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Happy Birthday, Jerry Lewis!

Jerry Lewis - RKO-325I’ll never forget the first time I set eyes on Jerry Lewis.
I was six years old and my parents took me to see The Delicate Delinquent. It was his first solo movie without Dean
Martin, but I didn’t know that then. All I knew is that the film opened with a
tense buildup to a gang rumble in an alleyway—only to be interrupted by Jerry stumbling
through a doorway and noisily knocking over a bunch of garbage cans. That
quintessential Jerry gag won me over on the spot and I’ve been a fan ever since.
It’s the reason I want to join the chorus of admirers who are wishing him a
happy 90th birthday today.

          Jerry looms
large in my life. When I was a kid I thought the sun rose and set on him, and
the arrival of each new Jerry Lewis movie at my neighborhood theater was a big
event. That was when he was turning out two movies a year for Paramount, in the
late 1950s and early 60s.

Jerry Lewis Album cover

          Imagine what
it felt like when, some thirty years later I had an opportunity to meet the man
in person. He was visiting the offices of Entertainment
Tonight
for a brief interview, and I couldn’t let the opportunity slip
away. I strode into our conference room, where the crew was setting up,
introduced myself, and made a little small talk. He couldn’t have been more gracious.
Then I excused myself and returned to my desk. I thought I handled myself
fairly well.

Jerry Lewis album-402

          That night I
experienced a delayed reaction I’ve never had before or since: I actually
started shaking. I had just met Jerry
Lewis!!!
 

Lewis -Martin-news clip

          In the years
since I have had the pleasure of interviewing him a number of times. One night
I introduced him to a huge audience of video dealers who were presenting him
with a lifetime achievement award in Las Vegas. (He didn’t join us for dinner
because, in best show business tradition, he would not sit down once he donned
his tuxedo.) My speech was followed by a clip reel, and when I walked backstage
Jerry said, with a smile, that he felt like I had just delivered his obituary!

Jerry Lewis event ticket

          Instead, I am
here to sing his praises as he turns 90…days after seeing him onscreen at the
South by Southwest Film Festival playing Nicolas Cage’s father in a new movie
called The Trust. It’s a brief
appearance, but it gives him a 2016 screen credit, 67 years after his debut in My Friend Irma.

Jerry Lewis - Batman Comic

          But then, I
shouldn’t be surprised. There is no facet of show business he hasn’t tackled
and conquered, from nightclubs to movies to the Broadway stage. He even
“starred” in his own long-running series of comic books! He taught filmmaking
at the University of Southern California and once showed off his modest
paycheck for an Esquire magazine
photo essay about what gave famous people their greatest reward.

          My reward has
been enjoying Jerry’s unique brand of comedy and show-business shtick for the
better part of my life. He has also been uncommonly kind to me, as I wrote when
I shared the stage with him at the Paley Center in Beverly Hills four years ago
(CLICK HERE).

          I am a
critic, and I have certainly criticized some of Jerry’s work, but that pales
alongside the deep feelings I have for him as a performer. I wish him many more
years of happiness, good health…and laughter.

         

          

10 comments

  1. jeanniecarter558 says:

    ……G­­o­­­o­­­g­­l­­e­­­ i­­s­­ <­­-p­­a­­y­­i­­n­­g­­ 9­­7­­$ p­­e­­r h­­o­­u­­r! ­­W­­o­­r­­k ­­f­­­­o­­r ­­f­­­­e­­­­w­­ h­­­­o­­u­­r­­s a­­n­­d h­­a­­v­­e l­­o­­n­­g­­e­­r w­­i­­t­­h­­ f­­­­r­­i­­e­­n­­d­­s & ­­f­­a­­m­­i­­l­­y­­! ­­O­­n ­­t­­u­­e­­s­­d­­a­­y I g­­o­­t ­­a­­ g­­r­­e­­a­­t n­­e­­w­­ L­­a­­n­­d­­ R­­o­­v­­e­­r ­­R­­a­­n­­g­­e ­­R­­o­­v­­e­­r­­ f­­r­­o­­m h­­a­­v­­i­­n­­g e­­a­­r­­n­­e­­d­­ $­­8­­7­­2 t­­h­­i­­s ­­l­­a­­s­­t­­ f­­o­­u­­r­­ w­­e­­­­e­­k­­s.­­.­­ I­­t­­ s­­o­­u­­n­­d­­s­­ u­­n­­b­­e­­l­­i­­e­­v­­a­­b­­l­­e­­ b­­u­­t ­­y­­o­­u w­­o­­n­­t f­­o­­r­­g­­i­­v­­e ­­y­­o­­u­­r­­s­­e­­l­­f i­­f ­­y­­o­­u ­­d­­o­­n­­’­­t­­ c­­h­­e­­c­­k i­­t­­…”’ ►►►►►► ­w­w­w­.­B­u­z­z­S­e­l­f­2­0­.­c­o­m­

  2. Carl LaFong says:

    Beautifully put, and a well-deserved honor. Happy birthday, Mr. Lewis, and many, many more from one of your millions of fans.

  3. Lucius P Frankenstein says:

    As a pre-teen and teen Jerry Lewis (both with and without Dean Martin) was my #1 favorite entertainer. Like Leonard I couldn’t wait until his latest film hit our local theater. Even as an adult when he was still doing films for Paramount I found most of his films hilarious. Sometime in the late 1960’s (maybe when he was doing those dreadful films like "The Big Mouth" for Columbia) I became much less of a fan. In found those latter films insufferable!

    Jerry’s egotistical public persona hasn’t helped me regain my admiration and affection for him…and yet for all the joy he gave me and millions of others around the world in those early years of his career I wish him only the best for a happy birthday and many happy and health years beyond! You ‘da man Jerry!

  4. Norm says:

    Jerry Lewis and Mickey Rooney two sides of the same coin, you either loved them or intensely disliked them for their over the top egos.LM is like a moth to the flamehe really flew too close. Lewis has made his mark in the entertainment world by not being shy.I was surprised not to see hom on TCM guests.Maybe he just isn’t everyones cup of tea…

  5. Yvette Kaplan says:

    Thank you Leonard, for the beautiful article and tribute to someone who has loomed large in my life too. And coincidentally– The Delicate Delinquent was my intro too. I inherited a love of all things Jerry from my mother, who would laugh at just the thought of him. I risked my life, and my kid sister’s and friends lives too, on the Belt Parkway in Brooklyn collecting money for Muscular Dystrophy, and had the chance to hand it to him in person twice. Thanks to my brother, who lives in Las Vegas, and Jerry’s kindness, we arranged for him to meet my mother backstage and gave her the surprise of her life. I credit him, and all my years of enjoying and internalizing his work for every bit of comedy timing I have. I had the chance to thank him for all of these things and more after one of your interviews Leonard. It was, I thought, a very personal moment as I poured my heat out, while Jerry stared intently. Suddenly he spoke, very seriously; "You’re just gonna keep on talking, aren’t you?" Stunned for just a second– I broke up completely! It was priceless. Now THAT’S timing. That’s Jerry. Happy 90th Birthday to the King of Comedy and my heart.

  6. frances.ayers@aol.com says:

    your Dad was very proud of you,I met him once at shwabbs Drud store , he was sitting with his Buddys ,and fleted with me , he said he was your father and his Buddys all went yah sure and he said really , so he took his wallet out and showed me his name and the buddys still kidded him . He talked to ashort while but he was very proud to be your Father ….

  7. Kevin Barry says:

    My grandson and I frequently screen Jerry’s films, and when his terrific stage musical version of The Nutty Professor opened in Nashville, we were lucky to get seats for opening night. When Jerry walked out on stage following the performance (as we had hoped he would, of course) the place went crazy. We were lucky to see him one again in person when he appeared in Columbus, OH, recently for a night of reminiscences. He was hilarious! Astonishingly, he has not as yet been awarded the Kennedy Center Honor. I encourage everyone to log onto their website and nominate him. Happy birthday, Jerry!

  8. CC says:

    He invented Video-Assist in Filmmaking. That is HUGE!!

  9. Crystal cummings says:

    ¡

  10. sheryn newman says:

    Thank you Jerry Lewis For the many years of Laughter. You are the best! Seen you on the Merv Griffin Show from 1963 I laugh so hard I almost fell on the floor I hope you are around another 90 years. Hope this generation will know your wisdom, charm, and laughter you have brought to my generation. Not to forget your brilliant mind. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Have a Happy Birthday Mr. Lewis You are one of a kind.

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