Happy Birthday, Jerry Lewis!

I’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 90thbirthday 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 ofEntertainment 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 calledThe 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 anEsquire 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.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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April 2024