Jerry Lewis (born Joseph Levitch; March 16, 1926 – August 20, 2017) was an American comedian, actor, and filmmaker, noted for his wacky style of comedy and, later on, for his long-running annual Labor Day telethons for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. He's also the Trope Maker for a lot of things.
While his career stretched across more than seven decades, Lewis is generally considered to have been at his peak in the 1950s (when he worked with Dean Martin as one half of Martin and Lewis) and the early '60s.
Lewis wielded a considerable amount of control over his projects at the height of his solo career, and he became respected as an auteur who wrote, directed, and starred in his own material to keep true to his own vision. As an extension of this, he pioneered the use of video assist on film sets, because he needed to review his performances immediately rather than wait for dailies to be developed and screened the next day.
Not to be mistaken for Jerry Lee Lewis, though he did make some recordings as a singer (including a pair of non-comedic albums of pop standards), and his son Gary enjoyed success in the music world as frontman for the '60s pop/rock group Gary Lewis & the Playboys.
He passed away at age 91 on August 20, 2017, the same day as fellow comedy legend Dick Gregory.
Films with pages on this wiki:
- My Friend Irma (1949) and My Friend Irma Goes West (1950) – Seymour
- Road to Bali (1952) – cameo
- Scared Stiff (1953) – Myron Mertz
- Artists and Models (1955) – Eugene Fullstack
- The Sad Sack (1957) – Private Meredith Bixby
- Li'l Abner (1959) – cameo
- The Bellboy (1960) (his directorial debut) – Stanley/Jerry Lewis
- The Nutty Professor (1963) – Prof. Julius Kelp/Buddy Love
- It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) – cameo
- Boeing Boeing (1965) – Robert Reed
- The Day the Clown Cried (1972) – Helmut Doork
- Hardly Working (1980) – Bo Hooper
- The King of Comedy (1983) – Jerry Langford
- How Did You Get In? We Didn't See You Leave (1984) – Clovis Blaireau
Tropes associated with Jerry Lewis:
- Adam Westing: He is one of the few who used this trope for drama.
- Ambiguously Jewish: Almost every Lewis character, or even any knockoff character based on one of Lewis's characters, will come off as this.note
- Animated Adaptation/Ink-Suit Actor: A number of Lewis-based characters (including one called Jerry Lewis and some from The Family Jewels (See Double Vision, below) formed the cast of a 1970 Filmation Saturday-Morning Cartoon series, Will the Real Jerry Lewis Please Sit Down. (Lewis did not voice the part (David Lander, aka Squiggy from Laverne & Shirley, did), though Lewis did contribute to some of the scripts.)
- Berserk Button: The Day the Clown Cried, when asking him about it.
- Billing Displacement: Martin and Lewis got their big screen big break in My Friend Irma (1949) and its sequel My Friend Irma Goes West. The actual star was Marie Wilson but these the films are very much remembered for Martin and Lewis.
- Borscht Belt: Performed there in his childhood alongside his parents, and the style influenced his comedy.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: He often did gags of this nature in his films, especially the final scene of The Patsy, where his character falls over a ledge, but moments later Lewis walks back into frame and breaks character, reassuring co-star Ina Balin that it's all just a movie, and it ends with them walking off the set together past the crew members.
- The Cameo: Makes brief but memorable ones in Road to Bali, Li'l Abner, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and Professor John Frink Sr. in the "Frinkenstein" segment of The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror XIV.
- Celebrity Endorsement: Appeared in print ads for both RC Cola and for Kentucky Fried Chicken, even appearing alongside its founder Colonel Sanders in the latter.
- Copiously Credited Creator: Produced, directed, wrote, and starred in many of his films starting with The Bellboy as well as playing multiple roles in The Nutty Professor and The Family Jewels. Needing a way to direct himself on the spot without relying on dailies, he is also credited with developing modern video playback on movie setsnote . His considerable technical skills began when he was expelled from High School (for duking the Principal who'd made an anti-Semitic remark) and had to attend a Vocational-Technical School. Before leaving school entirely (at age 16) he spent the rest of that year working in electrical and mechanical shop.
- Disowned Adaptation: While he ultimately liked Eddie Murphy's remake of The Nutty Professor, he initially hated it for the copious amounts of fart jokes it added, for which he turned down a Creator Cameo.
- Double Vision: Was well known for his tour-de-force performance in The Family Jewels, in which he played seven different characters.
- The Klutz: A big part of his usual screen persona.
- Large Ham
- Lethally Stupid: Almost all the characters he portrayed, though he managed to make them likable.
- Let Us Never Speak of This Again: He hated talking about The Day the Clown Cried, a film he directed and starred in as a means of establishing himself as a dramatic actor and director. The movie was plagued with production issues and an extremely dark plot, and Lewis resolved never to release it, claiming it was an "artistic failure". Anyone who mentioned it in his presence could expect to be met with anger or despondency, as he would remind them of his decision and quickly change the subject.
- Manchild: Not quite the Trope Codifier, but damn close.
- Missing Episode: The Day the Clown Cried is a famous example. It exists but is locked up due to legal issues. In 2015 he arranged for it to be released ten years later, likely counting on being long dead by then, which ended up being the case, as of 2017.
- Oh God, with the Verbing!: The Trope Maker.
- Old Shame: The Day the Clown Cried, big-time. He also wasn't especially pleased with how Hardly Working turned out.
- Telethon: Trope
makercodifier. The first telethon, broadcast by NBC in April 1949, was a fundraiser for the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation.
- Variety Show: Back when he was with Dean Martin, the duo was one of the rotating hosts of the Colgate Comedy Hour.
- Yiddish as a Second Language: Similar to his later partner, Dean Martin, the young Jerry Lewis learnt to speak the language of his immigrant family (specifically his grandmother who largely raised him) alongside English as a child.
And no, he was never Vice-President of the United States.