WEIRDLAND: 2017

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Rat Pack Confidential, First Date with Jerry Lewis

How America Lost Its Mind: the ’60s permanently reordered American society and culture and there have been unreckoned costs. The 1960s was the Beginning of the End of Reason. America was created by hucksters and passionate dreamers, which made America successful—but also by a people uniquely susceptible to fantasy, from Hollywood to conspiracy theories. In other words: Mix show business with everything else; then run it through the anything-goes ’60s. The result is the America we inhabit today, with reality and fantasy weirdly and dangerously blurred and commingled. If the 1960s amounted to a national nervous breakdown, we are probably mistaken to consider ourselves over it. Source: www.theatlantic.com

There was the time when Frank Sinatra, riding high on the early reviews for From Here to Eternity, visited his hero in search of approval. “I saw your picture,” said Bogart. “What did you think?” Frank asked him. Bogart simply shook his head 'no'.  Frank Sinatra saw in Humphrey Bogart all the things he always wanted to be: aloof, profound, world-weary, slightly drunk, slightly sentimental, romantic, tender, tough, loyal, and proud. He could take his hero worship too far. Once, when a date of Frank declared, in Bogart’s presence, “You sound like Bogie sometimes,” the actor laughed and said, “Don’t remind him, sweetheart, the poor bastard’s trying to kick it!” In fact, Bogart was one of the few people who were willing to tell Frank Sinatra exactly what they thought of some of the things he did. 

In 1948, Sinatra applauded the Martin & Lewis duo, although he considered its forte was really Jerry Lewis. Dean, the tall, handsome, crooning straight man, was more or less along for the ride. And when the ride ended, when Martin and Lewis devolved into an ugly spitting contest and finally broke apart, Lewis went on to solo success, just as everyone predicted, while “the dago” (Martin) initially floundered. It wasn’t that Dean Martin didn’t have the chops. He had a charming voice in the Bing Crosby mood—a stylish singer, if never a real artist. He cut a great figure in a tux, golf clothes: real movie star looks. And he was funny, with a gift for whimsical one-liners and a canny, low-key delivery. But he seemingly didn’t have the drive to go it alone. He was ten years older than Lewis and struggling under an absurd burden of debt when the two had met. Martin took the edges off of Jerry Lewis’s hysteria. By 1954, they weren’t such good pals anymore. Jerry was styling himself a creator of artful comic narratives in a variety of media.

"The unbridled sweep of the all-American ego at its most infantile and traumatized has always been an object of awe and fascination for the French; think of their celebrations of Poe and Faulkner, H.P. Lovecraft and Orson Welles. Call Jerry Lewis “America” and you have a recognizable psychosexual object that signifies something more than slapstick. The childhood sections which predictably dominate depict not only the lonely New Jersey misfit I expected, but also the street-smart chutzpah of a semi-abandoned tough guy who dreamt of murdering his grandfather, killed his cat in a rage when he was five, and hated his small-time show-biz parents." —Jonathan Rosenbaum

Everyone in show business knew that Jerry would do great, but most predicted a dire future for Dean. And when he debuted as a single, it was disastrous. His first picture, Ten Thousand Bedrooms, was numbered for years among the great movie turkeys of all time. Cynics were predicting he’d be out of the business altogether within months. Like Frank with From Here to Eternity, Dean was rescued by fate in the form of a new singing persona and a World War II movie (Some Came Running). Within two years of splitting with Jerry, he found himself teamed, unofficially but semipermanently, with Frank, starting with a trip to some sleepy town in the Midwest. Frank knew that Dean would be a perfect choice for the role of Bama Dillert, a honey-drippin’ card shark in the upcoming film Some Came Running. A gambler, roué, souse with a southern accent just like the one Dean sported as a shtick, he was capable of being played right by no other actor in the world. If it took till mid-’58 for Frank to offer Dean the role, the likely reason is that he was waiting to see how The Young Lions turned out.

Frank was cool in the sense of remote. Zarathustran drama and intoxicating romance: That was Frank’s bag. Dean was warm in the sense of comfortable. Alone, Frank couldn’t relax: He was insistent, a perfectionist, a lionizer of himself and his art. His audience adored him and feared him and envied him and lived through him, but they didn’t exactly like him—and as a singer he never particularly cared if they did. If anyone grew nostalgic for The Rat Pack, if it ever seemed like a more innocent time, that was because it was the last moment of cultural unanimity. For the first sixty years of the century, save a couple dozen months after Elvis made the scene, everybody in every house in America found pleasure in the same type of comedy, music, movies. The Rat Pack bunched it altogether at an unprecedented height and pitch—and for the last time. And nobody seemed to agree about anything ever again after they were toppled from their golden aerie.

Dean Martin: "I want to be remembered as a damn good entertainer, nothing spectacular. A good entertainer who made people enjoy themselves and made them laugh a little. I want them to think 'He was a nice guy'." Dean Martin on The Rat Pack: "The whole world is drunk and we're just the cocktail of the moment. Someday soon, the world will wake up, down two aspirins with a glass of tomato juice, and wonder what the hell all the fuss was all about."

“Both Jerry and Dean are always yelling and falling all over the place when they see me,” Marilyn said with a giggle, “and I love them for it. Other people have criticized me for the way I dress and the way I walk, but Dean and Jerry never do.” So was Sammy Davis Jr., another affectionate prankster who treated her with that brotherly mix of teasing and protectiveness. Back in LA there’d been a rumor she and Sammy had slept together, a rumor they both found hilarious. To the Rat Pack guys she was just Marilyn—no starlet and certainly no piece of studio meat. Marilyn certainly wasn’t dressed like a fashion plate, but that was the whole point. In fact, it was her lack of interest in fashion that gave her such a wonderful sense of style—a style she solidified in New York City. She wore black pullovers and toreador pants to dive bars with Frank Sinatra, flung minks over slips for midnight walks in Central Park. Her style remained unchanged from 1955 to her death, in 1962—a time when fashions and fads moved at warp speed.

Yet she never looked dated. She still doesn’t—a shot of her in pigtails, jeans, and cowboy boots on the set of The Misfits could have been taken yesterday. In New York, Marilyn dined at Gino’s with Frank Sinatra, then swilled cheap scotch at the Subway Inn down the street. She stretched out in her bathrobe on the floor of the Waldorf-Astoria, scrawling poems on crisp hotel stationery. Back in LA, Marilyn really had looked up to Shelley Winters as a big sister: In 1951, they had shared men, minks, swimsuits, and Sinatra records. Milton Greene had long been exasperated with Marilyn’s wardrobe, which ricocheted from skintight to slovenly with little in between. “That looks like a schmatta,” he’d moan whenever she’d show him a dress. He begged her to stop passing out in her makeup and cajoled her into using the gold-plated hairbrush Frank Sinatra had given her on her birthday. 

Like Las Vegas, Miami had a strip of fabulous hotels—the Eden Roc, the Diplomat, and, especially, the Fontainebleau, the gaudy Moderne pipe dream of architect Morris Lapidus, the most expensive, expansive, and exciting jewel of the city’s glittering string. The Fontainebleau catered to the biggest shots and had the biggest stars under contract, the Sands of Collins Avenue. Miami specialized—even more than Vegas—in spoiling guests. It was also a celebrity magnet, its clubs and hotels offering high fees and, like Vegas, a place for entertainers to relax and watch one another work. In January I960, for instance, just as Dean Martin was making a resort movie at the Sands with Frank Sinatra and the rest of them, Jerry Lewis directed himself in a film at the Fontainebleau, The Bellboy. In the 1960s Rock ‘n’ Roll had happened—rock’s early performers had opened something that no one before them had dared, a kind of bald rebellion that entertainers of the Rat Pack never dreamed of expressing. What seemed like high-spirited fun in the winter of 1960 came to look like debauchery by the summer of 1964; the high hopes of one generation were replaced with the simple adolescent cheeriness (Rock 'n' Roll) of the next one. —"Rat Pack Confidential: Frank, Dean, Sammy, Peter, Joey and the Last Great Show Biz Party" (ekindle, 2014) by Shawn Levy

Rat Pack Mysteries: I went down to the lobby of The Sands, walking through the fabled casino. As I took a detour to the crowded Copa Room nightclub, the lights went down, which meant that Frank Sinatra would be soon coming out. The room was smoky and dark and a big band was playing on stage. The patrons were dressed to the nines and chain-smoking cigarettes. The Copa Room's showgirls were known as "The Copa Girls." The showroom had taken its name from the former Copacabana in New York City. “Hey, doll, bring me that drink,” the gangster-like man said abruptly, without breaking his mile-long stare. He was pointing to a young waitress fresh from San Gabriel Valley carrying a heavy tray of champagne glasses, her uniform pulled too tight across her farm-girl hips. The crowd went wild when Sinatra walked out and started to sing a rousing rendition of Luck be a Lady. 

While the Dom Perignon flowed freely, Johnny Rosselli chatted about Marilyn Monroe. He had known her since 1948 when Harry Cohn had signed her first contract for Columbia. Cohn had used Mob money to enhance the Columbia Studio’s potential. Usually Johnny laughed at Sam Giancana’s antics, the way he had fallen head over heels with Judith Campbell and Phyllis McGuire, whom had been placed on his pedestal. Any man foolhardy enough to approach Phyllis with romantic overtures would meet a violent end or at the very least a brutal beating ordered by Giancana. But when it came to Marilyn, Johnny didn’t like the way Giancana had wiretapped her Brentwood home by Hollywood private detective Fred Otash. Sam Giancana knew he could use Marilyn’s affair with Jack Kennedy to destroy him politically.

Jerry Lewis simply shrugged when he was left behind the party, sitting in one of the background booths, self-consciously lighting a Kool cigarette. Why wasn't Lewis surrounded by a coterie of starlets like his partner Dean Martin or the Rat Pack allies? Maybe the high-life perks that used to intrigue his mind had lost its gleamy allure for him. He probably was reminiscing about his first girl, Lonnie Brown, harking back to his first serious date with her. He just could see her now placing a hand gently on his arm and talkingto him as softly as she could amid the din of the coffehouse. Jerry had wanted to know what kind of kid she thought he was, and Lonnie had said he was cute, a bit silly, vulnerable, and easily hurt. She had seen right through his soul. Then she pulled a small lipstick—like a secret play toy—from her dress pocket and applied a reddish coat that made Jerry's heart beat real fast. Finally, his lips wiped out entirely all the waxy traces of lipstick on her mouth with a spontaneous, urgent kiss. Years later, Jerry would date a few glamourous starlets in Hollywood. But as he suspected tonight, a lot of memories, like old buildings and casinos, would collapse in his time, but not that unforgettable moment with Lonnie. Source: medium.com

Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Pure Heart and Endless Regression: Marilyn Monroe and Jerry Lewis

The Film of Her Life (July 1960–January 1961): The Misfits (1961) would nearly rip away Marilyn Monroe's mask by coming very close to a literal presentation of the offcamera Monroe, who had no one to mimic but herself. The filming of Roslyn’s unreconciled state was Monroe’s most arduous assignment. Elia Kazan wrote to Arthur Miller about the film’s unresolved ending, which did not work. In Timebends, Miller virtually concedes that Kazan and Monroe were right. But he confesses that he could not change his approach to Roslyn, because his vision of her emanated from his futile effort to save his marriage. In other words, to expose Roslyn’s shortcomings would mean the end of his effort to repair his rapport with Monroe. Only after Monroe’s death, with the production of Miller’s play, After the Fall, could he reveal the dark side of the Marilyn myth that had enveloped him. In the film, as Roslyn's cowboy companions get to know her, she virtually becomes their source of light, their point of reference, as when Gay tells her, “Honey, when you smile it’s like the sun comin’ up.” The metaphors arising out of seemingly casual speech render the men’s growing sense of discovery that Roslyn has, in Guido’s words, “the big connection.”

Most of these metaphors shift from the concrete impression the males have of her person to rather abstract, even mystical, yearnings, because she does not know where she belongs. She seeks guidance from Gay but cannot reconcile herself to his gentle, paradoxical insistence—so like Sam’s in “Please Don’t Kill Anything” and probably like Miller’s as well—that, “Honey, a kind man can kill.” There are Edenic moments in The Misfits when the characters try to make the desert bloom, when Roslyn goes “all out” and seems equal to enjoying life in its fullness, when Gay blesses her for making him feel as if he has “touched the whole world.”

Enthusiastic and sentimental, Marilyn tended to exaggerate her stories to the point of lying, almost like a swindler, although she was “sensitive, perceptive, and empathic.” In fact, like Dr. Greenson’s other screen patients, she was “psychologically minded” and could spontaneously arrive at important insights, but had “great difficulty in integrating those new insights effectively.” Marilyn tensely recalled her early encounters with studio executives and producers: “I met them all. Phoniness and failure were all over them. Some were vicious and crooked. But they were as near to the movies as you could get. So you sat with them, listening to their lies and schemes. And you saw Hollywood with their eyes – a merry-go-round with beds for horses.”

“I think Marilyn was a very sick woman, a classic schizophrenic,” said Johnny Strasberg, son of Lee and Paula Strasberg: “She was dedicated to love. It’s a thing schizophrenics talk about, love. They’ll do anything for love and, additionally, they are totally infantile; they have no boundaries, as the rest of us have. The amazing thing about her is that she survived as long as she did. There was enough capacity for life had she been lucky enough to find a therapist who could treat her problems. That’s the tragedy. People loved her. But nobody could say no to her. No one would or could take responsibility for her. With Marilyn, you’re dealing with an abandoned infant who’s not an infant anymore.” Science journalist Claudia Kalb explains: 'What is clear is that Monroe suffered from severe mental distress. Her symptoms included a feeling of emptiness, a split or confused identity, extreme emotional volatility, unstable relationships, and an impulsivity that drove her to drug addiction and suicide -- all textbook characteristics of a condition called borderline personality disorder.'

Like other screen patients, Marilyn was not able to assimilate or clearly comprehend her past: “Almost all the important people of their past lives are remembered as essentially black or white figures.” This “rather disturbed relationship to time” promotes a blurring of past and present, with the past remaining so alive in patients’ minds that they project “a youthful quality and their self picture is many years younger than their chronological age.” In movies, Marilyn Monroe was screened in precisely this way; that is, she was literally screened or blocked off from her true age, from a character who should have been maturing. Just like other screen patients, Monroe’s characters had to be created anew. At home, where nobody could see her, the actress “might not be able to put herself together very well,” Greenson wrote to a colleague. Monroe, he pointed out, thrived on the public perception of her as a beautiful woman, “perhaps the most beautiful woman in the world.”

Cukor claimed that she could not be directed: “You couldn’t reach her, she was like underwater.” But Monroe had acted this way with other directors she deemed unsympathetic. Dean Martin refused to do the picture with Lee Remick as replacement. Sociologist S. Paige Baty observes that Marilyn Monroe assumes the “traces of the decades.” Marilyn is a “poster girl for the 1950s,” evoking nostalgia for a bygone and seemingly innocent era, representing somehow a safer world that was destroyed by President Kennedy’s assassination. But she is also ‘shorthand’ for the confusion, mourning, nostalgia, and loss—the marks of a common contemporary condition.” —"Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress, revised and updated"  (2014) by Carl Rollyson

Dr. Ralph Greenson was not alone in his belief that Marilyn Monroe was probably suffering from borderline paranoid schizophrenia. Rather than work in a vacuum, Dr. Greenson obtained a second opinion by consulting psychologist Dr. Milton Wexler. After taking a doctorate at Columbia University, studying under Theodor Reik, a disciple of Freud, he became one of the country’s first nonphysicians to set up in practice as a psychoanalyst. Also a member of the Los Angeles Psychoanalytic Society, Dr. Wexler would go on to become a pioneer in the study and treatment of Huntington’s disease, forming the Hereditary Disease Foundation. Wexler also felt strongly that Marilyn Monroe suffered at least from borderline paranoid schizophrenia after sitting in on three sessions with her in Dr. Greenson’s home. “Yes, I treated her,” he said in 1999. “I won’t discuss that treatment but will say that I agreed with Dr. Greenson that she presented borderline symptoms of the disease that had run in her family. I found her to be very proactive in wanting to treat those borderline symptoms, as well. One misconception about her treatment is that it was Dr. Greenson’s idea that she move in with his family. She never moved in with the Greensons. Instead, it was my suggestion that she spend as much time there as possible in order to create the environment that she lacked as a child. That was my theory at the time and Dr. Greenson agreed.” All of these many years later, to ignore the findings of these two doctors makes no sense. 

Donald Spoto wrote, "No serious biographer can maintain the existence of an affair between Marilyn and the Kennedys. All we can say for sure is that the actress and the President have met four times, between October 1961 and August 1962, and it was during one of those meetings, that they called to a friendly relation of Marilyn from a bedroom. Shortly after, Marilyn confided this sexual relation to her close relatives, insisting about the fact that their affair ended there." The late actress Susan Strasberg, whose father Lee was Marilyn's acting coach and who considered Marilyn to be "a surrogate sister," wrote in an unfinished memoir that Marilyn did spend that night with the president, but denied any sort of ongoing affair. "It was OK to sleep with a charismatic president," Strasberg said, adding that "Marilyn loved the secrecy and the drama of it, but Kennedy was not the kind of man she wanted to spend her life with, and she made that very clear."

Marilyn often embellished the truth, and not just to the press, which would have been an acceptable form of public relations, but to her friends as well. Her publicist Pat Newcomb put it this way: “Marilyn told several people a lot of things, but she never told anybody everything.” Indeed, just as recently as a few months earlier she had told many of her friends that she and Bobby Kennedy were about to go on “a date.” It turned out, of course, that it was a dinner party attended by many others, not a date. Susan Strasberg said of Marilyn that night. “From what she’d told me, each time she caricatured herself, she chipped a piece out of her own dream.”

In September 1961, Marilyn joined Frank Sinatra in entertaining guests on his yacht for a four-day cruise to Catalina Island. “By now I would have cut any other dame loose. But this one—I just can’t do it,” admitted Sinatra. “They were definitely a couple,” said one of the partygoers. “She was acting as if she was the hostess, not a guest. She seemed in good spirits, but definitely not quite right. I had heard that there’d been some trouble getting her there. Everyone knew she was not well, that she was under the care of doctors.” Mickey Rudin—who was both Marilyn’s and Frank’s attorney—said in 1996, “Frank is a very, very compassionate person. He brought Marilyn to Cal-Neva to give her a little fun, a little relief from her problems. If she was upset during the time, well, she could have a crisis over what she was having for lunch, she was that emotional and high-strung. She could have had an imagined crisis, in fact.”

In 1995, Dean Martin recalled, “I met Marilyn in 1953, before she met Frank, before she met Peter, before she knew any of us. I met her before she was all screwed up, so I knew what she was like then and what she had become, and I felt badly for the kid. At the same time, I was a little tired of all the bullshit. In fact, no one had an easy life. We were all screwed up in our own ways. We all had problems. I was no saint, either. But I showed up for work. That was the priority. I’m not saying she wasn’t sick all of those days. Who knows? I wasn’t following her around like the FBI, I was just sitting on my ass waiting for her to show up at the studio. However, the few scenes we did, I enjoyed, but getting to them… oh my God, I mean, the takes, one after the other, it would drive any man crazy. But… look… I liked her. She was a good kid. But when you looked into her eyes, there was nothing there. No warmth. No life. It was all illusion. She looked great on film, yeah. But in person… she was a ghost.” —"The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe" (2009)  by J. Randy Taraborrelli

Jerry Lewis: "When I talk about him (my screen character) in the third person, people look at you askance. Are you fuckin’ schizophrenic? Yes, in the creative, yes. I can talk to you much better about Jerry, being the creator of him, and we’re talking about the nine-year-old within me."

The Stooge (1952) is reportedly Jerry Lewis's favorite Martin & Lewis picture. In one sense, this isn't surprising. It has the heavily lacquered sentiment Lewis seems to prefer, and his character is beloved by audiences, his family, and his girlfriend. His character Ted Rogers is also fiercely loyal and protective of Bill, and completely modest about his own abilities. Rogers doesn’t even know he’s supposed to be part of the act, but he steals it with his purity of spirit—just like the character Chaplin played in The Circus, who had no idea the audience was enjoying his unintentionally funny antics. It’s a philosophy of comedy that helped Jerry reconcile life and art throughout his career—his comedy, the argument ran, came from some genuine store of humanity within him. According to “The Colgate Comedy Hour” writers Simmons and Lear: “Jerry accented some of the things that were most irritating. He hasn’t welcomed collaboration in his life. He would pay no attention. It isn’t that Jerry changed. It’s that he should’ve changed but didn’t. Because he is still the Kid. And Jerry did not grow, in my estimation. His nightclub act is the same. Everybody who does an impersonation of Jerry Lewis does Jerry from the Fifties.” 

Dean Martin moved Jeanne Biegger (Jeanne Martin, the gourgeous Orange Bowl Queen blonde he had met at Beachcomber Club in 1948) to a rented house in West Hollywood in early 1949. They got married in Herman Hover's mansion, on September 1, 1949. It was quite an affair, small and private but lavish. Jerry Lewis was best man. "As it turned out, Jeannie was the best thing that ever happened to Dean," asserted Jerry: "They had a loving, strong, and enduring relationship. A complicated relationship, yes—it was impossible to have any other kind with Dean. Though he and Jeannie would eventually divorce (in 1973), I always felt that that was just legal paperwork. They never stopped caring for each other. I guess I loved her, too, in my own way. Someday I may tell her." Jerry seemed to have the good sense—borne, perhaps, of insecurity—to see his affair with Gloria DeHaven as the crazy fling it was. “What we were doing was playing our little fantasyland,” he confessed. “I never had fifty bucks in my pocket at one time; now I’m walking around with thirty-five hundred in hundred-dollar bills, and I got a starlet on my arm. It’s fantasyland.” He was also smart—or scared—enough to be discreet, keeping well away from DeHaven when his wife Patti joined him in New York. 

Jerry Lewis incorporated self-referential notations, lines and situations that resonate with his own biography. In The Big Mouth, the joy of Thor (Harold J. Stone) at learning of the supposed death of Valentine (the gangster played by Lewis) can be heard as a comment on the animus against Lewis expressed by many critics. In the same film, the hotel manager and other characters harbor an irrational, excessive hatred of Lewis. The San Diego resort area in The Big Mouth really exists and is filmed accordingly, but it becomes a fantasy of itself. As early as The Bellboy, Lewis shows his consciousness of the difficulty of his position in American popular culture: standing with his boss in front of the hotel, waiting for the arrival of a famous star, a hotel employee apologizes for his initial outburst of enthusiasm (“And it’s Jerry Lewis!”) by saying deprecatingly, “Our mother used to take me to see him when I was a kid.” The most extreme reversal in Lewis’s work is the ending of The Patsy, in which the reverse field of every film shot—the field containing the camera and the crew—is finally revealed. The tossed-off quality of the ending (parrying Ina Balin’s calling him “a complete nut,” Lewis remembers that he’s having “nuts and whipped cream for lunch” and leads the cast and crew off the set, as his remarks trail off rather than reaching a neat period) perhaps acknowledges the impossibility of ending: the subject of this implicitly autobiographical film being still alive, the film cannot close (as Lewis says, “I couldn’t die”—the latter is also a statement of the endlessness of art). Jerry Lewis chose the fantasy over reality, love over madness. Lewis’s America belongs partly to fantasy and partly to documentary.


Editor Johannes Binotto explores Jerry Lewis’s breaching of the fourth wall specifically through his industrial details. He loves pointing out the way movies work, the way comedy works, and somehow none of that stops his humor from landing.

The most interesting motif in The Stooge, and one that became a theme throughout Jerry’s work, is the notion that an untrained, unrehearsed neophyte can somehow perform before a live audience and score a hit merely on the basis of having a funny personality and a sincere heart. (This alone may account for the fact that decades later Jerry would declare The Stooge his favorite Martin and Lewis film.) Bill, Dean Martin's character, is the extreme opposite: a mean, petty drunk, who forces his wife into unhappy retirement, who refuses even modest billing to his wildly popular stooge, and so completely unfunny on his own you can almost hear crickets chirping in the audience when he goes at it alone. Curiously, no one ever discusses his talents as a singer, but the implication is that even this aspect of his talent would go nowhere without Ted's comic genius to support it, to give the act, as Bill finally admits, its "spark."

The Stooge operates from several faulty conceits about the nature of comedy, one that Lewis would return to time and again. Ted is no professional clown. He's funny because he's a dimwit, but also because of a natural ability and, most importantly, because he has a pure heart. Like his character in The Patsy, Ted magically ad-libs a polished routine complete with costumes and props. Hal Wallis was right to be nervous about the The Stooge; Dean Martin has a meaty role and sings a lot of swell old songs, but he’s an outright creep. 

The Disorderly Orderly (1964) was the last movie Jerry Lewis would make with Frank Tashlin. It wasn’t that he and Tashlin were weary of one another. The truth was that Paramount was learning the same lesson that ABC had learned, although not at a similar cost or to a similar degree of public ridicule: Jerry’s commercial potential had leveled out, if it hadn’t actually begun to drop. Even before The Patsy went into production, Barney Balaban told a reporter from the Saturday Evening Post that Cinderfella and The Ladies’ Man “did not necessarily show a profit.” When The Patsy (1964) was released, it made for yet one more blemish on Jerry’s record. The critics weren’t enthusiastic about it. Hook, Line, and Sinker would be the final film of George Marshall’s career, and Jerry’s last film for Columbia. In February 1969, Jerry finally broke off relations with Columbia Pictures. He was frustrated with the studio’s insistence that he not take on so many diverse responsibilities on his films; they wanted him just as an actor. But he still felt he could do it all, and he was beginning to prefer directing. Variety reported that Columbia didn’t mind seeing Jerry go, “in view of some recent softening of Lewis’ box office performance.” Three years earlier, Paramount had suggested he was “unprofitable.”

Jerry was, in fact, beginning to talk about the movie business in the sort of contemptuous terms he usually reserved for television. He continued to decry the increase of profanity, nudity, and violence that had characterized the American cinema since the film industry had eased its production code. After more than a decade of struggling to find a voice and an audience on television, he sounded serious about washing his hands of it forever. “Television destroys dreams,” he told The New York Times. “Television has been one of the most destructive forces in our society. Ask me about violence, and I’ll tell you television has caused it. Sirhan Sirhan would never have carried a gun if he had not seen the way Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald in a crowded corridor.” As for his own experience in the medium, he was grateful it was over: “I knew I was going to be part of twenty hours of trash that would never be seen again. Psychologically I couldn’t put very much into it. The temporary nature of television destroyed me. Essentially, I always have in mind that my great-great-great-grandchildren will see me in my pictures, that I have to be impeccable for them. And I hated the endless hypocrisy and lying, the crap, the stopwatch. My funny bone has no time for statistics. I couldn’t bear the clock dictating when I would start and finish a joke. And the network censors are stupid, anticreative men. What those stupid morons don’t understand is that when you’re given freedom, you don’t abuse it.”

In 1969, Richard Zanuck, Darryl’s son, had, tried to interest Jerry in appearing in a film adaptation of a hot novel by a Jewish writer from Newark—the naughty best-seller Portnoy’s Complaint. Jerry absolutely refused to do it. “The picture business was not doing what I believed they should be doing,” he recalled. “I got a whole moral code about that. I turned down discussions with Zanuck at Fox about Portnoy’s Complaint. I told him he’s a fucking lecher. Ha! I said not only wouldn’t I participate in Portnoy’s Complaint, I wouldn’t know how to participate in it. I read it because it was the thing to do in Hollywood. I wouldn’t know how to fucking make that movie, nor would I know how to appear in it. And Zanuck says to my attorney, ‘He can’t turn down this kind of money.’ And my attorney said, ‘You’d be amazed at what he can do. The first thing he can do is tell you that you can’t buy him for that project. Not for any money.’ Zanuck said, ‘Everyone’s got a price.’ My attorney said to him, ‘You ain’t getting this kid. Try.’ Zanuck tried everything he knew. Everything. He was going to donate five hundred thousand dollars to Muscular Dystrophy. I said, ‘My kids don’t want your fucking money for what you want me to do for it.’ He said, ‘This is above and beyond the deal. This is a bonus.’ And my attorney said, ‘He doesn’t want your fucking money.’” 

In 1976, however, Jerry was desperate. He had an unreleased film (The day the clown cried) on his hands, he had no offers of any sort for film or TV work ahead of him, his father sat addled in an apartment in a city he detested, his oldest son Gary couldn’t shake his drug use or find a way back to a productive civilian life, he himself was taking as many as fifteen Percodans a day and now he was facing a legal cost he couldn’t possibly survive if the time ever came. The addiction had more than just physical and emotional costs. Although his income had greatly diminished in recent years, he was spending more and more money on drugs. He paid a thousand dollars for ten Percodans one night and he was buying uppers. Yet even though he was in the throes of addiction, he recognized that his drug abuse had been instigated by the need to relieve pain. He visited neurosurgeons throughout Europe and Asia in hope that something could be done to repair or relieve the damage in his spine. One physician suggested an operation that could as easily leave him paralyzed as cure him. He demurred. And as his quest for a remedy continued, so did his Percodan habit.

The boys weren’t aware of just how severe the problem had become. But they noticed undeniable changes in his behavior. “The results of Dad’s addiction were mostly passive,” his son Antony said, “such as his sleeping on the couch all day.” He was no longer the heroic father whose return to the house marked a highlight of the day. Indeed, he carried himself like a stranger. Patti knew more than her sons about the side effects of her husband’s spinal injury and drug abuse: impotence, disequilibrium, numbness, blurred vision. To her, though, the onset of Jerry’s drug abuse was related not only to the physical pain he was suffering but to the state of his career. “I felt he was going in circles of diminishing size,” she remembered, knowing how desperately he had worked in the past and how desperately he desired to keep on working. She came to see that his loss of himself in drugs had supplanted his former loss of himself in work: “I believe Jerry’s work symptoms were precursors to his chemical addictions.” Throughout the mid-1970s, Jerry toured Vegas, the Catskills, the Poconos, Reno and Tahoe, Miami, Europe, and the summer amphitheater circuit. —"King of Comedy: The Life and Art of Jerry Lewis" (1997) by Shawn Levy

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Jerry Lewis: The Man Behind the Clown

The Jewish Film Society will present “Jerry Lewis: The Man Behind the Clown” at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 22 at the Jewish Community Center’s Arts and Education Building, 2 Millstone Campus Drive, St. Louis, MO. Since the early days of television, Lewis had audiences laughing at his visual gags, pantomime sketches, and signature slapstick humor. Yet Lewis was far more than a jokester. A groundbreaking filmmaker whose insatiable curiosity led him to write, produce, stage, and direct many of the films he would also appear in resulted in such adored classics as “The Bellboy,” “The Ladies Man,” “The Errand Boy,” and “The Nutty Professor.” Director Gregory Monro invites audiences to rediscover Jerry Lewis as an influential artist, humanitarian, and visionary. In addition, the short film, “The Man Who Shot Hollywood,” will also be shown, about photographer Jack Pashkovsky, who worked without fanfare photographing Hollywood celebrities. Over the years he compiled an incredible collection of celebrity photographs that previously were never seen by the general public. The films are free to Jewish Film Society members and $10 for the general public. Source: www.stljewishlight.com

In the fall of 1954, Frank Sinatra invited Dean and me to visit the set of his latest movie, The Man with the Golden Arm, a harrowing story of a former card dealer and heroin addict named Frankie Machine struggling to get his act together after he’s released from prison. Frank's performance was, I think, his greatest, even more spectacular than the work he’d done in From Here to Eternity two years earlier. Frank was always very gung ho about the team, and he had tremendous respect for both of us as individuals. Where Dean Martin was concerned, I’ll say this: Frank Sinatra idolized very few men—but Dean Martin was certainly one of them. It was complicated. Frank was a softie under a brass exterior, a mama’s boy. Dean was a man’s man, a big jungle cat, totally easy in his skin—or at least very, very good at convincing the world that he was. The reality was, this was his way of keeping the world at arm’s length. The truth behind the spaghetti-and-meatballs Steubenville myth was that Dean came from a cold, calculating, insensitive Italian family. Doesn’t match up with the cliché, right? Well, there are all kinds of Italians—scientists, statesmen, artists and killers. Dean got squat from his mother, father, brother, aunts, uncles. He was lonely, unhappy, and felt totally unloved. 

Dean was of two minds about wiseguys. On the one hand, unlike Frank, he never went out of his way to cultivate them. Believe me, Dean could have found any number of such gentlemen who would have been tickled pink to help him with his career early on. But he elected not to, because it was never his way to cozy up to anyone. Throughout his previous career as a casino dealer, small-time boxer, and semisuccessful singer, he was always alone. And so was I. Even though I had the love of my Grandma Sarah, who kept me weekends I was known as the Pony Express kid, shipped from one place to another—always traveling, because my mom and dad were always on the road, to burlesque, vaudeville, concert dates. And so Dean and I understood each other. Deeply. Our closeness worked for us, bonding us in the way that audiences loved, and—over time—against us. 

With Frank and me, it was different. We shared a huge regard for each other’s talent, and a deep personal affection: Our personalities dovetailed. Very often he and I would be alone, on a plane trip to a benefit somewhere, or at Paramount, in my office or dressing room, while Dean was playing golf. Frank was always very open about his love affair with Martin and Lewis, and when we split as a team, he had to make a choice. It had to be one or the other. Dean and I were not talking, and Frank knew that Dean needed a friendship with substance. For a while after July 24, 1956, people thought I would be just fine (even if I didn’t always know it myself). But they worried about Dean. But where Frank was concerned, Dean could never totally let down his guard. And—in a not totally healthy way—Frank was drawn to that reserve. It made Dean more manly and fascinating in Frank’s eyes. When Frank saw the way Dean handled the Mob, he was amazed. Dean never gave them the time of day; he played dumb or drunk, or he was just off playing golf. Frank, on the other hand, was drawn to the wiseguys’ mystique because it made him feel tougher. But he was also a very smart man, smart enough to know that it was a crutch, one that Dean didn’t need. —"Dean & Me" (2005) by Jerry Lewis

Count legendary crooner Frank Sinatra among those critical of Donald Trump. A new book claims Ol’ Blue Eyes once sent a blunt message to the future president, telling his manager to tell Trump to “go fuck himself,” per the New York Daily News. Sinatra even offered his phone number in case Trump wanted to hear it directly from him. The episode was detailed in The Way it Was (2017), an upcoming book written by Eliot Weisman, who served as Sinatra’s manager from 1975 until the singer’s death in 1998. Weisman made the deal with Mark Grossinger Etess, executive in charge of the Taj Mahal. Then, Etess died in a helicopter crash about six months before the Taj Mahal opened. Since the deal was never formalized, Trump decided he wanted to renegotiate, paying less for Sinatra and canceling the other acts. That’s when Sinatra sent his message to Trump. The interaction killed the deal and Sinatra performed at rival casino The Sands instead. Source: www.independent.co.uk

In the course of Marilyn Monroe’s career, she had the choice of many photographers to work with. In 1954, she chose Milton H. Greene. Monroe formed a partnership with Greene that would result in more than 5,000 images taken over the course of three years. These photo sessions are the subject of a new book, The Essential Marilyn Monroe, Milton H. Greene: 50 Sessions. The photos were a collaboration between photographer and muse, a dynamic that shows in the range of photos from posed studio shots to candid photos with other personalities including Marlon Brando, Lawrence Olivier and her husband Arthur Miller. Among the many gems are a series of photos that also ran in LIFE magazine in the June 3, 1957 issue under the headline "Marilyn in Many Roles." They show her at her playful best, “ransacking the 20th Century Fox costume department with Milton on Sunday afternoons." Source: time.com

A friend of Frank Sinatra’s, Jimmy Whiting, recalled: “Marilyn was real dependent on Frank. There were many late-night phone calls to him. She used to say, ‘If I have any problem in the world about anything, there’s only one person I know can help: Frankie.’ Frank’s feeling was ‘hey, if I can help out the dame, I will. She’s a good kid’.” In 1954 Frank Sinatra was miserable about the slow erosion of his marriage to actress Ava Gardner, said to be the love of his life. Despite any problems with her, Frank always felt that Marilyn was intelligent, witty, sexy, and exciting. He understood her frailties. “Frank said that Marilyn was like a shooting star,” observed actress Esther Williams, “and you couldn’t help but be fascinated by her journey. While you knew she was going to crash and burn, you didn’t know how. However, you knew it was going to be a merry ride.” Frank couldn’t resist Marilyn's charms. “He was in love with her, no doubt about it,” said Milt Ebbins, who was a good friend of Sinatra’s and also vice president of Chrislaw production company. “By 1961, though, his feeling about her was more protective than passionate. —"The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe" (2010) by J. Randy Taraborrelli

Rat Pack Party Girl (2017) is the gutsy and wrenching story of former Rat Pack high-roller and party girl Jane McCormick. She was living in Las Vegas from 1960 to 1972. She met Frank Sinatra in 1960, when he was shooting Ocean’s Eleven. In her time in Las Vegas, McCormick made a half-million dollars a year for twelve years, as much as any big name in showbiz. She reveals her 1960s sexcapades with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, Vic Damone, Jerry Lewis, and other celebrities. At the end of that road, she was finally able to obtain what she wanted all along: happiness fueled by the discovery of her true sexual identity as a gay woman, which has resulted in the comfort of experiencing real love in her now twenty-two year relationship.

On her fling with Jerry Lewis: We sat in his hotel suite for about two hours laughing and telling jokes. Jerry stumbled around the room, being clumsy, feet and legs of jelly, doing his nerdy routine. He cracked me up. Jerry said I reminded him of a beautiful girl with blond hair and green eyes he had noticed among the fans hanging around after his shows in New York. Jerry said he had never talked to her but that she always had stuck in his mind. "And you, my dear, have the same fabulous doll face." He did a little song-and-dance routine, a soft-shoe shuffle, then jumped up and clicked his heels together. I noticed how soft-spoken he could be, and how serious about his work. He wasn't at all the zany guy I'd thought. He told me how much he loved his family and how hard he worked to support them. Jerry said he felt lonely on the road and he was glad to meet such a sweet girl. Maybe, for a few moments, I could take some of his loneliness away.

I was thinking about how handsome Jerry was when he was serious and sincere. He just liked me and my sense of humor. At the Sands, Jerry drove into the circle drive in the wrong direction. He headed the Lincoln toward the curb and drove up onto the sidewalk near the entrance of the casino. Laughing like crazy, we jumped out of the car, ran into the casino, and out the side door by the pool. We both ran yelling around the pool twice before heading back to the room. We fell onto the bed in stitches. We had another drink. Then Jerry sent for sandwiches. When I told him I'd been molested as a little girl, Jerry told me it was the most horrible thing he'd ever heard. He held me in his arms while I cried and he cried with me. I just loved him then, and I do to this day. Jerry was almost bashful when it came to having sex, but he thoroughly enjoyed it. He didn't go all the way, though, to preserve his loyalty to his wife. As we returned to the Sands on Las Vegas Boulevard, we quietly enjoyed the sunrise over Sunrise Mountain. Jerry Lewis was one of the nicest men I have ever met. —"Rat Pack Party Girl" (2017) by Jane McCormick

Friday, October 06, 2017

Total Filmmaker Jerry Lewis: Successful Smile

Decades of psychological research has revealed that different facial expressions can communicate different emotional intents. Smiles are arguably the most important facial expression, given their frequent use in day-to-day interpersonal interactions. What exactly constitutes a “successful smile”? In a recent study from the University of Minnesota, Professor of Psychology & Statistics Nathaniel Helwig concludes: The results reveal that no single smile is "perfect" compared to the others. Instead, there exists a window of parameters, or “smile sweet spot,” which creates successful smiles. We observed somewhat of a Goldilocks Phenomenon, such that successful smiles needed just the right amount of teeth. Also, we found that too much smile angle and extent produced fake and creepy smiles. Interestingly, we discovered that smiles with slight timing asymmetries are more successful than perfectly symmetric smiles, but asymmetries larger than 125 milliseconds were detrimental. Past research has revealed that the eyes are important—particularly for distinguishing between “Duchenne” (genuine) versus “Pan Am” (fake) smiles. Our results reinforce the idea that the lower half of the face, particularly mouth movement, is a prominent factor for determining the emotional intent of a facial expression. Source: www.researchgate.net

In the bestselling tradition of Henry Bushkin's Johnny Carson comes The Way It Was: My Life with Frank Sinatra, a candid and eye-opening inside look at the final decades of Sinatra's life, told by Eliot Weisman, his long-time manager and friend. Weisman worked with Frank Sinatra from 1975 up until Sinatra's death in 1998, and became one of the singer's most trusted confidantes and advisers. In this book, Weisman tells the story of the final years of the iconic entertainer from within his exclusive inner circle--featuring original photos and filled with scintillating revelations that fans of all Sinatra stages--from the crooner to the Duets--will love. Capitol/UMe announced a new collection from Frank Sinatra set for release on October 6. Ultimate Christmas collects 20 of the Chairman’s seasonal standards from both his Capitol and Reprise periods, spanning 1954 to 1991, including collaborations with his children Frank Jr., Tina, and Nancy.  Source: www.amazon.com

Jerry Lewis clowns around behind the bar at the Copacabana nightclub in New York City. The paths of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra crossed at the Copacabana in 1948 when Sinatra appeared with the comedian Jerry Lewis. Sinatra thought Lewis was great, the creative dynamo in the tandem Martin & Lewis. “The Dago’s lousy,” Frank said of Dino. However, Frank’s friendship would in time develop with Dean, not Jerry. As writer William Schoell said, “Frank would naturally gravitate to another cool ‘wop’ like Martin than to a crazy, difficult Jew like Lewis.” A reporter once asked Dean just how close he was to Frank. “He is my dearest, closest friend,” Dean claimed. Ironically, Frank’s career in 1952 was on the rocks, but Jerry and Dean were reaching the peak of their popularity. Dean’s second wife, Jeanne Martin, said her husband “had great admiration for Sinatra as a singer, but had no respect for him as a man.” After their split, Jerry Lewis accused Dean of professional jealousy: “I’m sure he felt I was writing the material to build myself up. I’m sure I did things to irritate Dean, but in this matter, my hands are clean. As producer Hal Wallis and others know, I leaned over backwards to give Dean more to do at my own expense.”

Martin & Lewis, despite multimedia triumph, couldn't last: while Jerry loved Dean like a brother, feckless, unreliable Dean said "To me, you're nothing but a dollar sign" which led Jerry to break out of their association. The Martin and Lewis partnership lasted 10 years. Professional jealousy and assorted other tensions brought it to an end, bitterly, in 1956, and although the two attempted occasional cordial meetings, the split lasted the rest of their lives. When Dean became an integral part of the famous Rat Pack clan, he had joked, “Frank is the rat. I am the pack.” Frank was especially interested in hearing about Dean’s experiences with women he had not yet seduced. Dean's conquests included such stars as Pier Angeli, Dorothy Malone, Lori Nelson, Jill St. John, Jacqueline Bisset, and even June Allyson, America’s “sweet-heart” in the mid-1940s. Dean Martin appeared at the Sands in Las Vegas with a bevy of showgirls. Unaware that Montgomery Clift (Dean Martin's co-star in The Young Lions) was a homosexual, Dean told Sinatra: “I at first thought he was fucking Elizabeth Taylor.” In Hollywood, a guy marries a somewhat plain woman who will stand by him on the way up. But when he arrives at the big time, he can go for the sultry siren type. Frank Sinatra was the perfect example of that—from Nancy Barbato to Ava Gardner. 

Frank would later assert to Playboy, “You can be the most artistically perfect performer in the world, but an audience is like a broad—if you’re indifferent, endsville.” Frank persuaded Dean to become part owner of the infamous Cal-Neva Lodge on the border between California and Nevada (the casino was carefully positioned in Nevada). Dean purchased seven percent interest in the lodge. He later learned that Frank owned one-quarter of the real estate. When Dean learned of the mob’s association with Cal-Neva, Dean asked Frank if he could pull out. Frank said he’d make arrangements to have someone else take over Dean’s interests. Introduced to him by Frank, Dean found sex goddess Marilyn Monroe a bit too exotic for his tastes. But in time he'd enter her web of intrigue and emotional dependency. He visited her apartment with a rewritten script of My Favorite Wife, which had starred Cary Grant and Irene Dunne in 1940. My Favorite Wife had been retitled Something’s Got to Give (Marilyn's last film). Originally Fox wanted James Garner for the part, but Marilyn held out for Dean Martin. The blonde goddess had every intention of finishing the movie before Fox fired her for holding up production. She even told Martin that she planned to follow their movie with another script called What a Way to Go, which would costar Frank Sinatra. 

Marilyn crossed out entire pages within her copy of the original script, telling director George Cukor, “It’s unbelievable. Dean Martin would never be attracted to another woman if he had me.” After endless delays on the set, including times when Marilyn didn’t even show up, director George Cukor told Dean he wanted to replace Marilyn with Lee Remick or Kim Novak, Frank’s former girlfriends. Dean held out for Marilyn. “If Marilyn is fired, I walk,” he warned Fox executives. Dean went into a deep depression when he heard of Marilyn’s death on August 4, 1962. He tried to attend the funeral with Frank but Joe DiMaggio had left orders for security guards to bar both of them.

Frank Sinatra called January 25, 1990, the “saddest day of my life.” He’d just put down the phone after a call from London. His beloved Ava had died of pneumonia at the age of sixty-seven. Shortly before her death, she told a reporter, “I drank too much, partied too much in the Fifties. It’s all caught up with me. I didn’t age well, honey child. I was never that great an actress. Now, I’m what is called a faded beauty.” Sinatra, in one of the low points of his career, had joined up with Bogart’s Rat Pack in 1953. After Humphrey Bogart died of cancer in 1957, the original Rat Pack more or less dissolved. Bacall pronounced it “gone forever.” Unlike Bogie’s Rat Pack, which was purely social, Sinatra’s Rat Pack often performed together, either on stage or in the movies. Frank set the rules for the club. The drink of choice was a bottle of Jack Daniels. The dress code was crisp white shirts, shiny sharkskin suits, and thin dark ties. Dean warned Frank, “Don’t ever let Jerry Lewis become a member—or else I’m out of here.” Of all the Rat Packers performing on stage, Peter Lawford was viewed as the least talented—“a louchemeister of limited gifts who was there only because he was married to JFK’s sister,” in the words of one critic.

As Patti Lewis recalled: “Jerry accused me of having an affair with Dean. I did not. We were like family. Dean tried, in his own way, to offer me support, and just knowing someone else was aware of what was going on eased my pain. It also created a bond between us and helped me understand Dean’s feelings.” If Patti understood Dean’s feelings, it may have been, in part, because of their shared experience as show people born to Italian immigrants. Dean and Patti recognized each other across that noisy table at Lindy’s. They were cut from the same cloth, however differently they wore it. Patti might have reminded Dean of his mother. There was nothing sexual between them—Dean usually went for blondes—but that Jerry was married to such a woman surely raised him a notch in Dean’s eyes.

Unknown to many, Marilyn Monroe became a temporary but rather unstable member of the Rat Pack. Columnist Dorothy Kilgallen, an enemy of Frank’s, wrote that he dated some of the great beauties and stars of their day, including Marilyn and Lana Turner. “Others,” she claimed, “were fluffy little struggling dolls of show business.” Although Joe DiMaggio socialized with Sinatra, he never completely trusted him, especially around Marilyn, causing a rift in the trio. Marilyn wanted to film What a Way to Go with Sinatra, but one night she decided that she preferred Gene Kelly as her co-star. At 20th Century Fox, executives wanted to co-star Marilyn and Sinatra in Pink Tights, a remake of Betty Grable’s 1943 Coney Island. Marilyn was open to the idea of co-starring with Frank in a film in which her character evolves from a prim schoolteacher to a torch-singing cabaret artiste. 

Privately, Frank had told Dean Martin and others, “I wish Marilyn would divorce Joe. He’s not right for her. For Marilyn to give up her career—now that’s making the big sacrifice.” Frank was playing a dangerous game, being Marilyn’s confidant and protector on the one hand, and DiMaggio’s good pal on the other. Frank allegedly told his friend Jilly Rizzo that he wanted to keep information about his sexual involvement with Marilyn private from DiMaggio. “I don’t need the aggravation. Joe would get seriously pissed off at me. Of course, if Marilyn and I get really serious about this thing, Joe is gonna find out. If she becomes the next Mrs. Frank Sinatra, the whole fucking world will know. Joe already suspects us. He’s not as dumb as he looks.” Marilyn’s secretary and confidante, Lena Pepitone, who wrote a book entitled Marilyn Monroe—Confidential in 1979, claimed that she asked Marilyn why she would consider marrying Frank if she were still in love with DiMaggio. “Joe loves me, but he’s insisting I give up my career. I’ll never do that.” Ironically, Frank, if he’d agreed to marry her, would have insisted that Marilyn give up her career, too. During the last vacation weekend of her life, Frank invited Marilyn to the Cal-Neva Lodge, whose location straddled the border between California and Nevada. When DiMaggio heard of this, he too headed there.

He’d told friends about Sinatra and his influence on his ex-wife Marilyn, “why doesn’t he let her alone? He’s only fucking up her mind. And those are gangsters he’s got her mixed up with!” DiMaggio was no doubt referring to mob boss Sam Giancana who was a guest at the Lodge that weekend. On Sunday, September 18, Frank’s voice, but not Frank, joined Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis on a historic episode of The Colgate Comedy Hour. This was the show where Martin and Lewis, who were in the midst of epic battles and had less than a year to survive as a comedy team, seemed to declare an uneasy truce in a skit spoofing the quiz show The $64,000 Question. When Dean, playing the emcee, pushes Jerry, as the contestant, underwater in a dunk-tank isolation booth, Jerry rises up and splutters, “Haven’t you heard? The feud is over!” In a poolroom sketch later, Jerry, purporting to be a songwriter, tries to sell Dean a goofy tune called “Yet I Can’t Forget Her.” As delivered by Lewis in his Idiot Kid mode, the song is pure malarkey, but when he turns on a radio the next moment, there’s Sinatra singing it, quite charmingly. Frank Sinatra, who was almost incapable of ad-libbing a comic line onstage, envied Jerry Lewis' comedic talents. 

To Frank Sinatra, who always seemed to be crying or killing himself over a woman, who always seemed to be dispatching others to do his dirty work, whose mammismo relationship with his mother was that of a little boy—Dean was la cosa vera, the real thing, the right stuff. Ohio-born Dean Martin had been a former prize fighter and card shark reconverted into suave crooner. As for Dean’s feelings about Frank—well, who knew? He certainly admired him as a singer. Yet, Nick Tosches contends, Martin felt Sinatra “took it all so fucking seriously. He thought he was a fucking artist, a fucking god.” And while Frank’s charisma, volatility, and huge success in the 1950s made him a natural leader, with a group of followers who jumped at his every wish—and often flinched when his temper flared—Dean Martin wasn’t one of them. Though both Sinatra and Martin had dropped out of high school in the tenth grade, Frank possessed a restless, ravening intellectual curiosity; Dean loved watching Westerns on TV and reading comic books. —"Sinatra: The Chairman" (2015) by James Kaplan

“Dean doesn’t have an overwhelming desire to be loved,” Dean's second wife Jeanne said. “He never had a male friend,” Jeanne asserted flatly. Nick Tosches punts on the issue: “He was close to Mack Gray, to Sammy Cahn, to Frank Sinatra, to others,” he writes. “But he did not need friendship.” Jerry Lewis, like Frank Sinatra, was an only child and once said that Dean Martin was the big brother he never had. Sinatra looked up to Martin in similar ways. A song Cahn and Van Heusen would later write for Frank put it unapologetically: “I like to lead when I dance.” With Martin and Lewis, the dance had ended badly. With Martin and Sinatra, the dance went on and on. Jerry Lewis was the most vulnerable of the three performers. Before teaming with Martin, Lewis had toured the vaudeville circuit with a “record act” in which he played back the recorded voices of popular singers and accompanied them with his own exaggerated pantomime. The idea had come while he was romancing Lonnie Brown in her bedroom. These performances undoubtedly not only parodied the sentiments the songs were meant to evoke but revealed the constructed, performed, and artificial nature of the person who was supposed to be exteriorizing these sentiments (thereby subverting the ideology of individuality). In these “Satirical Impressions in Pantomimicry,” Lewis presented himself as a partial or composite being—a personality that existed because of, and through a difference from, another personality. Foregrounding this difference exposed the fictive nature of both personalities.

Love and laughter has to be what it's all about. Then you'll survive. Maybe we'll all survive. Maybe. But the touch question when dealing with people is: 'How do I know when I'm human enough?' I'm going to use a wrong word because that's the way I want to use it, letting the language purists feel superior. The word I'm talking about is humanities. There is a great deal of confusion between humanism, which means a cultural attitude, and humanity, which really means a kindly disposition toward your fellow man. I maintain we're dealing in a humanities area just as critical, in its way, as open-heart surgery. I don't care how much technical information you have stored away, you blow the picture when you blow the human end. I am not ashamed or embarrassed at how seemingly saccharine something in my films will sound. Actors are a strange breed of people. If you want to attempt to understand actors, read a quote from Moss Hart's Act One: 'The theatre is an inevitable refuge of the unhappy child, and the tantrums and childishness of theatre people are not either accidental nor a necessary weapon of their profession. It has nothing to do with so-called artistic temperament. The explanation, I think, is a far simpler one. For the most part, they are impaled in childhood like a fly in amber.' But there's a contradiction, too. They are there so that everyone in the world can watch them, yet at the same time no one should be permitted to see them act. Actors are very complex people. 

I do love to act, however. Why? There is a tremendous satisfaction in making people laugh. It feels good. The best way to photograph a woman is dead-on and close. A low angle on a woman often distorts. Women are tough to shoot. There is still another misconception in cut coverage, one of those rules to be broken: it says that the director make a single shot of the male if he has made a single of the female. I prefer to do a single of the female and relate her to the male with an over-on, over her on him, at the same time keeping a single of her. With two singles there is no direct tie between the characters. Too many beginning directors play with their cameras, moving them to let the audience know the camera is moving. They should have their hands broken, should have the cameras dumped on them. Again, it is that kid's shout, "Hey, lookit me!" George Stevens, in directing A Place in the Sun, Giant and The Greatest Story Ever Told, shows mastery in almost every frame, and the viewer, whether or not he enjoys the film or the subject matter, is unconsciously aware of the fine stitching throughout. I respect Hitchcock and his superb talents but he crossed the line of decency and I hate some of his films. I hated Psycho, although it was a good movie. After seeing it at the DeMille Theater in New York I went to a bar and shook a brandy down. I couldn't enter the bathroom in the hotel without shuddering.

Make enough films, even if you are Robert Wise, and you'll bomb once in a while. There are many directors not in the category of a Robert Wise, a William Wyler, a George Stevens or a Zinnemann who turn out fine pictures and may someday do their classic. Ninety percent of the avant-garde clique who proclaim, "Look at the greatness of his film," are ashamed to admit they don't know what the hell it is all about. They can't wait to run to the coffeehouse to breathe out, "Wasn't that magnificent?" God forbid someone asks, "What did it mean?" There's a long silence. Then some creep with a beard and thick lenses says, "What's the difference?" Insofar as an eight-hour Andy Warhol film is concerned, I lump the avant-garde and the underground in the category of film users rather than filmmakers. Often they are using film indulgently for no other purpose than to create controversy.

Maybe, for some of us, after we cut away the drivel, comedy is our bag because it is in our gut. We have no choice. It's laugh or cry. People can't hate when they are laughing. A good comedian, I think, comes from a shallow beginning if not a minority group. Shallow emotionally or financially, often both. No one from a silver-spoon family has ever been a top banana. A few have tried but haven't made it. Comedy, humor, call it what you may, is often the difference between sanity and insanity, survival and disaster, even death. It's man's emotional safety valve. If it wasn't for humor, man could not survive emotionally. Peoples who have the ability to laugh at themselves are the peoples who eventually make it. I also feel there is nothing more dramatic than comedy. There must also be relief from laughter as opposed to comic relief. An audience cannot be allowed to laugh too long, or too hard, within anyone period of time. Rolling in the aisles comes from laughter but it also comes from the inability to handle it. There are times when slight laughter is better than a lot of it.

When my crew are looking at me with some kind of envy: "Look at this confidence. Cocksure. What he knows he's going to do, he's going to do." They should only know that 60 percent is confidence. Forty percent is crap. The world is still made up of green apples and dreams and wishing wells; the heart beats fast when a pretty girl winks. All of that is still what it is all about. The important things, the ones some people put down, are the lovely, wonderful things that gives gooseflesh. Sometimes I have been accused of being morally theatrical. I hate that. I’m moral. I like to think I’m moral. There’s a wonderful line: “I care about the demise of a man because I’m involved with mankind.” My involvement is genuine, it’s sincere. I feel that if you’re given a special place in this life, you can’t walk into a small room and close the door with it. I think that’s wrong. Because it’ll be of no consequence to yourself or anyone else, unless you use that gift. Use it how? To get another gift? No, you use that gift to spread the word that made you the recipient of the gift. So I’m kind of idealistic, mid-Victorian, completely old-fashioned. I’ve gotten further with truth than a thousand people hedging, fudging. When you learn, and I have, truth is immediate. Most of the characters that I played had truth as a foundation. Cagey, maybe; but never deceptive. His truth was part of his innocence. And certainly part of his naivety. —"The Total Film-Maker: The New Collectors Edition" (2017) by Jerry Lewis

Whether he appeared in his own films or not, Lewis’s directorial style was too drastic, uncompromising, and strong for even a self-reinventing Hollywood. Like all narratives, the Lewisian narrative, however thwarted or vestigial it may be, poses and answers a question. But in Lewis’s work, the question becomes forgotten or displaced. In The Ladies Man, the master question—Can Herbert get over his problem with women?—is simply dismissed, as Herbert finds himself in a house surrounded by women who overcome his reluctance and persuade him to stay. The Patsy and Cracking Up are especially interesting as the two Lewis films in which he directly confronts the possibility of his own character’s death (as he does, more obliquely, in The Family Jewels and The Big Mouth): the films try to define and preserve selfhood even as they play with its disappearance, only to end up acknowledging the fictional and optional nature of selfhood and (like Three on a Couch) the untenability of any standard of “success.” Though based on a routine premise, The Big Mouth reaffirms Lewis’s commitment to the absurd and his independence from Hollywood norms of narrative and characterization. The possibility that individuality could be eradicated or annulled always lies underneath the dazzling variety of Lewis’s playful constructions of identity. 

Where does life end and performance begin? The Errand Boy and The Patsy propose a continuity between the two. The famed columnist Hedda Hopper tells Stanley’s handlers in The Patsy: “You’ve come across somebody who hasn’t yet learned to be phony. He felt something, and he said it, which was real and honest. And now if you apply that to his performance, you’ve got a great success.” The Errand Boy is neither a celebration nor an evisceration of Hollywood; it is a mourning of it, a lament for its disappearance. One of Lewis’s innovations is making the showbusiness id the instrument and the vehicle of a superior alternate model of self-realization to that of psychoanalysis. In The Errand Boy, Morty’s encounter with Magnolia steers the film away from slapstick and toward a low-key existential meditation, with overtones of the possible beginning of a romantic relationship. Lewis’s semi-documentary style through several films (The Bellboy, The Errand Boy, Hardly Working) marks him as one of the major pop-modernists of American cinema, along with Howard Hawks, Frank Tashlin, and Andy Warhol. In his love scene with Pat Stanley's character in The Ladies Man, Herbert is trying desperately to be that young man that might be her possible choice. The tracking shot of the car wash in The Errand Boy celebrates the sleekness of modernity, aligning the film with some of the major themes of American pop culture (see also the parody rock song “I Lost My Heart in a Drive-in Movie” in The Patsy). 

It’s worth rehearsing how so much of the plot from The Patsy obviously meant to mirror Jerry’s own experience of Hollywood while touching on his favorite narrative themes—the cynical handlers, the clown who comes through with sincerity when his act fails, the women who want to burp him, the lying sycophants and journalists, the absurd means by which nobodies become stars. The film features several Hollywood stars playing themselves—Rhonda Fleming, George Raft, Mel Tormé, Ed Wynn—yet the script asks them all to play phonies. Hedda Hopper appears at a cocktail party with an absurdly oversized hat, and only Stanley has the effrontery to laugh at it. The routine on the Sullivan show is truly bizarre. Stanley, trained as a stand-up comic, is so bad that crickets can be heard chirping in the background at one of his club dates, but suddenly he’s able to pull off a long silent comedy routine with no rehearsal. Even in the logically unstable world of Jerry Lewis (which more than one critic has compared to that of Lewis Carroll), this is hard to rationalize. There was about The Patsy an air of self-deprecation that none of his other projects had.

“Jerry Lewis as The Patsy,” read the opening titles, and the audience can make that identification on several levels. This was not just a simple reappearance of the Kid in a new setting; this was a mature man coming to grips with the fact that his career was built on ephemera and boosted by liars. It’s no wonder the film’s box office was among the softest yet for a Jerry Lewis picture. The pratfalls and silly walks that Lewis devised to delight us movie after movie, resulted in back injuries—not to mention addiction to painkillers—that essentially led to lifelong pain. Being funny hurts. But Lewis was really a musician and dancer rolled into one, even when he was neither playing music or dancing outright. His routines were a glorious rush of improvisatory looseness and seemingly contradictory precision: He’d know intuitively when to cross his eyes or jut his jaw, and if his split-second decisions were as definitive as a well-placed sixteenth note, they also felt wild and a little dangerous, an invitation to reckless freedom and joy.  And Jerry went on alone to be writer-director-star, to flop on TV, to labor for Muscular Dystrophy research, to raise a big family, to fight show-biz segregation. As for his moviemaking decline, Jerry blamed Hollywood's "corporate structure."  —"Jerry Lewis: The Total Film-Maker" (2009) by Chris Fujiwara