Jerry Lewis had an amazingly successful career in movies, television, and nightclubs, starting with his comedy-and-music act with Dean Martin in the late 1940s.
Martin and Lewis remained a sensation, drawing kids to see funny Jerry and women to see handsome singer Dean, until they broke up in 1956. Lewis’ solo career in comedy was equally successful with such moves as “The Bellboy” and “The Nutty Professor.” Martin’s career also skyrocketed in movies, TV, and recordings.
Along with writing, directing, and producing his own films, Lewis became a major spokesman for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, hosting the annual telethon for more than 40 years.
Despite his popularity, here are six Jerry Lewis facts you didn’t know:
1. He developed a need for attention as the son of entertainers — His father was a song-and-dance man while his mother played piano. They were frequently on the road, traveling to vaudeville shows and leaving young Jerry in the care of his grandmother. It left him with feelings of insecurity and a lack of affection, according to The New York Times. This may have given him an incentive to become a comic.
2. He started the Martin and Lewis team because of a cancellation — Jerry met Dean when they appeared on the same bills in nightclubs in Manhattan. They ended up doing impromptu acts at the end of the show. When Jerry was at the 500 Club in Atlantic City, a singer dropped out at the last minute and Jerry convinced the club owner to have Dean fill in. They put together an act based on their previous routines with Lewis as a bumbling busboy interfering with Martin’s singing, and the successful team was born.
3. Lewis was never nominated for an Academy Award — He did receive the Academy’s Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 2009 for his charitable work. Some of his work over the years stepped outside of comedy, including 1982’s “The King of Comedy,” in which he had a highly praised dramatic role. That film earned him a nomination from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, according to Heavy.com. He was also nominated for a Golden Globe for “Boeing, Boeing” in 1966.
4. He was hailed as a cinematic genius in Europe — Although the Academy Awards and Kennedy Center Honors eluded him, Lewis received best foreign director awards in Europe eight times, according to the Los Angeles Times. He was most popular in France where he was named a commander in the Order of Arts and Letters, the country’s highest cultural honor.
5. Lewis was considered a master filmmaker — Called “the most profoundly creative comedian of his generation” by biographer Shawn Levy, Lewis was also known for his experimentation in sound, editing, and cinematography. He created a video-assist device that is now widely used by directors to watch takes on a monitor.
6. He raised billions of dollars to fight muscular dystrophy — He hosted the annual MDA telethon from 1966 to 2010. The program was a favorite for millions of TV viewers every Labor Day weekend and it included celebrities from all over the world. During the 1976 telethon, he was briefly reunited with his old partner, Dean Martin.
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