Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Playboy and the Putz

"Dean and Me (a Love Story)" is a book that came out last year which chronicles the 10 year working relationship between Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. I recently listened to the book on CD and found it to be fascinating. Most people of my age group, (I'm 36), have little interest in the world of entertainment before the 1970s. I have always admired the pioneers like Martin and Lewis who paved the way for today's entertainers. My only problem with the book is that the CD version is not read by the author, Jerry Lewis. It is narrated by Broadway actor Gregory Jbara, who actually does good impersonations of Jerry and Dean. Martin and Lewis were partners from 1946 to 1956. When they began it was before the days of television, so their primary work was doing live stage performances. Their big break happened in a club in Atlantic City. Lewis was the wacky guy with all the quips and Martin was the suave straight man, and a renowned crooner. A regular venue for the pair was the Copacabana club in New York. Lewis said that in their day the nightclubs were primarily owned by the mafia, so a performer could not help but rub elbows with the wise guys. Frank Sinatra was accused of being too friendly with gangsters, but Lewis said it was unavoidable. Just 2 years into their partnership in 1948, the duo was making $7,500 per week! They were a show business phenomenon, doing 7 or 8 live shows per day in the venues of the big apple. The pair had great cameraderie and impeccable timing, similar to Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon. Another great book on CD I listened to is "Here's Johnny" by Ed McMahon. As Martin and Lewis performed more and more, Dean felt like Jerry was in the spotlight too much. Jerry had faith that Dean could have success as a singer on his own and he secretly commissioned a composer and a lyricist to write "That's Amore" for Dean. Martin idolized Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra and he wanted to make it on his own as a singer. He was tired of Jerry receiving all the accolades. Martin and Lewis made 16 films together, but Dean grew tired of the hackneyed scripts and longed for more. After their feud and breakup in 1956, Martin had great success as a singer, actor and TV host. His Dean Martin Celebrity Roast and Variety Show attracted the biggest stars of the era. After the split from Dean, Jerry had success as an actor as well as working behind-the-scenes on films. Both Dean and Jerry performed regularly in Las Vegas nightclubs. Dean became part of "The Rat Pack", which also included Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford. In the late 1960s Jerry Lewis suffered an injury on stage and became addicted to the pain killer Percodan. In 1973 he hit rock bottom while dealing with depression and his his addiction, and he considered suicide. After not speaking for 20 years, Jerry and Dean were reunited by Frank Sinatra. It happened on the annual MDA telethon which Jerry has hosted for decades. They made up and were friends until Dean's death. A great movie with Jerry Lewis that I would recommend is "The King of Comedy" in which Lewis plays a Johnny Carson-like late night host. In the Martin Scorsese-directed movie Jerry is persued by a crazed fan named Rupert Pupkin, who is played brilliantly by Robert DeNiro.
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