Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis - The Comedy of an Era and Enduring Brotherly Bond
Now, in a new book, Jerry Lewis has come clean about his relationship with Dean Martin. Shawn Levy unpicks the story. Shawn Levy. In , ten years after Martin's death, Lewis published a schmaltzy apologia of his relationship with Martin, entitled, Dean And Me (A Love. Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis – The Comedy of an Era and Enduring Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin's relationship kept the world laughing in.
And yet I have a patron saint, albeit one not canonised by Rome: Dean Martin was impeccable and remote, from the top of his brilliantined curls to the muddy spikes of his golf shoes; from his exquisite comic timing to the butterscotch fluidity of his voice; from the droll irony with which he observed life to the passionate heat he inspired in others.
And the best part of it is that he didn't care.
Dean was, as his brilliant biographer Nick Tosches so appositely dubbed him, the ultimate menefregista - an "I-don'tgive-a-damn-ist". His indifference is why I consider him my good luck charm. I have written four books of non-fiction in the past decade, and Dean has put his imprint of taciturn cool on all of them, most crucially in King of Comedy, a biography of Jerry Lewisin which Dean co-stars as the charismatic big brother figure with whom Jerry spends a crucial decade in one of the most popular comedy acts in entertainment history.
Dean was Jerry's hero, ideal, model, chum and chaperone. Jerry was nobody until he met Dean - and, to be fair, vice versa. Coming from literally nowhere, the pair rode a skyrocketing year career that made them staples of American showbiz for the rest of their lives.
They met when they were just two guys scuffling for a break in Times Square, and they helped forge a new brand of popular entertainment suited to the postwar mood.
By the time of their parting, they were superstars with a chasm of cold space between them. And then, as if paying a price for their success, they avoided each other assiduously and spoke perhaps two or three dozen times over the next four decades - and this after being so inseparable that people whispered about them. Yet for all this latter bitterness, Jerry to this day professes an undying love for his former partner. Dean passed away a decade ago while the rest of the world was having Christmas supper, and Jerry is marking the anniversarywith the release of a memoir, Dean and Me: It contains revelations and confessions of mobsters and women and golf matches and drunken sprees, and it seems Dean has grown as a comedian and a man in his former partner's eyes since his death.
For much of the new material, we have only Jerry's word, which can be a wobbly foundation upon which to rest a nonfictional narrative. Jerry's memory, while impressive, is often shaped by sentimentality and vainglory and his purpose of the moment.
Why Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis Split Up
Dean would never have written a memoir - his idea of serious reading was a couple of comic books. Certain things, however, are beyond dispute.
In July,a year-old comic pantomimist born Jerome Levitch and a year-old Italian crooner born Dino Crocetti, who had a slight previous acquaintance based on common friends and a couple of shared bookings, teamed up as a singing comedy act at the Club on the boardwalk in Atlantic City. The act came together because Jerry had been bombing on his own and begged Dean's manager to send the singer down from New York to save his skin.
Jerry was performing a "dummy" or "record" act; he would bring a Victrola out on stage with him and comically lip-synch and distort himself while various records played.
The sheer elasticity and abandon of the young comic put the thing over, but you couldn't imagine a lifetime of it - and more importantly, the gangsters who ran the Club didn't think it was funny.
During the previous winter, Jerry had been on the bill with Dean at a Manhattan night spot and the two had turned the final show of the evening into a pastiche, with Jerry antically interrupting songs that, to be fair, Dean wasn't exactly killing himself to deliver straight.
Shawn Levy unpicks the story of Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin | Film | The Guardian
So when he was threatened with losing his Atlantic City gig, Jerry recollected Dean and those hijinks and rang him. He came, they threw together an act, and within days they were a smash hit. To look at them, they hardly made a natural pair: Dean with his leonine beauty and slow, assured touch with a song or a joke; Jerry gaunt and gangly and hysterical and screeching like a klaxon horn. And off stage they were equally ill-matched. Jerry was Dean's temperamental opposite - needy and loud and insecure.
And yet this marriage of contrasts made for delicious entertainment. Their show was a deliberate shambles. Jerry might do a little of his record act, pretending to be an MC, then introduce Dean, who would start to sing while Jerry repeatedly interrupted.
It was loosely scripted - Dean was, as Jerry always says, "funny in his bones" and could ad-lib perhaps even better than his comedian partner. But the main impression was a kind of Hellzapoppin' breakdown of the normal parameters of nightclub entertainment. Within weeks of that first recordbreaking gig in Atlantic City, the two were playing at New York's Copacabana club to a glittering audience of movie stars, mafiosi and swells.
Almost immediately they were signed to make movies and given their own radio and TV shows, and Dean got a recording contract.
Their first starring feature was the independently produced At War with the Army They also had complete control of their club, records, radio, and television appearances, and it was through these endeavors that Martin and Lewis earned millions of dollars. Martin and Lewis often broke out of character, ad-libbing and breaking the fourth wall.
This early television show established their popularity nation-wide. Although there had been a number of hugely successful film teams before, Martin and Lewis were a new kind of team.
Why Dean Martin Hated Jerry Lewis
Both were talented entertainers, but the fact that they were such good friends on and off stage took their act to a new level. Lewis later offered an explanation for their success: Men, women, the Italians.
Who were Jerry's fans? Who were Martin and Lewis' fans?
O brother, where art thou?
You had fans that didn't care that Lewis was on or that Martin was singing. Because if Dean was singing, that was Martin and Lewis. If Jerry was goin' nuts, that was Martin and Lewis.
The tour was so successful, audience members wouldn't leave their seats, so Martin and Lewis began doing "free shows" afterwards on fire escapes, or out their dressing room windows, jamming the streets with adoring fans hoping to catch a prize — a hat, a shoe, maybe an autograph. However, the pace and the pressure soon took their toll. Martin usually had the thankless job of the straight manand his singing had yet to develop into his unique style of his later years.
The critics praised Lewis, and while they admitted that Martin was the best partner he could have, most of them claimed that Lewis was the real talent of the team and could succeed with anyone.
After five years at Paramount, Dean Martin was becoming tired of scripts limiting him to colorless romantic leads while parts of their films centered on the antics of Lewis. Martin also noticed that Lewis was playing comedy scenes for pathos and greed and staging more of the action himself, feeling Lewis had lost vision of what their comedy team-up was all about in the first place.
Martin dutifully fulfilled the rest of his movie contract, but became increasingly disillusioned about his partnership with Lewis, leading to escalating arguments between the pair. Their final film together, Hollywood or Bustwas released that December.
After the split[ edit ] Dean Martin's career arguably reached new heights after the team split up, as a recording artist for the Capitol and Reprise labels, as a movie actor both on his own Rio BravoThe Young Lionsthe Matt Helm series and as a member of the Rat Pack Ocean's 11Sergeants 3Robin and the 7 Hoodsand with his own hugely successful — television variety series, The Dean Martin Show.
Lewis remained with Paramount Pictures, appearing in and directing a succession of commercially successful films on his own The BellboyThe Nutty Professorat one point becoming Paramount's biggest star.
- Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis – The Comedy of an Era and Enduring Brotherly Bond
- Martin and Lewis
He also continued with his philanthropic work, which had begun while still partnered with Martin, hosting telethons for muscular dystrophy research until According to Lewis, the two did not speak to each other privately for twenty years, to which Lewis later commented, "the stupidity of that, I cannot expound on.
The ignorance of that is something I hope I'll always forget. Both were performing their own separate acts at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, a club they frequently played while they were together.