Myron Cohen used to tell. But there were plenty of “Polack” jokes that afternoon. “Polack walks into a 7-11. He asks the clerk, ‘How many cups of coffee can you fit in this thermos?’ The clerk says, ‘Six.’ And so the Polack says, ‘Great. Give me two black, two with milk, and two decaf.’ ”

(Jerry would then lean over to an old lady in the front row and do a mock-explanation of the joke. “You see – they would all be mixed together in the thermos...”)

It was stunning, hearing him do this material — not because I found it offensive. (I'm the least-offended person there can be; I think that everything can be made fun of — just be funny while doing it!) It was because the jokes just plainly sucked and were eons old. 

Jerry got one up on all of us, though: he did his full Jolson medley, something he did to reflect his roots in old show-biz and to honor his only-nominally talented dad Danny Lewis, a Z-grade Jolson-inspired singer and showman. (Danny treated Jerry like crap over the years, which definitely set up Jerry's Freudian “I'll conquer the world!” view of things.)

I saw some lovely things at Queens College, but nothing as memorable as this lovely moment at Brooklyn College on the same tour. Since I put this clip up (shot by a friend's assistant), the battle has raged — is the kid doing the impression being an asshole, or is Jerry? Suffice it to say both parties are responsible for some assholery, but it’s stunning how fast Jerry whips the mic out of the kid's hand and realizes that he's going to make fun of “Telethon Jerry.” Always a no-no, unless you were Joe Piscopo or Martin Short, with whom Jerry later appeared to show his magnanimity.

The next two times I saw Jerry live he was doing his “motivational speaker” thing. This mostly consisted of him doing a very long Q&A session, punctuated by many of his adages that were either super-simplistic (“Why not be nice? Being nice is good — it's good to be nice!”) or so convoluted and oddly phrased they would make James Joyce's head spin. (Jerry's grasp of the English language was bizarre — the longer his sentences were, the less sense they made, and the more earnest he got.)

What was most surprising about these engagements was how many dick jokes Jerry made — the first of the two events was held at a temple, so that was a little odd (but everyone laughed) — and how the audience came there to be insulted by Jerry. They were waiting on line to ask him questions, knowing that he'd most likely insult them and that, for them, was like a benediction. (Friend John Mariano described the atmosphere at the temple gig as being “a combination of an Aimee Semple McPherson tent rally and Todd Browning's Freaks.”)

So many people were insulted, in such lackluster ways. For Jerry was not Rickles — he wasn't a good insult comedian, he mostly just verbally abused the person, and entire crowd cheered his abuse as if it was his whole act (which, at these events, it was). For instance, one French woman asked a question, assuming Jerry would make fun of her accent. He didn't – which seemed to disappoint her. But when she turned her back to sit down, Jerry made a gesture with his hands to indicate she had very large breasts — thus making the audience bust a gut. She seemed curious as to what he did, but she couldn't turn around in enough time to catch her much-hoped-for moment of humiliation.

So, was Jerry a forerunner of punk-rock frontmen? Yes and no. The punk guys were definitely inspired by the pro-wrestling “heel” character — they wanted to be hated and set about addressing the audience as one person, a moronic person. They praised themselves and made the crowd hate them. Don Rickles was the master of this situation, and had a bunch of lines to combat any show of dissension from the audience.

Jerry was always on the offense, but there was nothing “strategic” about his insults — unlike the wrestlers or punk rockers, Jerry just arbitrarily insulted people, and because of the audience's love of his “kid” character, they laughed at him doing it, instead of booing and hissing him (while still loving him, as crowds always do heel wrestlers – and aged punk rockers).

Jerry was aware of the interest he held for punk rockers. He talks about it here at 26:12 in an interview with David Letterman. Punk rockers learned a lot not only from Jerry Lewis the nightclub comic, but also from his character Buddy Love. A punk-turned-power-pop band named themselves after the character, and Buddy's heelish charms certainly were a model of creepy ugliness for a generation of frontmen who enjoyed insulting their audience.

Jerry was a punk performer when he started out with Dean Martin. His job was to screw up Dean's songs — something that was initially welcomed by Dean but became a major annoyance for him as their partnership continued. The duo did anarchic, crazy-ass humor that was fast and energetic. The jokes were already prehistoric (Jerry loved to cite the classic “Did you take a bath today?” “Why, is one missing?” groaner), but the pair were so charismatic that they sold them to an appreciative audience.

Dean was the straight man, an ego in a tux, while Jerry was an id springing around the stage (a Harpo without the surreal gags and musical talent). As such, he liked to freak out older performers — he reportedly told Milton Berle from the stage of a Miami nightclub, “You're an old man, Berle — you're all washed up!” [Arthur Marx, Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime (Especially Himself), Hawthorn Books, 1974, p. 276]

He also put Bing Crosby on edge, as Der Bingle was sure that crazy Jer was going to grab his toupee:

Interestingly enough, Jer never outgrew this adolescent silliness. At 1:25 here, he mocks Tony Bennett, while Bennett is unaware anything is going on (the satellite was broadcasting him to Jerry's studio, but he was not hearing or seeing Jer). This little performance by Jerry ensured that Bennett — who at this time (1992) was undergoing a renaissance and cultivating an MTV audience — never returned to the Telethon.

Jerry had his rockin' moments, in films like Tashlin's Rock-a-bye Baby and his own The Patsy. Here he is doing his thing on the Telethon, at 4:30:

At other points, Jerry's familiarity with the drug scene (thanks to his own addictions to Percodan and cocaine) led him to rockin' rants about how he wanted money for his kids so much he'd take money contributed by drug dealers.

But the story that makes Jerry sound the most like a rock/drug casualty (a Borscht Belt Keith Moon) is this beauty from the biography King of Comedy by Shawn Levy (St. Martin’s Press, 1997):

In March 1973 Jerry did a two-week engagement with another King of Mean, Milton Berle, at the Deauville Hotel in Miami. The Jewish seniors who came to see the show disliked Jerry’s “energy,” according to the Levy book. He finally flipped out in a Keith Moon/Jim Morrison-like hotel-room-smashing manner:

“Some days later, in his hotel room with this assistant, Bob Harvey, he launched into a drunken tirade. ‘Miami sucks!’ he shouted. ‘The people here know from nothing. Nothing do they know. They know ‘shit’ and they know ‘fuck,’ and anything else is out of their league. If you don’t open with ‘fuck,’ you bomb. ‘Hickory dickory dock, the mouse ran up the clock: Fuck him, let him stay there.’ Then you’re a hit.’

“He slammed a wine bottle against a wall: I christen this hotel ‘Motherfucker’! Pull out the pilings, you sons of bitches!’ And then he bruised himself setting an ashtray, a toilet bowl, and a tiled bathroom floor on fire with lighter fluid. ‘Burn! Burn, you motherfucker! Burn down the fucking hotel! Burn down the whole fucking town!’ ” [p. 383]

Was the “Mean Jerry” persona just an act, Jerry taking his angst out onstage? Sadly, no. A bunch of things have been written about his supposedly “idyllic” life with his first wife Patti and six sons, but the real story came out for good when his son Joe wrote a tell-all article for the National Enquirer in 1989.

The article isn’t retrievable online, but the gist of it was included in a piece written by Scott Marks that can be found on an evangelist's site on the Wayback Machine site. The article was written in 2010 when Joe was found dead of an overdose at age 45. His older brother Gary went public with his opinion: “Joe had problems his entire life and I blame our father. Jerry Lewis is a mean and evil person. He was never loving and caring toward me or my brothers… (My father) doesn’t really care. He’s more worried about his career and his image than his own family.”

Here is the part of Marks' article (from Jan. 10, 2010) that outlines what was in the Enquirer article:

“— The Lewis family occupied a 32-room Bel Air mansion. Joe told the Enquirer, “The house was huge and posh, but there was no love in it.”

— The Nutty Bathroom: It was Jerry’s fortress of solitude. A ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign warned passersby to steer clear. According to Joe, this was no ordinary comfort station. It came stocked with a color TV, two telephones, two revolvers, a wet bar, refrigerator, bookcase, marijuana, Quaaludes, Nembutal, coke paraphernalia and an intercom system hooked up to each bedroom so Jerry could eavesdrop.

— The Strap: A thick leather belt Jerry used to administer punishment.

— The Rubber Snake: Joe and brother Christopher were roughhousing with a toy snake. The noise bothered Jerry so much that he took the toy and proceeded to whip Christopher with it. He took the snake into his dressing room and proceeded to chop it to shreds with his pocketknife. Once finished, he threw the pieces on their bed and said, 'That will teach you stupid kids.' ”

Other quotes from the article can be found in the Levy book:
"All my life I’ve been asked what it’s like being Jerry Lewis’s kid. And all my life I told the same lie: ‘it’s great, he’s great.’ It wasn’t great. It was pure hell. There were whippings, and he was always yelling. My older brothers got chased around the house and slapped and punched. Even today we’re all afraid of him…. My dad is a mean-spirited, self-centered jerk. Thank God for my mother. She was a saint….

“… There are two sets of Jerry’s kids. Those physically crippled by a dreadful disease and those emotionally crippled by a dreadful father.” [p. 451]

Just in case this all sounds like “recovered memories” from a vengeful son, here is Jerry in the late Sixties on Joan Rivers’ daytime chat show That Show discussing how he believes in corporal punishment for children. He believes in it so much that he describes the special belt he uses to whip his boys:

One of the sources for the most “Mean Jerry” stories is the Arthur Marx biography of Martin and Lewis Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime…. However, as Nick Tosches warned in his immaculately researched Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams (1992), when reading Marx’s book, “Caveat lector.”

However, since the stories in the book are so mouth-wateringly nasty, I have to repeat at least a few, while admitting they are of dubious provenance. Firstly, in the aftermath of a failed lawsuit that found Dean and Jerry trying to retrieve millions of dollars stolen from them by their manager Abby Greshler, Jerry decided he needed to get revenge in another manner, one that didn’t involve a courtroom:

“...Jerry, lest anyone be unaware of his hatred for [manager Abby Greshler], had toilet paper printed with Abby Greshler's picture on every tissue, handed the rolls out to his friends as gifts, and decreed to his wife and children that thereafter no other kind of toilet paper would be used in the Lewis household.” [p. 126]

Marx also offers a few stories about Jerry’s fun in the office. The second story below tallies with the story that appeared years ago, I believe in Spy. That tale involved Jerry attending business meetings with a small valise. He would then “forget” the valise in the meeting room and later reclaim it. After he did this several times, it became obvious to his colleagues that he had an audio recorder in the valise and was recording what was said about him after he left the room.

“One of his tricks was to creep up behind Janie Thompson when she was talking on the phone or working at the typewriter and bind her to her desk with Scotch tape. If he were feeling particularly puckish, he might even tape her lips shut.

“… He liked to bug his office or living room at home and record intimate conversations unbeknownst to the participants. Then he'd play the tapes back to them in front of others, usually to everybody's mutual discomfort.

“Sometimes the items Jerry picked up with a tape recorder were a good deal more than just a private conversation. He went through one phase where he used to bug the Ladies' Room the women in his office used. This was good for a lot of laughs.

“Say a woman excused herself to 'powder her nose,'” as his personal secretary did one afternoon during a story conference that was attended by a number of important people at the studio. When she returned to the conference room, Jerry played back the tape on which he had recorded all her toilet sounds. When the poor woman realized what they were all listening to and laughing at, her face flushed a crimson color, and she nearly fainted from humiliation. She quit the job on the spot.” [pp. 218-19]

The Levy book includes the Jerry-as-Keith-Moon anecdote quoted above, but it also contains a fascinating chronicle of the ways in which Jerry sabotaged Alexander Cohen’s production of Hellzapoppin, which was to have been Jerry’s first appearance in a Broadway show (two decades later he redeemed himself by starring in the revival of Damn Yankees and causing no overt trouble).

I recommend you seek out Levy’s book to read the whole account, but the most eye-opening passages involve the duet that was written into the show, to be performed by Jerry and Lynn Redgrave. Redgrave never had a reputation as a diva or troublemaker, but for whatever reason Jerry loathed her and refused to work with her. The duet, for him, was out of the question, so he made it as difficult as possible to even do a rehearsal of the number:

When forced to rehearse a duet with Redgrave, “… he finally acceded, [with] amazingly ill grace, demanding that the rehearsal be held on Christmas morning and lying flat on the floor of the rehearsal space throughout the number. When he was through upstaging his costar, he stood up, announced of the number, ‘It’s cute, like the second stanza of the national anthem,’ and walked out, refusing to perform it ever again.” [p. 401]

The show never made it to Broadway because of Jerry’s sabotage, but it did play in out-of-town tryouts. One in Boston produced extremely nasty reviews, referring to “his long-since questionable talents” and “black patent leather hair.” One reviewer put it this way: “Shall we say Hellzapoppin needs work? We shall. We must.”

Jerry finally proclaimed that he would do the duet with anyone other than Redgrave. “… according to one published account, he said that all he was willing to do with his costar was ‘take out his cock and piss on her.’ ” [p. 403]

At one matinee, learning that his protégée Jill Choder — whom he had shoehorned into the production (she was an actress he had used on the Telethon in filmed sketches) — was having more of her part removed from the show, he refused to come out during the intermission. “Jerry declared he had a loaded gun in his dressing room.” [p. 403]

Courtesy of the Temple of Schlock blog.
Alexander Cohen lost 1.3 million dollars, sued Jerry for breach of contract, and finally received $39,000 in damages. It wasn’t the amount that mattered — Cohen wanted to humiliate Jerry and he did. It was the first time in Broadway history that a performer had to pay out to a producer for having killed a show.

Jerry became so renowned for his temper that he worked a temper tantrum into his nightclub act. When I saw him in 1994, he got “mad” at the band, threw a mock-tantrum, and then they all walked offstage. So Jerry had conceived of a way where he could play-act what had really been happening up to that point: He could now berate his musicians for screwing up, and they could respond, giving the audience a “bit” to laugh at, while still letting both parties (Jerry and the band) indulge in the same thing that had been going on for some time. (This got particularly strange when he did this shtick on the Telethon, where he was indeed berating the musicians, but also acting out “the bit.”)

Here he is getting cranky with his bandleader:

And telling him off once again. One YT poster has put together a montage of all the times Jerry complained to the band, in each case saying he’d worked with Lou Brown “for 35 years” (over the course of several different Telethons, held in several different years).

The compilation below contains what the poster calls “bloopers” but which could more accurately be called “outbursts.” For the highlights, go to: 6:40 to see Jerry fuck with the pianist; 13:20 to see him making a “green card” joke with a Latino crew member; 14:48 to see him do his famous pidgin Japanese (Sid Caesar he was not); 15:53 to see him telling audience members who are leaving to “Get back in your seats!!!”

In this clip he refers to his crew as “Polish dentists”:

At 2:35 in this clip, he registers a complaint with several crew members about how bad the lighting and video effects are on the show. Here he refers (joshingly, but still…) to one of his “poster children” (an adult, middle-aged woman — even senior citizens were called “my kids” by Jerry) as a “drunken broad”:


Much has been written about Jerry’s interactions with his “kids.” When they were small kids afflicted by the disease, Jerry treated them like precious relics. When they got older he would joke amiably with them. When they questioned the fact that he called them his “kids,” though? THAT really set him off. Here is an interview with Chris Wallace in which Jerry is asked about the group of former “poster children” who called themselves “Jerry Orphans.”

Jerry was able to eloquently defend his use of sympathy to solicit funds to fight MD. What was most injurious, however, was that he had a temper with small children if around them for too long a time (in one Vanity Fair he joked that one child needed a shot of Ritalin as he continued to get on his nerves) and he indeed did feel (as indicated in the interview above) that he should be a “hero” to the people afflicted with MD.

Jerry was of a generation that played loose and easy with epithets. He was never, ever to be found using the n-word, but “fag”? Well, that was another matter entirely. Here he is doing random raucous comedy (if it can be called that) with a barbershop choir. At 2:10 he’s desperate for a quick laugh, so he mouths that one singer is a “fag” and that he “does it” with another singer. Then the inevitable tongue roll Jerry really enjoyed doing:

This particular phrase came up again on the Telethon when Jerry was being chummy with a cameraman. Offhandedly he referred to the guy’s son as a fag, and — well, you can even see him briefly hesitate, as if he knows “there will have to be an apology made for that…” (He did issue an apology, shortly after.)


His feelings about women he never apologized for. One of his more notorious quotes was calling JFK “one of the great cunt men of all time... Except for me."

Jerry thought of himself as a serious playboy (his answer as to how he fell in love with his second wife while married to his first wife was something to the effect that he “didn’t feel” married…). When given a bad review by a woman writer in Montreal, he said, “You can’t accept one individual’s [opinion], particularly if it’s a female, and you know, God willing — I hope for her sake, it’s not the case — but when they get a period it’s really difficult for them to function as normal human beings.” [Levy, p. 444]

Asked by another women reporter about this remark, he answered, “Not with the type of sex drive I have, honey. I have nothing against women. As a matter of fact, there’s something about them that I love, but I just can’t put my finger on it.” [ibid]

Several years later he returned to this particular thought by saying that he didn't like women as comedians. When asked if there were no funny women comedians, he eventually came up with Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett as those he liked (both were/are comic actresses, not comedians). He offered in exchange that women have one blessing that men will never have: they can make babies!

A reporter did a follow-up question on these statements at a press conference:

Jerry in fact had a deep loathing for one woman comic: Joan Rivers. The interesting thing about this exchange of insults is that he claimed they never ever met in person (not true), and she claimed they only met on Jerry's Telethon. Evidently both forgot that he had been a guest on That Show, Joan's daytime talk show, in the late Sixties (see above).

Joan responded to Jerry's remarks in an interview with the great Ron Bennington.

Jerry didn't ever want to retire. He also didn't want to fall out of the news. So he made nasty statements during interviews that he knew would gain some traction as headlines (the Net needs news all the time….):

When Jerry did that interview in which he sideways-advocated for Trump, he also was asked about the then-current Syrian refugee crisis. His answers were classic Mean Jerry, but then again the wonder here is that an interviewer is asking Jerry his opinions about a refugee crisis in the first place!

The “Mean Jerry” legacy was kept intact by the fact that his final on-camera interview was with The Hollywood Reporter on the subject of working after 90. The chat was intended as a simple, straightforward talk, intended to get a sound bite for a “package” about celebs who would never retire.

The story goes that Jerry didn't realize there was a video component to the interview and was surprised to see a video crew enter his office. So he did his best to give the interviewer nothing he can use. Of particular interest is that he bolts up out of his chair in the end (by this time he was traveling via wheelchair – certainly needed given his many different medical conditions, but was it also an “SCTV”/Guy Caballero-like symbol to garner respect?).

Anyway, here's Jerry cringeworthy last talk on the record:

And because you do have to leave 'em laughing (or at least scratching their heads), here's the joke Jerry chose to tell the most in his final years. It's a very old joke – I've heard it on an old comedy album directed at hippies, but it became a joke about “punks” soon enough, and Jerry did his best to keep it alive by telling it several dozen (hundred?) times on nearly every talk show he appeared on in the last decade or so.

Notice that Jerry took on the Myron Cohen intro shtick, in which a particularly silly joke is prefaced by a very sober intro with some “real life” details that are totally made up. Herewith, Jerry greatest wheeze:

Thanks to Steve Korn and Rich Brown for suggestions of videos used in this piece. Also, Anthony Vitamia for an amazing array of Jerry pics to adorn the piece.


Darren Quincy said...


Thank you for your AMAZING post on such a complicated man. I wonder if you would be interested in reading my little essay on the complicated relationship between Dean and Jerry in light of Jerry's passing:

You wrote much more in-depth about how complicated (and at times outright nasty) Jerry Lewis could be. I was too hesitant to do so in this note. Although, I hinted at it.

If you ever find yourself up the Canadian way, I would love to personally invite you to the Dean and Jerry show that I am in that focuses on their complicated relationship. If any of the dates on my website ever work for you:

All the best!

Robert Cook said...

A fascinating column. A friend of mine got a job for a brief period on Lewis's HARDLY WORKING, which was filming in South Florida where my friend was living briefly with his parents after he graduated from college. He said Lewis was simply nuts.

I was in Lewis's presence once at the old B. Dalton's Bookstore on Fifth Avenue, where he was making an afternoon appearance. I barely caught a sight of Lewis as he was surrounded by a tightly-packed throng of older ladies. I gave up trying to see him and I just contented myself with listening to him as I browsed the book aisles.

I liked Lewis as a kid--I was 8 or 9 around the time his DISORDERLY ORDERLY came out, and I liked THE FAMILY JEWELS mainly because I had a crush on the young girl in the movie--but he permanently palled on me by the time I was hitting 10 or 11, and I never liked him again. BOEING BOEING and DON'T RAISE THE BRIDGE, LOWER THE RIVER were simply tedious. I couldn't figure why the people in his movies put up with this asshole, much less why the female leads could fall for such an infantile headcase. (I could still enjoy the few movies of his I had liked when younger: THE NUTTY PROFESSOR, THE PATSY, and YOU'RE NEVER TOO YOUNG--made the year I was born--and I liked ARTISTS AND MODELS when I finally saw it as an adult. Those movies aside, I saw and see nothing about Jerry Lewis I could or can enjoy.)

Unknown said...

Jerry Lewis.... Arrogant bastard!!!

gt46tc said...

Jerry was being treated at a Houston hospital Nettie was his patient advocate. Because of the hospital environment and the presence of oxygen smoking was not allowed. Jerry blew up at Nettie and demanded she get him cigarettes. She did. Jerry then demanded an ashtray. Nettie produced a plastic ashtray. Jerry exploded. How dare she bring him a plastic ashtray? He needed a glass ashtray and proceeded to throw the plastic ashtray hitting Nettie in the head. Not a nice man.