Lewis, Jerry

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Lewis, Jerry

Jerry Lewis, 1926–2017, extremely popular and influential American comedian, b. Newark, N.J. as Jerome Levitch. The son of vaudevillians, he entered show business early and entertained in the "borscht belt" as a teenager and later in burlesque and vaudeville. Known for his slapstick portrayals replete with facial mugging, pratfalls, and sight gags, the skinny, hyperkinetic Lewis teamed (1946–56) with the cool, handsome singer Dean Martin for a series of nightclub appearances, television, and films; they soon became hugely popular. Lewis subsequently wrote, produced, directed, and starred in a number of movies; among them are The Bellboy (1960), The Ladies' Man (1961), and The Nutty Professor (1963). Enormously popular in France, where he has been viewed as an innovative artist and a major auteur, he left film work in 1970 and concentrated his energies on his activities as national chairman (1950–2011) of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, raising huge sums for the organization with his annual (1966–2010) telethons and other activities. He made an unsuccessful comeback as director in the early 1980s, but won acclaim for his dramatic performance in Scorsese's The King of Comedy (1983).

See his autobiograpy Jerry Lewis: In Person (1982) and his memoir Dean and Me (with J. Kaplan, 2005); biography by S. Levy (1996); studies by F. Krutnik (2000), R. B. Gordon (2001), and M. Pomerance, ed. (2002); filmography by J. L. Neibaur and T. Okuda (1995).

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