AJFF Remembers: Jerry Lewis


A little over a year ago, AJFF celebrated the return of Jerry Lewis to the big screen. Sadly, at the age of 91, Jerry Lewis passed away over the weekend.

As the accolades and remembrances continue, some of which we've listed below, we're reposting our original article celebrating Lewis' legacy, diving into the roles we loved most from his storied career. 

Jerry Lewis, at 90, has come out retirement for the upcoming film, Max Rose. It's some of the best news we've heard recently, since Lewis defined a generation of slapstick comedy, and then defined a generation of philanthropy.

Lewis was born Joseph Levitch in 1926 in Newark, New Jersey to Russian Jewish parents. The skills he acquired at age five performing alongside his parents in the Catskills would set the tone for his later work. By the late 1940s, Lewis had teamed up with Dean Martin. What started as a comedy club pairing became an NBC series and then a number of Paramount films before the partnership ended in 1956. 

Lewis would remain at Paramount for nearly 10 years before heading over to Columbia Pictures. Around the same time, he began teaching a film directing class at the University of Southern California where he mentored, among others, a young Steven Spielberg.

It was then that he began an annual tradition, for which he may be even more well known than his classic films: Lewis became the host for the annual MDA Labor Day Telethon, which has raised money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. The telethon made headlines when guest Frank Sinatra arranged an on-air reunion between Lewis and his former partner, Dean Martin, the two having not appeared together on TV since their split. By 2009, Lewis' efforts raised $1.46 billion for muscular dystrophy research, and notched a Nobel Peace Prize nomination for the comic mensch in 1977.

It's ironic, since so much of Lewis' talents lay in the physical comedy you have to see to believe, that one of his most notable films has never actually been shown to the public. The notoriety of 1972's The Day the Clown Cried has been credited mostly to Lewis' efforts to keep it from ever seeing the light of day. Though the momentum of his career slowed significantly after the mid-1970s, Lewis has continued to earn critical praise for efforts such as the Martin Scorsese black comedy The King of Comedy and Mr. Saturday Night. He also produced a remake of his former film, The Nutty Professor and its sequel, both box office successes.

Though in recent years Lewis has done some voice work, he has not had a live action role since the 1995 film, Funny Bones. With Lewis' return to the silver screen, we thought we'd take a look at his incredible talents by highlighting some of his past works. Though trust us, there's plenty more where these came from.

Artists and Models
The musical comedy, the fourteenth pairing of Martin and Lewis was also the first time Lewis worked with former Looney Tunes director Frank Tashlin. The duo later reunited with him on their last film, Hollywood Or Bust, and Lewis would go on to work with Tashlin on six of his solo films.

This 1960 comedy film is an adaptation of the classic Cinderella story, with most characters changed in gender from female to male and starring Jerry Lewis as Fella.

The Nutty Professor
Perhaps Lewis' best known work, this 1963 American science fiction-romantic comedy film was produced, directed, co-written (with Bill Richmond) and starred Lewis as a nerdy professor who finds that drinking a potion temporarily turns him into the handsome, but obnoxious, Buddy Love. It is a take on Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

The King of Comedy
The 1982 American satirical black dramedy was directed by Martin Scorsese and stars Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis and Sandra Bernhard. In the film, Lewis plays a successful comedian and talk show host (real stretch, huh?) who is the obsession of De Niro's character.