Rosemary Clooney, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis 1952 - Public Domain

The Best (and Worst) of Jerry Lewis

Twelve of Jerry Lewis’ most memorable moments – Please Kill Me remembers the legendary comedian and philanthropist.

“It was impossible to feel neutral about the great Jerry Lewis,” wrote Chicago Sun Times columnist and film critic Richard Roeper in an opinion piece that ran the day Jerry Lewis died. “Over the decades, many, many millions loved and admired Mr. Lewis and his oft-brilliant work, not to mention his tireless charitable fundraising efforts. Many others never really got Lewis’ manic man-child shtick, and were taken aback (to say the least) by some of his darker words and actions.”

For 70 years, Jerry Lewis entertained; he was a performer, a comedic phenomenon, a singer, and a champion for the fight against muscular dystrophy. Through The Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon that ran annually from 1966-2010, he raised $2.45 billion to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Associations of America, without ever hinting why he chose this cause. Lewis was also known as a “mercurial, egomaniacal, often polarizing figure,” according to Roeper and many others in and around Hollywood.

From his manic movie and TV antics with sidekick Dean Martin and his early solo work to his infamous lost film and 2016 interview meltdown, here are some of the most memorable moments from the life of Jerry Lewis:

Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis at the New York Paramount
This film clip – shot on 44th Street in outside a Times Square hotel in the summer of 1951, over a decade before “Beatlemania.” It’s hard to imagine just how big the comedic duo was in those days, but this clip provides a taste of their star power.

Scene from The Caddy

Released in 1953, the Martin and Lewis film, The Caddy, featured the hit, “That’s Amore,” which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song. Sung here as a duet, the song is a perfect illustration of the on-screen personas of the suave, ultra-cool Dean Martin and the high-pitched, frenetic energy of Jerry Lewis.

Colgate Comedy Hour

In May 1954, jump blues band, the Treniers appeared on the Colgate Comedy Hour, hosted by Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. It is said that this particular performance was one of the first times rock & roll was played on national television. In this clip, watch Dean and Jerry tear it up with the Treniers.

Scene from The Bellboy

Released in 1960, “The Bellboy” was written, produced and directed by Jerry Lewis. With virtually no plotline, the film consists of Lewis playing the role of Stanley, a bellboy at a swank hotel, who gets himself in one dilemma after another. This scene is right out of a Three Stooges episode.

Scene from The Errand Boy

In this famous scene from the 1961 movie, The Errand Boy, Jerry Lewis’s genius is on full display as he pantomimes his way through the song “Blues in Hoss Flat” by the Count Basie Orchestra.

Scene from Who’s Minding the Store?

Another classic display of Lewis’s ability to mime. This routine, seen here in 1963’s Who’s Minding the Store? would remain a signature part of Lewis’s act for decades to come.

Buddy Rich & Jerry Lewis – Drum Solo Battle

In this 1965 television show, Jerry Lewis challenges Buddy Rich – the world’s fastest drummer – to a dual. Our man holds his own, displaying some impressive skills beating the skins. Crazy!

Bill Lynch (Call to the Dressing Room)

Tipped to this incredible recording from Please Kill Me contributor James Marshall, I know nothing more than what is written on the YouTube page (see below). That said, this take off on Abbott and Costello’s classic “Who’s on First” routine is pure genius!

“This is a phone call that Jerry received in his backstage dressing room in Las Vegas on January 25, 1972. Jerry’s standard answer to the first question of ‘Is this Jerry Lewis?’ is ‘No, this is Mr Lewis’ secretary.’ If this unsuspecting ‘gentleman’ ever knew what was about to take place, he might have thought twice about dropping coins into that pay phone in the lobby near the slot machines.”

Scene from The Day The Clown Cried

In 1972, Jerry Lewis directed and starred in what was to become on of the most talked about, unreleased films of the 20th century. The Day The Clown Cried, is the story of a circus clown, arrested by the Nazis during WWII for making fun of Hitler. The clown, played by Lewis, is held as a political prisoner in a Nazi-run concentration camp, where he befriends a group of Jewish children. He performs for them, making them laugh, but is beaten by guards, as he is not to have any contact with Jewish prisoners. In the end, he accompanies the children on a boxcar train to Auschwitz, where he is used to help lead the Jewish children to their deaths in the gas chamber.

Because of the controversial nature of the film, it is said that Lewis could not find a studio to release it. In this clip from 2012, Lewis discusses the film for the first time. Much controversy still surrounds the film and its status. In 2015, the Los Angeles Times reported that a copy of the film is held by the Library of Congress, but will not be screened for “another ten years”.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono on the Jerry Lewis Telethon

This clip from 1972 illustrates the great drawing power held by Jerry Lewis. Introducing John and Yoko, Lewis states, “I’m proud to present two of the most unusual people in all the world, and I don’t mean just the world of entertainment. They fit no patterns, meet no standards except the standard of excellence.” Opening with “Imagine,” Lennon and Ono then play “Now or Never” written for the occasion and featuring Yoko on keyboards and vocals. The segment ends with a reggae version of “Give Peace A Chance,” with Lennon somewhat menacingly asking people to sing and Yoko saying, “Give your money now…Muscular Dystrophy!” To top it off, Jerry joins in by miming the playing of a pocket trumpet! Pure early-Seventies freakout!

1976 Reunion With Dean Martin

America’s greatest comedy team broke up in 1956, with Dean Martin focusing mainly on his career as a singer, while Jerry Lewis went on to a successful solo career – acting, writing and directing many of his own films and devoting more time to his philanthropic causes, mainly the fight against Muscular Dystrophy. While they occasionally appeared together in public in the early years after their split, the two had not seen each other since 1961. It was mutual friend Frank Sinatra who surprised Lewis by bringing Dino onto the stage of the 1976 Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon, held annually over the Labor Day weekend. After Martin kissed Lewis on the cheek, Jerry broke the ice by saying, “So, how you been? You working?”

Jerry Lewis Breaks Reporter’s Balls With Awkward Interview!

Dubbed by many as “the most painful, awkward interview of 2016,” a hostile Jerry Lewis gives a Hollywood Reporter journalist a series of one word answers and seething responses, going so far as to mock the man’s laugh. Obviously flustered, reporter Andy Lewis (no relation) plows ahead with question after question. Watch and cringe!