Jerry Lewis, comedian, actor, writer, director, producer, singer, & humanitarian, turns 90
The Nutty Professor, Errand Boy, Bellboy, Ladies' Man, Geisha Boy, and CinderFella is now a nonagenarian
Okay, let's get the myth out of the way first. The cliche that only the French love Jerry Lewis.
Charlie Chaplin wasn't French. Neither was Stan Laurel, Whoopi Goldberg, Richard Pryor or Noel Coward...
or Quentin Tarantino:
or Martin Scorsese...
To all of them, Jerry Lewis was and is a genius.
There's another misconception, too; that the critics have always hated Jerry Lewis.
Not always. Exhibit A from 1950:
"For all its madness, there is method in the Lewis artistry. If he mugs outrageously and takes stage falls with an elementary aplomb, his antics are seasoned by a real sense of the comic and a rare appreciation of the non sequitur." --Jack Gould, The New York Times, 9/18/1950
Sixty-five years later, here's Exhibit B:
Lewis is an artistic genius of visual and scenographic inventiveness, comic fury, technical originality, and philosophical perspective; but he’s also a furious, reckless, regressive, id-plumbing revealer of the depths of his character by way of demands on his body. And this full-spectrum artistic commitment - from the ideal to the carnal, from the sophisticated to the crude, from the pursuit of an artistic conception to the force and price of personal drive and desire - is his crucial connection to, and inspiration of, the new world of young filmmakers. -- Richard Brody, The New Yorker 10/8/15
Make no mistake. Jerry Lewis has made the world cringe almost as much as he's made it laugh.
And he knows it. As Lewis told Craig Wolff in the New York Times in 1993 (and yes, that's him talking about himself in the third person):
"Ever notice when you're with someone opposed to Jerry, they're livid about it. They're equal in their emotional dislike as the fan who's fanatically crazy about him. There's no middle with Jerry. The reason is Jerry has either been terrific or awful. He's never been adequate."
The terrific includes being one half of the most successful comedy team in show business history, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.
As host of the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon from 1966 to 2010, he raised a total of $2.1 billion for MDA.
In film-making, he introduced the video assist, the TV camera attached to a movie camera that allows a director to view a shot as it's being shot. (Before Jerry's invention, directors had to rely on their camera operator's opinion of a take). Nearly every movie and filmed TV show today continues to use the video assist.
As for the awful, the disasters of Jerry Lewis are legendary. His 1963 Jerry Lewis Show on ABC is considered one of the worst series in television history. His 1972 film, "The Day The Clown Cried", has never seen the light of day. In 1977, his attempt at a Broadway musical, Hellzapoppin closed out of town in Boston and made headlines when the show's producer sued Jerry for failure to rehearse and won a settlement.
New York Magazine
He has survived heart attacks, prostate cancer, a chronic lung infection, and a spinal injury that left him addicted to Percodan for 13 years. His youngest son, Joseph committed suicide in 2009.
Despite all that, despite turning 90, Jerry Lewis says, "I'm still 9 years old inside."
9 OR 90, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JERRY!
LifePosts celebrates Jerry's 90th birthday with a voyage through his life and career - the good, the terrific and the awful - on our Timeline.
Jerry Lewis Birthday, LifeTimeline
There's plenty of clips on the Timeline from TV and the movies, including rare behind the scenes footage (you can even see Dean & Jerry onstage in 1954 at the New York's legendary Copacabana), but for anyone who wants to binge further on Jerry, here's a list of his 10 best movies with Dean Martin:
Top 10 Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis Comedies
And a list of Jerry's 10 best flying solo:
Top 10 Jerry Lewis Comedy Movies (The Films Without Dean Martin)
But before going back in time, take a recent look at Jerry from the Hollywood Reporter that captures the birthday boy in all his Jerryness:
At Home With Jerry Lewis as He Opens Up About Son's Death, Skirmishes With Fans
And here he is with Jimmy Fallon on the Tonight Show:
Last, but not least, here's Jerry in the Las Vegas Sun reflecting on turning 90:
Jerry Lewis at 90: 'It's a monster number'