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Film Feature: HollywoodChicago.com Remembers Jerry Lewis

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CHICAGO – Jerry Lewis had a long and winding life, dying last week at the age of 91. Through that life he had many show business lives – including the inevitable addictions – surviving all of the them with his signature comic style. He also was featured in over 70 films, and HollywoodChicago.com remembers three of them.

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Jerry Lewis in Chicago in 1996
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for HollywoodChicago.com

When the gawky 19 year-old Lewis met the suave singer Dean Martin in 1946, little did they know that they would become the most popular act in America for several years, and make 16 films together between 1949 through 1956. Their box office draw was white-hot, so much so that neither of them could keep up with the blur of what happened to them. “Martin & Lewis” eventually broke up at the height of their fame in 1956, during which Martin famously said, “Jer, when I look at you, all I see is a dollar sign.”

The second act of Lewis’s career would be about his prolific filmmaking (as performer and director), his representation of the Muscular Dystrophy charity, the fog of his pharmaceutical addiction and his final years of film character roles and standing as a revered comedy lion. To read the rest of the HollywoodChicago.com obituary, click here.

Patrick McDonald, Spike Walters and Jon Lennon Espino of HollywoodChicago.com have their favorite Jerry movies, and pay tribute to the “King of Comedy” through three essays – with a bonus – about the man-boy who made us laugh.

StarTHE STOOGE (1952) by Patrick McDonald

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The Stooge
Photo credit: Warner Home Video

It’s impossible to understand the popularity of the act known as Martin & Lewis. Singer Dean Martin and comic Jerry Lewis got together as a team by accident, in an Atlantic City nightclub, and from there the act took off like a rocket ship. With Beatles-like popularity, they made an astounding 16 films in seven years for Paramount Pictures, and “The Stooge” reflected their relationship more than any of them. Dean portrays Bill Miller, an arrogant performer whose act needs a boost. Enter Ted Rogers (Lewis), who acts as the “stooge” (an audience plant that plays off the stage act). The duo takes off, but Miller never acknowledges Rogers’ contribution. The parallels to the real-life pair is obvious, but the film has a layer of poignancy that had Jerry later calling it his favorite of all the Martin & Lewis pictures. Another nice surprise in the film… a pre-Mayberry Frances Bavier (Aunt Bee) as Jerry’s mother.

LAAAY-DEEE!: Early Jerry Lewis was the comedian type who would do anything for a laugh, and “The Stooge” shows him off at his manic best. If only the real life partnership of Martin & Lewis had the same happy ending as the film.

StarTHE NUTTY PROFESSOR (1963) by Jon Lennon Espino

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The Nutty Professor
Photo credit: Warner Home Video

Jerry Lewis was a master of comedy who could fill a room with laughter with a single well-timed expression. Although many of his character choices would prove to be questionable (verging on offensive), one thing that is without question is how great his performance was in “The Nutty Professor.” As co-writer, director and lead actor in this film, we see a completely new side of Lewis than had ever been seen before. No longer restrained, he shows us his full comedic scope, delivering scene after scene of jokes, gags and all manners of hilarity. After he delivers one punchline, he is right back to building up the scene to deliver another one. In this Jekyll and Hyde tale, we get to see Lewis’ range not just behind the camera, but in front of it. He shows us two distinctly different characters, each with a specific set of mannerisms and an endless variety of jokes that fit their personalities. People may have seen him in films before this, but “The Nutty Professor” was the start of an audience getting introduced to the real comic Jerry Lewis, and the true extent of his craft.

LAAAY-DEE: When Jerry’s character Dr. Julius Kelp goes to the gym and got elongated arms instead of muscles, and the bed scene following it. Seeing him fumble around at the gym for the first time proved to be all too relatable. 

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