When Jerry Lewis acted, he did not have the advantage of today’s special movie effects. Since Lewis was so naturally funny, he did not really need that edge. He was a master of comedy who achieved every funny facial expression, every funny movement and every funny personality that you can ever imagine. When Lewis directed and co-wrote the film, Family Jewels (1965), he played the characters of all of the six uncles. Lewis was only one of a few comedians who could achieve that feat and make us laugh really hard.
Born on March 16, 1926 at Newark Beth Israel Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, Lewis inherited his great talent from his parents. Lewis’ father, Daniel Levitch, was an entertainer. Rachel “Rae” Levitch, Lewis’ mom, was a piano player for the New York City radio station WOR. At the tender age of five, he often performed with his parents. He made his debut performance singing, “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”
At the age of 15, he dropped out of Irvington High School to pursue an acting career. When he worked on the Martin and Lewis Show, he became a famous comedian thus turning his dream into reality. From 1946 to 1956, Martin and Lewis worked as a comedy team and then they split.
Since Lewis was so gifted, there was no doubt that he could stand alone as a funny man. When his first film as a solo comic, The Delicate Delinquent (1957), debuted at the box office so successfully Lewis proved that he was a humorist who could work independently. After his first film, he had many other successes at the box office.
In addition to being a successful comedian, he demonstrated his other artistic talents. Lewis showed that he was a great singer when his album, Jerry Lewis Just Sings, became number 3 on the Billboard charts and sold a million and a half copies.
When he taught a film directing class at the University of Southern California, he shared his knowledge and expertise about making films with aspiring film directors. One of his famous students was George Lucas who would eventually create Star Wars. Legendary film director Steven Spielberg also listened to some of his discourses. Lewis’ lectures about filming were so good that they were put into a book, The Total Film-Maker (1971).
Among many other accomplishments, Lewis starred on Broadway in the 1995 production of Damn Yankees. It was always his dream to be on Broadway and it came true.
Lewis was married twice. First he married Patti Palmer, a former singer, on October 3, 1944. They had six sons together including an adopted one. In September 1980, they divorced. His second marriage was to SanDee Pitnick who was a Las Vegas dancer. They tied the knot on February 13, 1983 and adopted one daughter.
With his vast talent, he always made us laugh. However, he shined even more when he hosted the Annual telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. The telethon ran from 1966 to 2010. On Labor Day, all of those children afflicted with muscular dystrophy became the stars of his show. Lewis put on a smile on those youngsters faces like no one else could.
As we watched the telethon, the stories of those youngsters inspired us. They were courageous fighting against this devastating disease. Not only were they the stars of the telethon, they were also the real heroes. Lewis raised over $2.6 billion in contributions to fight muscular dystrophy. He helped those with the disease live a better life.
When Lewis was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977, his humanitarianism was recognized. At the 2009 Oscars Ceremony, he received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for his quest to fight Muscular Dystrophy.