September 03, 2011

Jerry Lewis

Jerry Lewis

Slapstick is, at best, only loosely defined as comedy.

If an unsupervised toddler in hysterics can do something to evoke laughter, more effort should be expected of a grown man. Therefore, I have never cared for the spastic antics of Jerry Lewis.

On a personal level Jerry has always cast a dim light as well.

His temper is legendary. One need not be a friend or even an acquaintance. His abusive tirades against fans or audience members who innocently incur his wrath are well-documented. In one question-and-answer session years ago, his response to one thoughtful query regarding a film was, “None of your damn business!”

While his early film career was admittedly successful, his latter pictures were often hollow retreads of his former work. There is also the astoundingly ill-conceived notion, as-yet-unreleased after nearly forty years, of a clown leading children to their deaths in a concentration camp. The film The Day the Clown Cried is reputed by the handful who have seen it to be “a disaster.”

“Jerry has literally done more with his star power than all the other personalities of modern Hollywood combined, and I want him to go out on top.”

There was the infamous split with the consummate gentleman Dean Martin. Less well-known are the suspicions of seduction and infidelity between spouses which some believe initiated the severance, and not by the party one may think.

Finally, there is the family life. Cheated-upon wives. Ignored and neglected children. At least one illegitimate child with statistically determinative genetic proof whom Jerry refuses to so much as acknowledge despite her pleas and repeated attempts to garner even the briefest of meetings.

So what is Jerry Lewis? Another tired shtick-merchant behaving manically and calling it comedy? An angry personality with a volatile temper prone to explosions with little provocation? A failed, indifferent, and even hostile father? All of the above.

And yet…

There is the telethon, held annually since 1966. Jerry was even doing MDA functions since 1952. Money raised to date: $2.45 billion.

For most of those more than forty years his telethon aired 21.5 hours during Labor Day. Jerry was 40 years old when he began the marathon version and was still planning to do it at 85.

And he never quit. Not when the donations began to depress. Not when he was assuming more work than most men half his age and his health had deteriorated severely. Not when the big names such as Angelina Jolie and Madonna quit helping millions in America so they could adopt singularly from Africa or Asia.

True, Jerry has made some off-color jokes here and there during the airings. On those I’m willing to give him some length of rope. Anyone who thinks otherwise can write their criticism of his blue humor in the “Memo” line of the check they personally make out for $2.45 billion.

Lamentably this was to be Jerry’s final year hosting the annual—his annual—telethon. But the powers that be had decided it was time for him to go.


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