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Friday, August 17, 2018

The Martin and Lewis History Is Now Complete

Side By Side by Michael Hayde Is The Last Word On Dean and Jerry

Suppose you had to come back in a next life and be half of a comedy team with Jerry Lewis. For ten years. I said Jerry Lewis. We've read about him and know all the more how heroic Dean Martin was to bear it. I don't dislike Lewis, never a fan it's true, was more so for Martin, and still am. My guess is that most anyone could have gotten along with Dean, provided they didn't try getting too close to him. Not so with Jerry. Imagine him ceding any part of the stage to anyone but Martin, whom he loved like a big brother who would never love him back. Theirs was the supreme tragic bromance of 20th century comedy. Martin and Lewis play more serious than funny for me. Maybe I should never have read previous books about their rancor, then split, then further rancor that dogged both to an end. Or maybe I should have waited until Michael Hayde came out with his new book, Side By Side, which tells the saga better than anyone before. Hayde zeroes in on the split, the aftermath, reunions beyond the headline-maker one in 1976, more lore on M&L than has ever been gathered. His coverage of Colgate comedy days and early TV, plus radio, put you square amidst (live) action, where anything could happen, rules were routinely broken, and Dean/Jerry made their legend. It wasn't film that would define these two, features but pink tea beside radical work they did in clubs, on tubes, and before microphones. Pity I wasn't around, or old enough, to see the two at highest gear, but Hayde put me near to them as I could get short of being there. 

Had Eugene O' Neill done a play about a comedy team, Martin and Lewis would have been ready-made subjects. I don't laugh at their late features for speculating how icy both were when directors (or take-over Jerry) yelled cut. Post-split years were a yo-yo of Jerry up, Dean down, then the reverse. Dean won the 60's race after Jerry dominated the late 50's, then Jerry lived twenty years longer and worked all the way to a checkered flag, but whose legacy will sustain best? Martin is the more appealing screen presence for many, music he performed the equal of anyone's. Also I would have liked to meet Dean, while loathe (or would have been afraid) to know Jerry. Is it fair to put personal bias above humor they left behind as a team? And yet, we can't help it. Drama of the whole is stronger than sum of the comedy parts. I saw a video of Dean where he's talking to young guys preparing an interview, and asks, "Have you ever seen any Martin and Lewis movies? They're terrible!" Dean was  ambivalent, it seems, about the whole M&L thing, and that must have driven Jerry nuts. One was intensely serious, the other didn't appear to care a hang. Jerry revered Dean, while Dean regarded Jerry as mere means to a paycheck, and said so to his partner's face. Whatever cruelties Lewis did (many), you'd not wish this on him. Off screen Martin and Lewis were the epic clash of inward and outward, never the twain to peacefully meet. I'm frankly surprised they lasted ten years together. Side By Side explains how, and compels, and how, from first page to last. It is a showbiz reading must.


Blogger DBenson said...

How many films were built around the idea of Martin meanly taking advantage of worshipful idiot Lewis, only slowly returning his respect and friendship? The innocent clown and exploitive straight man was hardly exclusive to M&L (Abbott and Costello the most prominent example), but the sentimental bromance seems to be their own. Stan and Ollie were always a close pair, but once the pants were on Phillip the relationship was anchored from the first frame of every film. There was never a plot built around Stan seeking an uncaring Ollie's approval.

The running theme was Martin becoming a better man because of Lewis. One wonders if it was all scriptwriter invention or Jerry imposing a personal fantasy.

"The Stooge" explicitly presents Dean as worthless without (unwitting) comic genius Jerry; while that plot was already a bit threadbare by the time they used it the implied mirror of real life couldn't be ignored. Did Martin have anything to say when that story was pitched?

4:45 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

For all Jerry's "love" for Dean, I wonder if it ever rankled to be asked about his years with Dean during every interview til the end of his life. Like you, have never been able to sit through any of their movies, but their TV work floors me every time. Has anybody with that kind of nervy, bold, unrepentant energy appeared since?

5:26 PM  
Blogger Tommie Hicks said...

I was too young to see M&L in theaters. I saw M&L's films on TV and I wasn't much enamored though I enjoyed Jerry's slapstick interludes.
Around '83 someone gave me a VHS of M&L on the Colgate Comedy Hour. When I received it I thought to myself I can tape over this cassette later. During a blizzard I popped the tape in so I could hoot at M&L. Wow was I wrong. I have never seen a greater difference in a show business act in my life. In front of a live audience these guys were gold. I was laughing out loud at this tape. I was amazed to see Dean Martin as one of the best straight men I had seen. He knew when to let Jerry go and when to reel him back in. They had an amazing connectivity with a live audience.

8:58 PM  
Blogger coolcatdaddy said...

A real revelation to me was seeing an early 1960s "Tonight Show" kinescope guest hosted by Jerry.

I don't think I've ever spent a more excruciating 90 minutes with a performer. The entire show is Jerry taking over everything, spending most of the show on his "memorization" act. He tries to make a joke of the commercials and even tries to upstage the "Tonight Show" band during the station breaks, doing impromptu slapstick as they play. When they finally get around to a couple of guests, Jerry just can't shut up.

It's very revealing about the essence of who Jerry was - he has to be the center of attention, all Jerry, all the time. He can't just stand back and let someone else share or have a spotlight. Dean might have been the only person on the planet that had a strong enough will to make Jerry back off and it even exhausted him.

4:53 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

I wasn’t around to experience Martin and Lewis firsthand, but what I do recall was my amazement, knowing them first solo, at the discovery that they could have ever been a team! “How could that have worked?” I thought, it was like I had found out that Frank Sinatra and Pinky Lee had been a team in the amount of sense it made. Then, of course I saw the films, and later the kinescopes, and the main thing that always stood out was just how important Dean Martin was to making that work, he was the real anchor that kept some sort of solid structure to Lewis’s “hey, look at me Ma!”(or audience) antics. Think not? Ever see Jerry Lewis perform live solo? Jerry Lewis’s schtick really only works with some sort of partner, otherwise it was just a weird guy with his hair slicked back in an Armani suit and rolex warch ruining the microphone by putting it in his mouth.

And as far as the films go, the irony is that they get better at the end when they weren’t speaking to each other, I’ll take ARTISTS AND MODELS, PARDNERS, and HOLLYWOOD OR BUST over any of the military pics, or SCARED STIFF (even with George Marshall retreading them though THE GHOST BREAKERS, all it shows is how good the Bob Hope version (possibly Bob’s best film) really is, and somewhere by the last third, I’m ready to drop a 16-ton weight on Lewis if I hear him cry “LARRRRRRRY” one more time). The auteurists can shout “Frank Tashlin” all they want, but it’s more than that (and Norman Z. McLeod does just fine on the western spoof), I think it is more that Lewis holds himself more in check when he perhaps realized that his partner had had enough of him. The whole thing that stops Jerry Lewis from being a genius to anyone but the French is that little word and character trait called “discipline”. Whenever later on Lewis managed to exhibit even a smidgen of it, one got THE NUTTY PROFESSOR, or THE KING OF COMEDY, the rest of the time, one just misses Dean, who brought any discipline to the team that it ever had, as well as the ability to be quick-witted enough to deal with, react, and even top what Jerry threw at him.


6:27 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Michael's new book is on my radar for a near future read. I've read every book about Dean or Jerry or Dean and Jerry. I did grow up with their movies and loved them, sure, some better than others. When we played Hollywood or Bust at our drive-in theatre in 1956, my mother told me they weren't going to make any more movies together. I cried. I was six.

I stayed with Jerry's solos and Dean faded away since he wasn't making "kids" movies. But when The Family Jewels rolled around, I was done with Jer features and gravitated back to Dean. I was a young teen by that time and felt I was too old for Jerry, Elvis or Disney films.

Sure, Jer was a Jerk, but he has always fascinated me like no other show biz guy. And to this day, I idolize Dino. So 52 years after their split. I remain a Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis fan.

Hey, they ruled the roost in every facet of show biz for ten years. Not many have done that.


6:56 AM  
Blogger Jeff Hitz said...

The funniest 3 minutes of Dean & Jerry ever on tape ---

Jerry Lewis & Dean Martin Bloopers & Out-takes from "The Caddy" Radio Promotion (NSFW)

8:23 AM  
Blogger Neely OHara said...

Acting opposite that late, great Lynn Redgrave, I was concerned about a bit of business I'd been given by the director. "If I cross on that line," I said to her, "I'm afraid I might upstage you."

Without missing a beat she replied, "You can't scare me -- I worked with Jerry Lewis."

She later told me that all through rehearsals for HELLZAPOPPIN'! they were best buddies, the two couples dining together every night and becoming fast friends. Then, in the first out of town preview, she got laughs in places Lewis hadn't expected her to. "He never spoke to me offstage again," she reported.

She also told me something about show business that I've never forgotten. "Of all the people I've worked with, the ones who were total sh*ts were also absolutely terrified," a generous and productive way of looking at the sh*ts in this business, one which I have tried to adopt ever since.

10:40 AM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Greenbriar's readers might be interested in John's remarks about Jerry Lewis directing THE LADIES' MAN (in paragraph 3 of):

7:55 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I too, like Mike find Jerry fascinating. He is at the crossroads of so much of mid 20th century show business mythology. He and Dean are at the forefront of the rise of the post war Night Club/Las Vegas era. Dean and Jerry were really like comedy rock stars. Nothing had preceded that kind of popularity.
It could be said that Jerry, along with Sid Caesar introduces Borscht Belt comedy to mainstream America. And then it could also be said that Jerry, along with Blake Edwards are the last of a certain tradition of cinema comedy directors, that Mel Brooks and Woody Allen are not part of, that starts in the silent era. The thought of Lewis directing someone else is like Chaplin or Keaton directing others. One More Time proves this.
The career spans the Borscht Belt, strip joints, fancy night clubs, large venues, radio, movies, records, and television. And though he lives to be over 90, his career is pretty much over before he's 40. It's almost as if the show biz Gods flipped a switch in 1965. I know that John has written before about his break and lawsuit with Paramount in 1965. Is this part of it? I've researched Cleveland newspapers of the era, and like Elvis, the Lewis Paramount pictures are continuously playing at drive-ins and matinees until 1970 and then both disappear. Was the increasing dependence on painkillers a part of it? Norman Lear who was a writer claims that Jerry stopped learning, maybe that was it? I've always found it interesting that Mel Brooks (also an ex-writer) is the exact same age as Jerry and doesn't hit his stride until the early 1970s, five years after you can't give Jerry away.
Even today, Mel is considered comedy royalty whereas Jerry was considered a cranky has-been, particularly the last 15 year of his life.
I know that Jerry was an impossible interview because one couldn't guess which Jerry would show up, but it's too bad that the decline was never addressed. It would have been very beyond difficult to approach the career decline (50 years ago) with someone who even at the end thought he was relevant. In a weird way, I find that admirable, like a fighter who still thinks he's got it. There's no denying the talent and I do agree that the television work with Dean is the best way to understand the phenomenon. Those shows are still funny. Whether one hates him or loves, like Mickey Rooney, Show Biz will never see the likes of him again.

1:55 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon shares some choice Jerry Lewis anecdotes:

Hi John,

Another persuasive plug for a book, here ("Side by Side".)

Funny to admit that I was introduced quite late to Martin and Lewis via prints of a couple of their films that were paired for a "kiddie matinee" I recall seeing as a boy, pre-adolescent at that. As far as I can recall they were "Living It Up", and "Hollywood or Bust". Too bad they didn't choose or rent "Artists and Models", as anything directed by Frank Tashlin has an oddball appeal. Lewis certainly seems to have copied him as much as possible whether admitting it to himself or not, especially his tendency toward surrealism which appears even in the Looney Tunes he directed. The double-feature was, as you say, tedious. I tend to side with Dean's quoted (in your piece) opinion! The M&L pictures ARE terrible. Dean is never being used to his best advantage, and Lewis is primarily awful. That said, I've seen some of those old Colgate Comedy Hour kinescopes, and I have to admit that some of them are really funny. Lewis goes way off the rails--off script, off color (practically), off his rocker--and the results are mixed but generally way funnier than any of their feature films I've seen. And their reputation is for just this kind of freewheeling, improvisational stuff in their live act. And of course the problem there is in the name: their LIVE act. It was virtually live on early TV and those shows survive in compromised form (as all kinescopes are pretty terrible looking by today's immaculate standards.)

Just wanted to say two things, both reflecting upon Jerry Lewis. One is that I read in a book about composer Randy Newman that his dad, who was a physician...well, first, a brief background about that, that's also amusing. His dad's name was Irving Newman. He was one of the several younger brothers of nearly paternal oldest brother and Hollywood legend, pianist/executive/composer/conductor Alfred Newman, the man who could truly do it all. You still hear Newman's music if only his Fox logo signature tune, even on Fox News! (Which I avoid like the plague.) As you know, of course. And Randy told his biographer in the case of his dad that Alfred advised Irving NOT to go into music, when he was still young enough to choose, because everybody else in the family had already done so, and they didn't need another musician in the mix. So, Irving became a doctor...really, a doctor "to the stars", evidently. Randy said he had quite the clientele in Beverly Hills, but finally to the punchline. The one celebrity who tried to come see him who he absolutely refused to take on board was...gee, you guessed it: Jerry Lewis.

The second thing. My uncle Bob, my dad's brother, was a pilot most of his life. First with the USAF, then he became a commercial pilot, from TWA to the West coast courier PSA (Pacific Southwest Airlines), now defunct, BOTH of them! And by the way, Bob is NOT defunct; he's 93 years old. Once I got to talking with Bob about whether or not he'd ever flown any celebrities in his time, and he said there had been a few. I'm pretty sure I did NOT ask him which one was the worst! I don't think that question even would have occurred to me. He VOLUNTEERED that one celebrity in particular was the worst. You want to try to guess who it was? Oh! You guessed it AGAIN! Yes...Jerry Lewis.


4:25 AM  
Blogger stinky fitzwizzle said...

Stinky has a respect for comics who'll do anything for a laugh, even if they don't make him titter - Milton Berle comes to mind. But Stinky frequently laughs at Jerry.

Stinky also looks with dismay at comics he once adored, like Lou Costello and Danny Kaye, and wonders what in the world he once thought so funny. But not with Jerry Lewis.

As for Dean and Jerry, there's no question who's the funnier and more talented. Dino, naturally, who Billy Wilder once called the funniest man in Hollywood.

12:21 PM  
Blogger Barry Rivadue said...

Somewhat related, it's fascinating to see Martin Short as Jiminy Glick, all but tame Lewis into submission during a hilarious mock-interview. I think it's still on YouTube

8:42 PM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

It's late 2021, and I've just watched the first Martin & Lewis films that I can ever remember watching, "That's My Boy" and "Sailor Beware"; before this, I dimly recall seeing a few Jerry Lewis movies on TV when I was yet an infant, just 6 or maybe 7 years old. Martin, on the other hand, I remember as having some presence on late-night TV talk shows when I was a teenager.
I'm not sure what to make of these two films, which I watched as part of an ongoing project to watch the films produced by Hal Wallis which have come my way. I'll be watching more, as Wallis produced a number of these vehicles for the pair.
I wouldn't call them "terrible", but they aren't very good as movies. Martin sings like Bing Crosby, and very well - I guess Crosby was at Paramount around that time, too, so maybe their songs were written by the same people. Lewis comes across like somebody who stopped maturing in the sixth grade. His voice in these films was difficult to take.
What most impressed me was just how physical Lewis' comedy was.
What also impressed me was that the Lewis-Martin dynamic only truly came alive in these films for me when the plot contrives to get them both on stage together in front of people. Then they are very good indeed. Regardless of how they felt about each other, when working together on a stage these two guys produced great entertainment.
On the other hand, going by these two movies, it seems that the more plot the M & L film has, the less time Dean and Jerry spend together on a stage performing. This is not a good trade-off. Perhaps their other films found a way to get that balance right.

7:03 AM  

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