WEIRDLAND: 2017

Monday, September 18, 2017

Suburbicon, Fantasy Femmes, Jerry Lewis

Like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich laced with too many prescription drugs, Suburbicon (2017) might look, sound, and perhaps even taste a little like a Joel and Ethan Coen picture because, in a sense, it is. The Minnesota brothers penned the script for this acerbically funny 1960s suburban nightmare years ago before being picked up and brought to life by George Clooney. Matt Damon and Julianne Moore play characters who appear on the surface to be regular 1950s archetypes—the dependable breadwinner and the sweet-as-pie homemaker—before being exposed as amoral schemers when their bad decisions unravel. Everything from the Corn Flakes boxes that line the shelves of the local convenience store to the whoosh of Julianne Moore’s pristine hair feels tactile and carefully considered. Greed, sex, power, and consumerism are the driving forces of the white inhabitants of Suburbicon and these forces are enough, it would seem, to justify tearing each other apart and thinking little of it. Needless to say, parables will be drawn to our current state of affairs. Source: thefilmstage.com

“Over the past five decades, Middle America has been stagnant in terms of its economic growth,” said Mark Rank, a professor of social work at Washington University in St. Louis. In 1973, the inflation-adjusted median income of men working full time was $54,030. In 2016, it was $51,640 — roughly $2,400 lower. As in an Agatha Christie mystery, the potential culprits behind the long-term trends are many — global competition, technological advances, trade imbalances, a mismatch of skills, the tax system, housing prices, factory shutdowns, excessive regulation, Wall Street pressure, the erosion of labor unions and more. In 2011, the median income for 25-year-old men was less than $25,000 — pretty much the same as it was in 1959. The result is that, since the 1950s, three-quarters of working Americans have seen no change in lifetime income. Source: www.nytimes.com

Joan O'Brien is most remembered for her popular 1950s drive-in films where she could be counted on to look fabulous and give a pleasant performance. In It Happened at the World's Fair (1963) she plays a prim nurse romantically pursued by pilot Elvis Presley amid the excitement of the Seattle World's Fair. When The Bob Crosby Show was cancelled in 1958 due to slipping ratings, Joan was urged by her MCA agents to give acting a try. They presented her to all the major studios as a beauty who could not only sing and dance but act as well. MGM signed her to a multiple picture deal. "This was the ideal arrangement to have," says Joan. "It meant that MGM had to use me in three films within a certain period of time. But I also had loanout rights to work at any other major Hollywood studio if  I so chose to."  


Joan tried her hand at physical comedy opposite the wild and woolly Jerry Lewis in one of his funniest films, It's Only Money (1962) directed by Frank Tashlin. The film is full of live action cartoon elements from start to finish, and most of the supporting turns would seem perfectly at home in any given Looney Tunes feature. Lewis plays a bungling would-be detective searching for Mae Questal's long-lost nephew and heir to her fortune. Joan is delightful as Questal's nurse, who also suspects that Jerry may be the nephew and tries to help him. 

Describing the experience of working with the comic genius, Joan says, "Jerry Lewis was totally off the wall and we had a lot of fun working on this film. He had me laughing so hard and so long during some scenes we had to stop and start over. He was such a practical joker and had all of us including Frank Tashlin, in stitches. But Jerry could be serious also. He was very generous and gave me a book that I still have called You're Better Than You Think. Inside he inscribed, 'And you really are, Joannie.' I was going through a period of time with a bad marriage and feeling down and depressed. Jerry really set my head straight. He said, 'Do you want to see some people who really have problems? Then come with me to visit my kids with Muscular Dystrophy who are wired up. Yours are nothing in comparison.' He also gave me some insight on how to appreciate myself a lot more as an individual."

Francine York arrived in Hollywood via beauty pageants (with the Miss San Francisco title) and modeling after an unsuccessful stint as a secretary for Northwest Airlines. Her first feature film role was a conniving magazine editor who pays a sleazy ex-detective (Robert Clarke) to set up show business people in compromising situations to help sell her scandal sheet (a la Confidential Magazine) in Secret File: Hollywood (1962). Casting director Eddie Morse took note of York and thought she would be a perfect foil for Jerry Lewis. Francine was late to her appointment to meet Lewis because she lost her wristwatch.  She was pleasantly surprised by Jerry's reaction. "I told Jerry that I lost the watch and that it was a graduation present," recalls Francine.

"He said, 'Just a minute!' He called his secretary and told her to order me a new watch to be delivered to my home. I said to him, 'Gee, I never had anyone do something that nice for me here in Hollywood.' Up to that point he was probably the biggest star I ever met. He tried to alleviate my fears and said, 'Just remember that the person behind the desk is probably insecure too. And my giving you that watch is really selfish. By doing it, it makes me feel good.' I've always remembered that. I thought that was quite a statement. A lot of people don't really know Jerry. He likes to do things for people. He thought I was perfect for this part in It's Only Money." York went on to appear in five other Lewis films, including The Nutty Professor (1963), The Disorderly Orderly (1964) and Cracking Up (1982). —"Fantasy Femmes of 60's Cinema" (2001) by Tom Lisanti

In Who’s Minding the Store and The Disorderly Orderly, the Lewis character’s masculinity is threatened by matriarchy. At heart, The Ladies Man is no sex comedy. Its “ladies” constitute the optical and emotional world of the film. The three dozen of young actresses Lewis had hired to populate his giant double stage were lavished with gifts like pearl bracelets and perfumes. By showing Herbert’s clueless masculinity, Jerry Lewis the filmmaker continued to work out more generalised portraits of individual alienation from cultural context; he points to, and diagnoses, a spectacular failure of fit endemic to modernity. Lewis, whose favourite films include The Sting, Dr. Zhivago, and Oklahoma! was not a fan of modern cinema, remarking to The Telegraph in September 2016: “There are things I see in the picture business today that upset me. But if it’s making money they will tell you you’re nuts for not liking it. That’s OK, I’ll stay nuts.”

Buddy Love represents, among other things, Jerry Lewis’ own dark side. Love is also a commentary on the nice guy’s perpetual complaint that the bad boys are the ones who undeservedly get all the pretty girls. What remains pure Lewis in The Nutty Professor is the manic-depressive mood swings between Kelp and Love. But unavoidably, I see Buddy Love as a comment on the Dean Martin part of “Martin & Lewis” – a simultaneous recreation and rejection of it. Of course, Lewis would deny that Buddy Love had something to do with Martin. But as D.H. Lawrence used to say, “Never trust the artist, trust the tale.” Jerry Lewis clearly favors the qualities of kindness and intelligence of Kelp (Lewis) against the apathy and arrogance of Love (Martin).

What is traditionally condemned as sentimental self-indulgence is Jerry Lewis’ compulsive need to “be himself.” In confiding to his female puppet-friend, Morty the clod becomes Morty the sensitive. In forcing such a deliberate shift in tone from slapstick comedy to out-of-character sentiment, Jerry Lewis reveals his need to step out of character, confronting the power of his Hollywood image to eat him alive; his need to play neither the star nor the clumsy idiot, but rather to be directly honest; to play no roles; to be the original, untainted, ordinary and therefore honest and sensitive real self. That is, Jerry Lewis without Hollywood. First surfacing in the discordant last part of The Errand Boy, this compulsion makes for cataclysmic ruptures of tone in The Nutty Professor and The Patsy, and surreal fragmentations of character in The Family Jewels. Source: brightlightsfilm.com

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Populuxe: Marilyn Monroe, Jerry Lewis

Marilyn Monroe's comic style soothed the nation's fears, while reflecting the 1950s "populuxe" style in design, which spoofed consumption and laughed at fears through a populist version of luxury. When Marilyn put on her Betty Boop character she was populuxe to the hilt. Marilyn didn't like Hemingway's masculine heroes. "Those big tough guys are so sick. They aren't even all that tough! They're afraid of kindness and gentleness and beauty. They always want to kill something to prove themselves!" Ralph Greenson was considered daring to take on Marilyn. Many psychiatrists wouldn't have treated her because of her suicide attempts. The suicide of a patient could destroy a psychiatrist's career. Greenson liked treating celebrities, and treated many famous performers, including Frank Sinatra and Vivien Leigh. Marilyn ranted not only against the people she claimed were persecuting her but also against anyone who acted in a way she considered to be against her interests.

Greenson decided at this point that Marilyn was at base an adolescent waif who acted irresponsibly, sulking or throwing tantrums when crossed. Marilyn had brought the nation's most famous acting teachers to heel; she had done the same to the nation's most famous athlete and its most famous playwright. Now she was facing down a famous psychoanalyst. Greenson tried to end her relationship with Sinatra, who had been his patient and whose neuroses he knew well. He also dismissed Ralph Roberts, her driver, masseur and friend, for he may have decided that Roberts, a vodka drinker, was enabling Marilyn. Greenson was exhausted by Marilyn and in December 1961 he brought Eunice Murray, a friend of his with some practical nursing experience, into Marilyn's life. Source: www.theguardian.com

We've frequently examined Carole Lombard as a feminist before her time, a quality she almost certainly inherited from her mother. But Lombard wasn't the only actress or celebrity to embrace feminism -- one can look back to the earliest silent stars such as Florence Lawrence and Mary Pickford for examples. The same can be said of Marilyn Monroe. Last year, Michelle Morgan released the long-awaited Lombard bio "Carole Lombard: Twentieth-Century Star." Now arrives "The Girl: Marilyn Monroe, The Seven Year Itch, and the Birth of an Unlikely Feminist" (which will be released on May 8, 2018) titled after her character in "The Seven Year Itch," telling the story of how that film transformed Marilyn Monroe from another Hollywood star into "The Girl" of modern times. Marilyn’s friend, the poet Norman Rosten, suspected that she would have been ambivalent towards feminism. ‘She had achieved the financial and legal gains (feminists) sought,’ Lois Banner reflects. ‘And she enjoyed her femininity, recognising its power over men.’ Banner identifies this stance as post-feminist. Lombard is rarely seen as an influence on Marilyn, though I'm certain she appreciated Carole's work. Jean Harlow, certainly regularly cited in that vein, was indeed a feminist. Source: carole-and-co.livejournal.com

Lois Banner's offering a new interpretation of the star's life which draws on feminism and the history of gender. It's certainly the case that Marilyn Monroe's story has been handled in the past by biographers and critics who don't share that perspective, including the novelist Norman Mailer and her ex-husband Arthur Miller. Mailer's book on Monroe is a drooling rehearsal of a particular species of male fantasy, while Miller's play After The Fall presents her as a monster. Banner isn't the first feminist to write about Monroe; she was beaten to it by Gloria Steinem, whose 1986 biography is a lovingly-crafted rescue fantasy. But "Marilyn, The Passion and the Paradox" (2012) by Lois Banner seems two-fold: to claim Monroe as a kind of pre-feminist icon, and to establish herself as the foremost scholar in a crowded field. Her Marilyn is difficult, ironic, insecure, bisexual; she's also clever - far from an original claim. Banner's biography dispels some myths about Monroe's childhood but the sheer quantity of detail is daunting, and her prose is sometimes excruciating. Source: www.independent.co.uk

Jeanne Carmen was a highly sought after pin-up model in the 1950's. Carmen appeared with Mamie Van Doren and Eddie Cochran in Untamed Youth (1957), and inspired the rock'n'roller to cover "Jeannie, Jeannie, Jeannie". All along the way, she had crazy adventures with all sort of artists (Eddie Cochran, Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Jerry Lewis, etc.) She was also a friend and confidant to Marilyn Monroe. George Jacobs, Frank Sinatra's long time butler and personal valet during the legendary Rat Pack years, states “Jeanne Carmen was a classic blonde starlet and pinup girl with one of the most perfect figures in Hollywood.” Sinatra “really liked Jeanne, whom he dated both when he was down, and after he was up again,” adding Jeanne -along with Marilyn Monroe- used Sinatra's complex at 882 North Doheny Drive in West Hollywood as a safehouse. Jacobs specifically states that Jeanne Carmen was Sinatra's “longtime on-off bedmate, who became Marilyn’s best girlfriend.” Source: jeannecarmen.wordpress.com

Jeanne Carmen (Queen of the B movies) claimed she supplied the shapely torso for the 1952 Esquire calendars and demanded $50,000 in damages from television comic Ken Murray for introducing another girl as the “calendar girl.” In June 1954, she was chosen "Miss Potato Chip of 1954." Marilyn Monroe confided to her friend Jeanne about her liaison with JFK: “Jeanne, you don’t aim high enough. All you care about is seducing another movie star and adding another notch to your garter belt. Jack Benny and Errol Flynn. I like to pursue bigger game… like presidents. Going to bed with Jerry Lewis is no big deal.” In 1958 columnist Harrison Carroll reported that “Sinatra, in Palm Springs for a fast two days before resuming work on Hole in the Head, found time to see Jeanne Carmen...” In June 1959 Jeanne was Frank Sinatra’s date at the Share Boomtown party at the Moulin Rouge. Guests included Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Milton Berle. In 1963 Jeanne Carmen moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, and married a stockbroker. They had three children, Melinda, Brandon James, and Jade Austin. Source: www.glamourgirlofthesilverscreen.com

In 1958 Frank Sinatra threw himself into a killing pace of movie-making (Some Came Running, Kings Go Forth, A Hole in the Head). All of Frank’s work catapulted him to number one among the ten biggest money-making movie stars in 1958, who included Glenn Ford, Elizabeth Taylor, Brigitte Bardot, Jerry Lewis, Rock Hudson, William Holden, James Stewart, Yul Brynner, and Marlon Brando. Those close to Sinatra claimed that he actually fell in love with Marilyn after his divorce from Ava in 1954. “He was still in love with Ava,” Dean Martin said. “But he also loved Marilyn in a different way. Frank was capable of loving two women at the same time.” Gangsters had always been drawn to Dean Martin, who diplomatically but definitively rebuffed them. Jerry Lewis never, unlike Sinatra, entered into business ventures that bore the spoor of mob money, and he was never forced to testify about organized crime before an investigatory body.

The women who passed through Lewis' life are cast by his words more like mother figures than sex partners. Lewis offered the “women wanted to burp me” line as a way of undercutting his boasts of sexual conquest but it reveals his shaky self-image, showing just how strongly his promiscuity was a compensation for his childhood feelings of inadequacy—he slept around because his mother hadn’t shown him sufficient love. Patti saw her husband’s mix of volatility and neediness as a manifestation of his poor self-esteem. In part, she recognized his distaste for competing with their brood of boys for her attention and affection: “I felt his jealousy of the love I lavished on the boys. He was not predisposed to share me. At times, Jerry seemed unreasonable, but he needed a portion of child love along with adult love.”

Jerry could be syrupy and sentimental, composing elaborate paeans to Patti (“Just ’Cause I Love Her,” he entitled one that ran nearly fifteen hundred words; in another, he described her as “the first human being that has ever cared about me”) and smothering her in gifts of jewelry, perfume, and clothes. “When we had a crisis, Jerry simply ignored any unpleasantness,” Patti said. Even when he was steely toward her, Jerry couldn’t stop seeking her approval and affection. —"King of Comedy: The Life and Art of Jerry Lewis" (1997) by Shawn Levy

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Rebel in the Rye, The Patsy (Jerry Lewis)


J.D. Salinger is 20th-century literature’s greatest enigma. But you won’t find much new light shed on the reclusive author of The Catcher in the Rye in writer-director Danny Strong’s polished but cliché-festooned biopic Rebel in the Rye. Nicholas Hoult manages to rise above the tortured-genius claptrap as the young Salinger, a wildly talented but prickly short-story writer whose uniquely contemporary voice is nearly snuffed out by the horrors he witnesses during World War II. Kevin Spacey, as his friend and mentor, gives the film’s sledgehammer moments some subtlety and a bit of his signature special sauce. But Strong’s script is far too conventional for such an unconventional subject. Important events are glossed over, while seemingly unimportant ones overstay their welcome. Worst of all is the film’s troweled-on dime-store psychology: Salinger’s father isn’t supportive; his socialite girlfriend dumps him for Charlie Chaplin; after he stumbles onto Eastern meditation, writing becomes his religion. Added together, they make for convenient story beats, but they don’t provide any real or particularly deep insight into Salinger’s talent, his demons, or his curious exile from the world. In the words of Holden Caulfield, the whole thing feels a bit phony. Source: ew.com

The Catcher in the Rye had been published to universal critical acclaim and enthusiastic public reception by J. D. Salinger in 1951, but Jerry Lewis seemed to have first become aware of it in the early 1960s. “Time magazine did a profile of Salinger,” recalled Art Zigouras. “Jerry had read the profile and sent out people to get copies of The Catcher in the Rye. He wanted to play Holden Caulfield.” Even though he was in his mid-thirties and had never attempted anything besides “The Jazz Singer” that remotely resembled real drama, Jerry was telling people that he was the perfect choice to play Salinger’s alienated anti-hero. “You never saw a more Holden Caulfield guy than you’re sittin’ with right now,” he informed Peter Bogdanovich. “If a person ain’t genuine, I know it. I can spot a dirty, lying, phony rat. I can smell ’em.” He tried to approach Salinger through his agent, but the representative of the notoriously reclusive author didn’t even respond to his queries. Salinger wouldn’t even let not-for-profit groups like the Yale Drama School produce adaptations of his works.

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Jerry Lewis found out later that Salinger’s sister was a buyer for one of the department stores in New York, and he wrote to her to influence Salinger to go ahead with it. He said, ‘Don’t worry. I’ll get him.’” “Salinger’s sister told me she used to call him ‘Sonny,’” Lewis revealed to Bogdanovich. “That’s what my grandmother used to call me. It’s frightening.” He never did succeed in wheedling the rights to the novel from Salinger, but even in the late 1970s he was discussing the possibility with dreamy enthusiasm. “Salinger’s sister told me if anyone would get it from him it would be me,” he told an interviewer. “I’m still trying. He’s nuts also. And that’s the only reason that he’s entertaining talking to me—because he likes nuts.” —"King of Comedy: The Life and Art of Jerry Lewis" (1997) by Shawn Levy

Jerry Lewis and his 1960s masterpieces, including The Patsy (1964), are supreme examples of vulgar modernism, but they are also profoundly humanist. It is often the case in Lewis movies that a female character is the sole source by which Lewis the person/persona can validate his own impulses towards goodness. Ellen (Ina Balin) is the only bulwark against the rest of the world that pushes Stanley away from his simple, bumbling, “authentic” self, which they see as childish, ineffectual, and foolish, the same way those in the audience who have eye-rollingly dismissed Lewis and his movies may see him. Lewis may actually make you feel a little less alone about the unsettling truth that to be human is a constant struggle. Source: sensesofcinema.com

At Home with Jerry Lewis, It Takes a Lot to Laugh


Jerry Lewis (It Takes a Lot to Laugh) video. Featuring photos and film stills of Jerry Lewis and his co-stars and Hollywood friends Dean Martin, Stella Stevens, Connie Stevens, Janet Leigh, Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball, Lana Turner, Natalie Wood, etc. and his wives Patti Palmer and SanDee Pitnick. Soundtrack: "It Takes a Lot to Laugh" by Bob Dylan and "Laugh at me" by Sonny Bono.

Jerry Lewis beams towards his wife SanDee: “She is the love of my life,” he said, and there seemed no reason to doubt him. “Most people are embarrassed to admit there’s another human being that’s in control of them, that your heart beats three times as fast because you’ve given yourself to someone else.” His adventures on screen, once a source of pleasure, were, he said, right up there with the night he thought he was going to have sex with Marilyn Monroe. Mr. Lewis, who has boasted in the past of an affair with the legendary siren, went silent when pressed. “I could have been talking about Bette Davis,” he offered at last, opaquely. Although the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences never honored Mr. Lewis for his film work, he received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for his charitable activity in 2009.

“I'd made 41 movies in thirty years; in the next seven years, I made only one. I wouldn't play the game. There weren't many people in the business who wanted me. I usually said what I believed. And there is no place in the corporate structure for a man with convictions, who also happens to be ruthlessly honest. The two archenemies of film corporate enterprises are 'conviction' and 'honesty'. If you have those qualities, you will labeled 'difficult,' 'egomaniacal,' and 'tough to get along with' but it's the people who have earned those reputations who know their craft and care about the films they are making.”

Mr. Lewis knows he can be slippery, his distrust of the interview process deep and abiding. “I almost always can tell when the interviewer is going to give me a spritz,” he said, punching the air by way of illustration. “For that, you’ve got to be prepared. You’ve got to be out in the world. And my tendency is to be alone.” Many critics interpreted his performance in Scorsese's The King of Comedy as a projection of his dark side. Mr. Lewis scoffs at it: "there is no darkness. I've got news for you. In comparison to the nerd, if the reverse of that is silence, it could be interpreted as dark." -"Jerry Lewis: In Person" (1982) and "At Home with Jerry Lewis" (2016) by Ruth La Ferla

Monday, September 04, 2017

Jerry Lewis, American Icon, on TCM Marathon

Turner Classic Movies pays tribute to Jerry Lewis on Monday, September 4 with the following festival of films. This program will replace the previously scheduled movies for that day so please take note. "The Nutty Professor" was named the Best Picture of 1963 by French critics. The schedule for the evening of Monday, September 4:

8:00 PM The Nutty Professor (1963)
10:00 PM The King of Comedy (1983)
12:00 AM The Stooge (1952)
2:00 AM The Bellboy (1960)
3:30 AM The Disorderly Orderly (1964)

"I don't need other people's pain to make comedy. I just call on my own. I need only to call upon my sorrow to create laughter. Sorrow and laughter are so close, hand-in-glove." —Jerry Lewis 

Jerry Lewis was a pyrotechnic wonder, a font of gibberish, voices, and caterwauls, a living Gumby doll, a bouncing Super Ball. He was so fast and natural that he made it look elementary, but it wasn’t: In the 1990s the undeniably agile Jim Carrey wowed audiences and scooped up $20 million per film with a pale imitation of Lewis. Carrey's act had no taste, no soul, no center. Even at its crassest, Jerry Lewis’ comedy tried to be about the human spirit—the human spirit of a truly excitable boy. Many of the biggest comedy stars of the Seventies (Woody Allen, Richard Pryor, Robin Williams, Steve Martin, Andy Kaufman), Eighties (Martin Short, Eddie Murphy, Bill Murray, Pee Wee Herman), and Nineties (Jim Carrey, Pauly Shore, Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler) can trace their comic roots directly back to the Jerry Lewis of the Forties, Fifties, and Sixties. The only career like his, with its five-decade cycle of acmes, nadirs, rebirths, and reevaluations, is that of Richard Nixon. 

Frank Tashlin, Jerry claimed, let him “codirect” Rock-a-Bye Baby (1958) and The Geisha Boy (1958). Both films do, in fact, bear more resemblance to Jerry’s self-directed films of the 1960s than to Artists and Models and Hollywood or Bust, but it’s hard to say whether this is because Jerry Lewis produced them or because of some stylistic influence he exerted on Tashlin. It was unusual enough for a popular movie comedian to write and direct a film in 1960—mind-boggling under conditions like those of an independent film. Part of the reason Lewis succeeded was that he was willing to abuse his body to produce work. His history of collapses, ulcers, and cardiac emergencies was directly related to his tendency to overwork himself. 

The Nutty Professor (1963) was his undeniable, ineradicable masterpiece, the one piece of work that even his critical antagonists would concede had true merit. Upon its initial release, the film got moderately positive views in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. In The New Yorker, which didn’t bother to review most of his films, physician and theatrical director Jonathan Miller, slumming as a critic, wrote, “This is a very funny movie, with some brilliant visual gags and a stunning parody by Lewis of a Hollywood Rat Pack cad.” The New York Times called it “his most painless romp in some time and probably the most curiously imaginative one of his screen career… less of a showcase for a clown than the revelation (and not for the first time) of a superb actor.” In 2004, The Nutty Professor was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

At the time of the film’s release, a handful of viewers theorized a connection between Buddy Love and Dean Martin. In France, where the film was known as Docteur Jerry et Monsieur Love, critic Robert Benayoun saw the film as the acme of Jerry’s long obsession with doppelgangers and doubling. It’s easy to see the despicable Love as a rap at Dean, but it’s also facile and biographically unlikely. The film was written in 1962, more than a half-decade since the team’s acrimonious split. Relations between the two were nonexistent, but there was no cloud of animus, either. Jerry swore that the character wasn’t based on Dean. And in fact very little about Buddy Love is like Dean. The traditional Dean Martin character may have been a a cad with the ladies, a singer, and an occasional tippler, but he didn’t do any of it with the headstrong purposefulness of Buddy Love. In fact, looking at Buddy Love’s thick eyebrows, apparently mascaraed eyelashes, plump lips, and dripping-with-grease hair, one notes more of a resemblance to Tony Curtis than to Dean Martin.

Julius Kelp, the pathetic soul from within whom Buddy Love emerged, was nearer to the persona Jerry presented in movies—the well-meaning bungler—and nearer to Jerry’s own view of his deep-down inner self. Jerry saw himself as a bright man with strong empathetic feelings who suffered slights in childhood and desperately wanted to be loved. Like Kelp, he transformed himself into a performer to receive affection and attention; like Kelp, he suffered nagging doubts about whether the public loved the real man or the mask. The Nutty Professor is, in effect, a confessional about the perils of succeeding in the public arena. Kelp is a wonder: articulate and stammering, intelligent and utterly naïve, with a chipmunk’s voice and teeth, bullied but unvanquished, a zealous explorer of scientific puzzles, a hopeless klutz trying desperately to walk a tightrope of decorum and respectability. He's completely lost around a girl who arouses him. He blows up classrooms, he wrecks gymnasia, he myopically hurls his bowling ball at people instead of pins. Yet he’s utterly charming, all the same. 

Shot in warm but vivid color, expertly paced and edited, The Nutty Professor is rivaled only by Jerry’s best work with Frank Tashlin as an artistic achievement. There are moments of marvelous cinematic invention—the point-of-view shot of the newly emergent Buddy Love walking from a haberdashery into the Purple Pit nightclub (a shot ironically echoed by the famous Steadycam shot into the Copacabana in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas); a hilariously composed sequence showing Kelp’s reactions to sounds as he suffers a brutish hangover; the devolution of Love into Kelp in the final confessional scene. Inevitably, as in most of Jerry’s films, there’s a drive toward a homilistic finale. Kelp reveals, after putting his glasses on in a genuinely heart-touching moment, what the experience of being two different people has taught him: “You might as well like yourself. Just think about all the time you’re going to have to spend with you.” It’s an ironic message, coming from such a fragmentary figure as Jerry Lewis. 

In retrospect, The Patsy (1964) seems a calculated good-bye to the life of sycophants and the star-making apparatus on which he had thrived. A combination of a sequel to The Bellboy (it had even been called, early on, “Son of the Bellboy”) and a cynical remake of Pygmalion, it’s rather like Jerry’s version of The Circus or Limelight, a black comic exploration of the nature of comedy as constructed by the Hollywood flesh machine. To the French, who discovered Edgar Allan Poe, Sidney Bechet, Josephine Baker, and other indisputable giants who found no appreciative audiences on their native American soil, Jerry Lewis was yet another genius neglected in his myopic homeland. By the early ’60s, Lewis had long since passed from the American public’s consciousness as a hot item. “Jerry was never chic in America,” reflected Peter Bogdanovich, one of the few American writers who took the comedian seriously at this stage in his career. On the release of The Family Jewels in the summer of 1965, France-Soir declared the film’s sentimental ending proof that Jerry was “a true human being and not merely a marvelous laugh-making machine,” and Robert Benayoun, writing for Positif, described how it “deliberately severs space-time and leaves us a series of nearly interchangeable moments.”

When Lewis spoke about his distaste for new trends in the film industry with Earl Wilson, he explained it in economic terms, as if to disguise his personal antagonism. Sneering about the presence of sex and violence in films, he argued “it’s in the hands of the public, which is to blame. As long as the public wants to buy it, they’re going to make it. I’ve had a couple of dozen scripts submitted to me that I just wouldn’t go near. The funny part is, eventually, they get done! Some freaks are making an awful lot of money and an awful lot of noise in our business. I can’t understand some of it; it’s like going to a zoo.” It became a point of pride for him that he wouldn’t consent to the kind of projects the studios were asking him to make. However wild his exaggerations, there was no doubt he was fed up with Hollywood, maybe even with America itself. He had won over America with a comic character born of abandonment; now America was abandoning him.

When Merrill Schindler of Los Angeles magazine asked Jerry several times why he inspired hostility, he got a frightening glimpse of Jerry’s self-image: “I’m a multi-faceted, talented, wealthy, internationally famous genius. People don’t like that.” On October 2, 1973, his twenty-ninth wedding anniversary, the pain, the drugs, and the hopeless situation he felt himself to be in finally overwhelmed him. “I felt everything was finished,” he confessed years later. “I didn’t have the stamina to sustain one more sweep of that red hand on the clock.” He retreated to his bathroom, opened the padlock on a drawer, pulled out a .38 revolver, loaded it, and stuck it in his mouth: “I came as close as you could come,” he told a reporter. His workaholism had been neutered by his lack of career opportunities. His financial situation was precarious. But suicide? Even if the melodrama of that scene is exaggerated, the very notion that he would choose to share such an anecdote indicated how seriously wrong things had gone for him. 

In September 1980, thirty-six years after they first met in Detroit, Patti Palmer filed for divorce in California Superior Court, asking for $450,000 a year in alimony, custody of and support for sixteen-year-old Joseph, and half of their community property, which she judged to be worth in excess of $7 million. Martin Scorsese had gotten Jerry involved in The King of Comedy (1982), and one of the results of the improvising experiment was Jerry Langford’s heartfelt confession to his kidnappers that his life was unenviable—a scene that stood as one of the highlights of Jerry’s performance. “He really got into the dramatic stuff,” Scorsese said. “I think he’s a wonderful actor.” Time Out called the film "Creepiest movie of the year in every sense, and one of the best". Roger Ebert wrote, "The King of Comedy is one of the most arid, painful, wounded movies I've ever seen." Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader gave the film a favorable review, calling The King of Comedy "clearly an extension of Taxi Driver." Whether or not he felt he had been manipulated into his performance by Scorsese and his costars, Jerry was extremely proud of his work. “He was very funny between takes,” said Scorsese. “Jerry is totally surreal. And when he started cracking jokes, I’d get asthma attacks from laughing. It got to the point of being maniacal, you had to shake him to stop it.”

Jerry Lewis never lost the hope that the people loved him again: “They have put me right where I am,” he declared, “giving me glowing affection and support. I’m an American icon.” And the cadences of this evolution echo our own history. No American entertainer embodied the fate of the nation since World War II more succinctly: the giddy surplus of the postwar years; the arrogant confidence of the Fifties; the incomprehensible unraveling of the Sixties and Seventies; and our subsequent struggle to place blame for the downfall. It’s no coincidence that the most triumphant moment of Jerry’s career came just weeks before the death of John Kennedy. Soon after, along with the dissolution of the national consensus, came his marginalization. 

Behind the clown, the showman, the director, and the philanthropist stood another person altogether—the “real” Jerry Lewis. Always introspective, a dabbler in psychology and an autodidact with a taste for aphorism, he relished the notion of presenting more than one persona to his public. Jerry Lewis maintained that conspiracy theories about the MDA telethons reflected not public awareness that his career had slowed but rather the mood of the nation after Watergate. “You cannot get by in this world, apparently, if you are a courageous, honest crusader or stand-up, straight-ahead man... There’s nothing wrong with a do-gooder,” he stated. “There’s nothing wrong with corny. I’ve lived an entire life on corn—crying, spreading my emotions through comedy and through seriousness. We need more people in this world to say what they feel from the heart rather than the head.” —"King of Comedy: The Life and Art of Jerry Lewis" (1997) by Shawn Levy

Friday, September 01, 2017

Remembering Jerry Lewis (The King of Comedy)

In The Errand Boy (1961) we are presented with one of those introspective, sentimental parentheses, which Jerry Lewis has openly claimed as something that was 100% his own. More pointedly, we have a sincere openness to magic (hence to the fascination of the early Hollywood era), which is merely the complementary flip-side of escapism, a word that excellently defines a cinema which, as is the case with Lewis, is conceived as an unending succession of vanishing acts. Lewis is perfectly aware that the thread that links rhetoric and the comic is the discrepancy between an action and its own symbolic inscription. The spectacle is not the unmasking of illusion so as to claw back the truth: it is an irreducible indeterminacy, and this is why it is an inexhaustible fount of wonders.

It is decisive that the dialogue scene with Magnolia (a stuffed ostrich with a Southern accent) arrives a few minutes after an analogous scene in which Morty, in the same storage closet, watches the sweetly surreal dance of a dressed-up finger on a counter-top which–as everything suggests despite nothing being explicitly said–belongs to Morty, who, although he is visible on the other side of the counter, appears to have placed his arm underneath it. As such, Lewis initially tells us that this magic could be an illusion (even if he never says this explicitly). Then, soon afterwards (with Magnolia) he surprises us by saying that, no, the puppet’s strings are not being pulled by Morty after all. Unveiling the mechanism is not an explanation in the service of the truth, but a hypothesis (which is preserved as a hypothesis and never transfigured into a “fact”) in the service of magic. Source: sensesofcinema.com

“Though it’s sometimes hard to remember, if not believe, Jerry Lewis was the most profoundly creative comedian of his generation and one of the two or three most influential comedians born anywhere in this century. As a comedian, Lewis single-handedly created a style of humor that was half anarchy, half excruciation. Even comics who never took a pratfall in their careers owe something to the self-deprecation Jerry Lewis introduced into American show business.” —"King of Comedy: The Life and Art of Jerry Lewis" (1997) by Shawn Levy

My movies would never drawn such big audiences without my wonderful leading ladies. There were so many, so talented in so many different ways—and so much better than the material they had to work with. Some of their names might surprise you: Did you know Dean and me appeared with Donna Reed? Agnes Moorehead? But the dozens of lesser-known actresses who acted in our films all added immeasurably to our work. However, to my vast regret, the one actress we never performed with was Marilyn Monroe—and how great she would have been in a Martin and Lewis picture. Dean and I first met her when we were receiving the Photoplay magazine award as Best Newcomers of the Year 1954 and Marilyn was the Best Female Newcomer. 

God, she was magnificent—perfect physically and in every other way. She was someone any man would just love to be with, not only for the obvious reasons but for her energy, perseverance and focus. She had the capacity to make you feel that she was totally engaged with whatever you were talking about. She was kind, she was beautiful, and the press took shots at her she didn’t deserve. In the late fall of 1954, Marilyn’s marriage to Joe DiMaggio had just ended, and she badly needed friends—and laughs. Dean and I had seen her here and there over the years since the Photoplay awards, and when we invited her out for an after-work snack at Nate’n Al’s (the best deli in Beverly Hills), she accepted instantly. She had a delicious sense of humor—an ability not only to appreciate what was funny but to see the absurdity of things in general. The three of us huddled in a booth in a far corner of the restaurant. We laughed for a couple of hours, and then we drove her home in Dean’s blue Cadillac convertible. Marilyn was living in the Voltaire Apartments in West Hollywood and asked us to have a drink with her. She hated to be alone, especially late at night, when she couldn’t sleep. She mentioned Joe a couple of times, but I think Dean and I both saw that there was a lot she couldn’t or didn’t want to talk about, so we tried to keep it light.

On the way out, I asked Marilyn if she would consider going to dinner with Dean and me one night that week. “How about tonight?” she said. “Tonight is perfect!” we said in unison. Dean and I spent most of that day trying to figure out where the hell to take Marilyn Monroe for dinner. “I know!” I finally yelled. “Let’s go to Perino’s!” It was the most elegant restaurant in L.A., on Wilshire Boulevard not too far from Slapsy Maxie’s. We set the time for 8:30. Dean and I left the set after work, and Christ, did we dress that night. I won’t even go into how much cologne was applied. We stepped into Perino’s precisely at 8:30—and there at the waiting bar was Marilyn. Alone, sitting on a stool, and looking drop-dead, as always. Dean asked, “How come you’re alone? Where’s Milton?” It was well known that she had started seeing Milton Greene, the photographer. But Marilyn told us he had a family and had to be with them. We were seated in the center of this very open restaurant, with all eyes on her! How amazing it is to think that it was only seven years after that night that Dean was cast as Marilyn’s love interest in Something’s Got to Give, for 20th Century Fox. By that time, poor Marilyn was falling apart. Christ, what a loss!

We might have passed on MGM, but we didn’t overlook two of that studio’s loveliest young stars, June Allyson and Gloria DeHaven. June was the same age as Dean, an established screen presence, a sweet woman who specialized in wholesome, girl-next-door parts. The beautiful Gloria was, like me, in her early twenties, and playing mainly ingenue roles. Dean and June found each other almost as soon as we arrived in L.A. There was no stopping women once they’d set eyes on Dean! And since June and Gloria were best pals, it made sense—by the peculiar rules of Hollywood, and of up-and-coming young performers—that Ms. DeHaven and I would get together. What made a little less sense was that all four players in this little roundelay were married . . . to other people. June’s husband was the movie star Dick Powell (42nd Street). They had a little boy and a young daughter. Gloria was married to the movie star John Payne (Miracle on 34th Street). They had a little girl and a baby boy. Dean and I, of course, were married to Betty and Patti, with four children between us. Dean and I booked two suites at the Hampshire House on Central Park South. June and Gloria had come to New York, without husbands, to go on a shopping spree. It was the kind of thing that young actresses did then—a chance to kick up their heels and get some publicity at the same time. The MGM publicity department underwrote the whole trip, even their shopping bills. June and Gloria were dressed to the nines in Lord & Taylor clothes and mink stoles. For the five days they were staying in New York, the girls had ten or fifteen changes of clothes: dresses, skirts, blouses, ball gowns, riding habits—all of it provided by the humongous Metro wardrobe department, approved by L. B. Mayer himself. Dean had a suite on the twenty-third floor, and mine was on the twenty-fourth floor, with but one flight of stairs between us. The girls were staying together in a suite on the twenty-fifth floor and extended their stay another week. I must have lost five pounds, and I was only 124 to start with. Dean just basked in it all, looking like a cat with a mouth full of canary. 

Then came the telephone call. It was—of course—Patti. Hours later, with the Manhattan sky turning gray, I was still trying to explain to my wife. “Listen, you schmuck,” she said. “If you have to get your rocks off, why do it in Madison Square Garden?” “What do you mean?” I asked innocently. “It’s all over the papers about you, Dean, and the two chippies you’re with,” she said. “Didn’t you know that what you were up to would have consequences?” I pacified her as best I could. After Patti and I made the agonizing decision to bring our long and difficult marriage to an end, Sandra (SanDee) Pitnick and I became husband and wife in February 1983. —"Dean & Me" (2005) by Jerry Lewis

The Nutty Professor (1963), is the one Jerry Lewis film that has attained something like classic status among critics and film historians, presenting a more solid narrative. In this takeoff on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the Jekyll figure, Dr. Julius Kelp, is a clumsy, shy chemistry professor with buck teeth, thick glasses, and a frog voice; the Hyde into whom he transforms himself, Buddy Love, is a slick, vain, boorish lounge lizard. Mostly Lewis is spoofing the kind of macho man sold by the advertising industry, exposing the thin line between arousing the opposite sex and becoming a total creep. The biggest joke of the movie is that the “monster” in Lewis’ Jekyll/Hyde story is a smarmy entertainer. Buddy is Kelp’s overreaction to being bullied, and Stella Purdy (Stella Stevens) sees something of the sweet, if befuddled, Kelp in Buddy. Stella is as Jekyll/Hyde as Kelp, prissy and pigtailed in class and vampish and dressed to kill at The Purple Pit.

"In an odd way I had trouble relating to control and to myself in The Nutty Professor. I had trouble coming out of the character of Buddy Love because I was playing a dirty, lousy bastard. I didn't like him. I didn't even like writing Buddy Love, the despicable, discourteous, uncouth rat, much less playing him. I asked myself: How do I know so well how to be a heel? Was I leaning to a side of me that really existed? Certainly I was. There was truth in him. It was also in me. So I hated him, and couldn't wait to play the alter-character, the nutty professor. Yet I had to relate to both of them and try to play them equally well."  —Jerry Lewis (The Total Film-Maker, 1971)

Lewis married his first wife Patti Palmer when he was only 18 and they had six sons. In the fall of 1963, when his wife was pregnant with their sixth child, Lewis was determined to have a daughter. Lewis met SanDee Pitnick, a 32-year-old dancer, while he performed in Las Vegas in the early 1980s, and, shortly after he got a divorce from Patti, the couple wed in Key Biscayne, Florida, on February 13, 1983. They adopted Danielle Sarah Lewis, who was born on March 23, 1992. “She’s the answer to my dreams,” Jerry told Joe Stabile: “I’m happier now than I’ve ever been in my life. I've cried before out of sheer happiness, but never out of ecstasy. I'd wanted her for so long.” Lewis gushed endlessly about Danielle, named after Lewis’ stern and often disapproving vaudevillian father Daniel Levitch. “She’s the air in my lungs,” Lewis told CNN’s Larry King in 1996 when he was starring in Damn Yankees. “She’s the reason I’m here with you today. She brings me the energy to go on at 8 o’clock and try to be as good as I possibly can so she hears about it.”

Lewis often referred to Sandee Pitnick glowingly, on one occasion saying that she’s “the greatest audience I have ever had.” "I'm really not thick-skinned—my wife will tell you that I take sunsets personally—but I know that I've got the belly for whatever comes down the pike. I think it's tenacity. I say to everybody, love is what wakes you up in the morning, love is what makes you walk and love is what makes you hope,” he told The Guardian in 2016: “Love is what makes you dream and love is what makes you want to get up in the morning, love is something that you want to be a part of, because it makes you better. We’ve had 38 years and she’s my right arm, left arm, both legs, head, lips and eyes.” On his health, Lewis said: "From 1936 on, I have taken more falls than any other 20 comedians put together. From the time I was 21, I've taken them on everything from clay courts to cement to wood floors, coming off pianos, going out a two-story window, landing on Dean, falling into the rough. You do that and you're gonna have problems. I've never had a day without pain since March 20, 1965."


Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin took their comedy double act into the movies, starting with My Friend Irma in 1949, and starred in 14 movies together. But the pair, once inseparable, fell into a bitter feud that lasted for decades and on only a few occasions did they see each other before Martin died of emphysema in 1995. Why didn’t they talk to each other for almost 20 years? “It was stupid,” Lewis said. “There was so much more that I wanted to do [in comedy]. And Dean wanted to sing more; and that was fine but when we got to that point we just didn’t talk. It was awful.” Lewis went his own way and made a string of highly successful solo films, beginning with The Delicate Delinquent and including The Sad Sack, The Geisha Boy, Cinderfella,  The Bellboy, The Ladies Man and The Errand Boy. The Nutty Professor in 1963 was one of his last big hits and his popularity waned.

Jerry Lewis was a dedicated artisan of the cinema, pioneering the process of video playback on set, without which directing a movie is now quite unthinkable. He taught a directing class at USC for some years, where his students included Spielberg and Lucas. Jerry Lewis' many inheritors in modern Hollywood comedy lack his streak of sentimentality and need to be loved. "Comedy comes out of pain, comedy comes out of uncertainty. When you ask a comedian if he ever would do anything dramatic—he’s done it from the day he decided to make people laugh! He’s far more dramatic than any dramatic actor," explained Jerry Lewis. "You have to look at things that are negative and figure out why they happened and make sure they don't happen again. I keep negative out of my life." Then he can't resist a last bad joke. "Except for film negative." Source: www.telegraph.co.uk