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1963_10_12--083_SP Search for Jerry Lewis

Jerry's wife runs a 31-room mansion, but saves trading stamps. l~riring the shooting of "The Nutty Professor," Jerry carried a vaudeville slapstick. The prop was used by director Lewis as a mock threat against performers who goofed. 84 But whatever he may think, he does drift back and forth between him and me, not only in his actions but in his language. "Maybe I'm incapable of handling the things that have happened to me," he will say, "but even as a kid I was always fascinated by the Robin Hood concept. I love the poor guy who's always getting beaten up. All the poor soul wants in this world is to be let alone. But the bastards got us all feeling guilty, and we let them get away with it because we're not equipped to fight back. So I butt in and I'm in all kinds of trouble for helping this guy, and he doesn't even know it. But I like myself for it and I like the rat I stepped on." The man talking this way recently signed a five-year, $35 million contract with ABC, for a weekly two-hour television show. It was the biggest TV deal ever made. He will personally clear four million dollars a year of that sum for himself, which will bring his annual income to around $12 million. He lives in L. B. Mayer's old $350,000, 31-room home in Bel Air, the nearest thing in Movieland to an ancestral manse. In Hollywood Lewis may not be a sovereign stateyet— but he is most certainly an independent principality. Television or movies, Jerry Lewis insists upon running his own show. He has a partnership of sorts with Paramount which calls for him to make two pictures a year, one for his own company, which Paramount distributes, and one for the studio. He has always had complete autonomy on his own pictures, and starting with his latest, Who's Minding the Store ?, he has autonomy on Paramount's. The studio puts up the money and has been told to keep its mouth shut. The first thing he did after signing the television contract was to buy the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, change its name to the Jerry Lewis Theatre and completely refurbish it for his new TV show. The cost came to almost a million dollars, and Jerry put up every cent. "If you borrow money," he says characteristically, "the bank is your partner, and if you have a partner you can't call the shots. I like to make my own mistakes." Jerry is able to call his shots on TV because his record shows he has never failed to outrank his competition. It is usually said that all Jerry Lewis pictures have made money too, but Barney Balaban, president of Paramount, enters a mild demurrer. "Two of them did not necessarily show a profit," he says, "Cinder- Fella and The Ladies' Man." That, it might be pointed out, leaves 27 that did. The paradox here—and Lewis is a maze of paradoxes—is that the product Jerry is riding shotgun on does not really seem to be that remarkable. At this stage of his career, American critics notice him only to deplore him. A typical review of a Lewis movie goes, "Jerry Lewis puts on a one-man show . . . writing, directing, producing and effectively botching the works." TV Guide once called him "an unfunny Milton Berle," which is clearly carrying the art of critical insult to previously unheard-of heights. The admiration is mutual. "When it comes to critics," he says, "I discount the term people altogether. A critic will go to the theater and allow himself the luxury of enjoying himself, and then he'll go sit at the typewriter and write that he can't understand why the 5.000 people in the theater were guffawing. Because when he sits at that typewriter he is not a man anymore; he is playing his role as a critic. But the critics are not being dishonest. I have a great compassion for them, because that's a rough way to earn a living." And then, as frequently happens at the end of a long "philosophical" passage, the 37-year-old man suddenly disappears and Jerry Lewis takes on his own role. The surprisingly solid, good-looking features shift into that familiar caricature—the elongated chin and puckered lips—and in that cackling, street-urchin voice, he says, "But I still think it's bull!" There are some critics of Jerry Lewis who contend that he had a chance, at the beginning, to be the great American comedian of his time, this generation's Chaplin, and that he threw it away on The Kid character because he found it was the easy way to the sure buck. Lewis disagrees that he has thrown it away, and denies that his motives are monetary. "Money can't really give you anywhere near the comfort of being embraced by a mob," says Lewis, "a mob waiting to touch you and hug you. That embrace is far more warm than a deposit at the bank." Let it be said that Lewis does have the applause, and he bathes in it daily. "All my life I wanted to be a movie star; and now that I am, why shouldn't I enjoy?" he says. "But the trouble with living in Hollywood is that I'll get all dressed up and walk down to Beverly Drive to let them look on the big Jewish movie star, and some guy runs up, grabs me by the collar, and says, 'Hey, Mac, you know who just walked by? Cary Grant!'" So when he wants to be a movie star, Jerry hops a plane to New York and strolls up and down Broadway, signing autographs and doing street bits. "And the women just want to take me in their arms and hug me and burp me," he says, "and the guys yell out of their cars, 'Jerry, rest. Why do you work so hard?' Yeah, I like the little guy better. I've never been able to get the best table at Sardi's, but I'm kingpin at the Automat." Charlie movie star On the rare occasions when he finds it necessary to throw a party, he and his wife Patti play a game which they call "Joe and Esther in Bel Air." (He was born Joseph Levitch and she Esther Calonico.) The only rule to the game is that each of the players must put the other in proper perspective every time they pass. "Charlie Movie-Star," she will whisper. "Big shot, huh? I remember you when you were playing Newark for sixty dollars a week." "Hey, will you look who's living in Bel Air these days," he will say. "A rich Jewish movie star's wife." Patti, the daughter of a Wyoming miner, was singing with the Jimmy Dorsey orchestra, under the name of Patti Palmer, when they met. Jerry was 18 when they were married and she was a couple of years older. They now have five boys, ranging in age from 18 to 4. Another child is expected soon, and Jerry's slogan, repeated hourly, is Think Pink. Mrs. Lewis, a youthful-looking woman despite her graying hair, is such an easy, pleasant person that when you meet her, you somehow picture her ironing clothes in the kitchen. It amuses Jerry that his wife lives in a mansion and saves trading stamps. "If there's a sale at Ohrbach's," he says, with delight, "she'll get up at six in the morning to be first in line."


1963_10_12--083_SP Search for Jerry Lewis
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