Before Jerry Lewis, few people knew what Muscular Dystrophy was. Hell, few people knew what Labor Day was before he started hosting those telethons.
Even though the Muscular Dystrophy Association booted him as master of ceremonies years ago, I always associated Labor Day with the King of Comedy. And I will continue to do that, as Mr. Lewis passed away at the ripe old age of 91 as I was preparing Beachcomber’s Labor Day issue.
The sad thing about Jerry’s death is that I (and many fans) just assumed he had a thing or two left in him. The man didn’t spend a whole lot of time away from the spotlight, even in his tenth decade. Earlier this year, I got to see what is likely the man’s last movie performance—Max Rose, filmed several years ago but only recently released.
A good movie it’s not, but still worth a look because it’s Jerry.
But if you’ve never seen The Bellboy, The Errand Boy, The Ladies Man, The Nutty Professor or The Patsy—from Lewis’ peak as a comic actor and filmmaker, all five of them true blue classics—you should start there.
A couple years ago, Lewis donated a print of his never-released 1972 dramedy The Day the Clown Cried to the Library of Congress. He stated that the film, set in a Nazi concentration camp, would never be screened as long as he was alive. The movie’s notoriety has only increased over the last 45 years, and you could spend all day Googling and YouTubing it.
In the ‘90s, Jerry Lewis appeared in a couple of excellent under-the-radar pictures that are hard to find but well worth seeking out—Emir Kusturica’s Arizona Dream (co-starring Faye Dunaway and Johnny Depp) and Peter Chelsom’s Funny Bones.
I didn’t really “get” Jerry Lewis until I was in my 30s, though I loved his dramatic turn in Martin Scorsese’s King of Comedy (1983). I rented a copy of The Nutty Professor shortly after seeing Eddie Murphy’s 1996 remake (executive produced by Lewis). After that, I wasted lots of time seeking out Lewis’ other movies— not the easiest thing to do 20 years ago. You kids have it so easy now.
Jerry’s son was the frontman for the band Gary Lewis and the Playboys, and in the Lewis-directed The Family Jewels, there’s a really great scene where Jerry just sits in his living room and plays the 45 of his kid’s hit song “This Diamond Ring” for what seems like the full duration of the record. I thought this was the coolest thing ever and still do.
And I haven’t even touched on the man’s extraordinary work with Dean Martin (think Beatlemania multiplied by a hundred), his triumph on Broadway in Damn Yankees, or the time we made each other laugh during the Q&A portion of a performance at the Beau Rivage in Biloxi.
Or Cracking Up (a/k/a Smorgasbord) from 1983, which is uneven but full of great comic moments—that was Lewis’ last movie as director, and while it never got a proper theatrical release, it turned up all the time on the CBS Late Movie and the Movie Channel.
On a poignant note of sorts, I used several Jerry bits in an Act4Murder show at the Pensacola Beach ELKS Lodge the night before the King of Comedy died. Those of us in the business call it an “homage.” You may rightly call it a “rip-off.”
Years ago, I wrote down Buddy Love’s recipe for the Alaskan Polar Bear Heater, the drink that turned Buddy Lester’s bartender into a stiff to hilarious effect in The Nutty Professor. I kept it in my wallet for almost a decade but couldn’t find it a couple days ago when I could have used a good belt.
Guess I’ll have to watch the movie again.
- Editor Manson
YOUR THOUGHTS AND COMMENTS
This was a great show (Live Music Review – Grayson Capps by Nikki Hedrick, Aug. 10-23 Beachcomber). I loved every minute of it. I have seen him many times, and he always puts on the best show! Hope he will be back soon.
- Jil Butterfield Jones
Great article, Nikki! Grayson Capps and his band poured their hearts out, and we were blessed to be part of the audience. I’ll see them again and again and never tire of them.
- Patty Briggs
Patty Briggs is a partner at Milton’s Imogene Theatre, where Capps and the Lost Cause Minstrels recently performed.
DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS
In last issue’s corrections, we incorrectly identified Beachcomber contributing writer Samantha Lambert’s husband as Steve, when in fact his name is actually Scott. Prior to that we had incorrectly identified Scott/Steve as the father of kiddie magicians Kadan Bart Rockett and Brooklyn.
We hope this clears things up.
Renowned Beachcomberland musician Brandon Day and Shea Bryant enjoy the “worst magazine in America” (Danny Tharpe). You’re really going love this issue, kids.
Photo by Chris Manson