Martin and Lewis

Last updated
Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, 1950 Lewis and Martin.jpg
Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, 1950

Martin and Lewis were an American comedy duo, comprising singer Dean Martin and comedian Jerry Lewis. They met in 1945 and debuted at Atlantic City's 500 Club on July 25, 1946; the team lasted ten years to the day. Before they teamed up, Martin was a nightclub singer, while Lewis performed a comedy act lip-synching to records.

Contents

They performed in nightclubs, and, starting in 1949, on radio. Later they branched out into television and films. In their early radio days they performed as Martin and Lewis but later became hugely popular as Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. These full names helped them launch successful solo careers after parting.

Nightclubs

Martin and Lewis on Ed Sullivan's The Toast of the Town in 1948 Martin and Lewis Toast of the Town.jpg
Martin and Lewis on Ed Sullivan's The Toast of the Town in 1948

In 1945, Dean Martin met a young Jerry Lewis at the Glass Hat Club in New York City, where both men were performing. [1] Martin and Lewis debuted at Atlantic City's 500 Club on July 25, 1946, when Lewis suggested to the club owner that Martin would be a good replacement for the scheduled singer who was unavailable.

The duo was not well received. The owner, Skinny D'Amato, threatened to terminate their contract if the act did not improve. Martin and Lewis disposed of pre-scripted gags and began improvising. Martin sang, and Lewis dressed as a busboy, dropping plates and making a shambles of Martin's songs and a mockery of the club's decorum. They performed slapstick and delivered vaudeville jokes to great fanfare. Their success at the 500 Club led to a series of well-paying engagements along the Eastern Seaboard, culminating with a run at New York's Copacabana Club. [2]

The audience were convulsed with laughter by Lewis interrupting and heckling Martin while he was trying to sing, and ultimately by the two of them chasing each other around the stage and having as much fun as possible.

Radio, television, and films

Martin and Lewis in an episode of The Colgate Comedy Hour. Jerrydeanmartin.jpg
Martin and Lewis in an episode of The Colgate Comedy Hour .

An NBC radio series, The Martin and Lewis Show , ran from 1948-53. Martin and Lewis made a key appearance on the first episode of Ed Sullivan's show, Toast of the Town , in June 1948, although they may have appeared on TV earlier on Hour Glass , the first TV variety show which aired from May 1946 – March 1947, during the time the duo first paired up formally. On October 3 and 10, 1948, the team were stars on the first two episodes of the NBC live television variety show Welcome Aboard – kinescope survives of this live TV broadcast in UCLA Film and Television Archive.

On April 3, 1949, they debuted on their TV version of their "Martin & Lewis" radio show on the NBC-TV network, with guest Bob Hope, with their inaugural program drawing lackluster reviews in the April 30, 1949, issue of Billboard magazine. Lewis hired young comedy writers Norman Lear and Ed Simmons to improve their act. [3] By 1950, Lear and Simmons were the main writers for Martin and Lewis. [4]

Also in 1949, Martin and Lewis were signed by Paramount Pictures producer Hal Wallis as comedy relief for the film My Friend Irma .

Martin and Lewis in 1955 Dean Martin Jerry Lewis 1955 Colgate Comedy Hour.JPG
Martin and Lewis in 1955

Martin was thrilled to be out of New York City, a place he had developed a lifelong discomfort for, and he also wasn't a fan of tall buildings. Martin mostly avoided elevators due to claustrophobia. He didn't like having to climb multiple flights of stairs in tall buildings or having to take the elevator if he needed to go to a high floor. Even when his success allowed him to lease an apartment in a Manhattan highrise building, he chose one on the third floor. He liked Los Angeles and the fact that it had few tall buildings.

Their agent, Abby Greshler, negotiated for them one of Hollywood's best deals. They received $75,000 between them for their films with Wallis, a respectable film salary in the 1940s. Martin and Lewis were also free to do one outside film a year, which they would co-produce through their own York Productions. Their first starring feature was the independently produced At War with the Army (1950). 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. They made regular appearances on NBC's Colgate Comedy Hour during the 1950s.

Colgate Comedy Hour Dean Martin Jerry Lewis Colgate Comedy Hour early 1950s.JPG
Colgate Comedy Hour

Their Comedy Hour shows consisted of musical song and dance from their nightclub act or movies, with Dick Stabile’s big band, sketch comedy with slapstick or satires of current films and tv shows, Martin’s solo songs, and Lewis’ solo pantomimes, physical numbers or conducting the orchestra. Martin and Lewis often broke out of character, ad-libbing and breaking the fourth wall. This early television show established their popularity nationwide.

Although there had been a number of hugely successful film teams before, Martin and Lewis were a new kind of duo. 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:

"Who were Dean's fans? Men, women, the Italians. Who were Jerry's fans? Women, Jews, kids. Who were Martin and Lewis' fans? All of them... 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." [5]

Martin and Lewis were the hottest act in America during the early '50s, as well as the highest paid act in show business according to a 1951 LIFE Magazine article the duo was featured in while on their most successful movie tour promoting That's My Boy. 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 man, and 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.[ citation needed ] Lewis praised Martin in his book Dean & Me, where he called Martin one of the great comic geniuses of all time.

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. The last straw came when Look magazine gave Martin and Lewis a cover photo—and cropped Martin out of the picture. 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. The two could no longer work together, especially when Martin angrily told Lewis that he was "nothing to me but a fucking dollar sign." [6] Martin left the act at his first opportunity, following their farewell appearance at the Copacabana Club on July 25, 1956, exactly ten years after their first official teaming. Their final film together, Hollywood or Bust , was released that December.

After the split

Dean Martin in Rio Bravo (1959) Dean Martin - Rio Bravo 1959.jpg
Dean Martin in Rio Bravo (1959)

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."

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 Bravo , The Young Lions , the Matt Helm series) and as a member of the Rat Pack ( Ocean's 11 , Sergeants 3 , Robin and the 7 Hoods ), and with his own hugely successful 1965–1974 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 Bellboy , The Nutty Professor ), at one point becoming Paramount's biggest star. He also continued with his philanthropic work, which had begun while still partnered with Martin, hosting telethons for muscular dystrophy research until 2010.

In 1958, Lewis was the guest on an episode of NBC's The Eddie Fisher Show and was bantering with the host when Martin emerged from behind the curtain and said, "Don't sing. Do what you want but don't sing!" Martin was then immediately "pulled back" by singer Bing Crosby. Martin said something else but the rest of his words were drowned out by the wildly excited reaction from the audience. Martin's entire appearance was just eight seconds long, and Crosby was on camera for two seconds. After the applause died down, Fisher sang a few bars of Crosby's theme song "Where the Blue of the Night (Meets the Gold of the Day)" and Lewis crooned the title of Martin's then-current hit "Return to Me".

In 1960, four years after they broke up, Martin and Lewis briefly reunited, seemingly without prearrangement. Both were performing their own separate acts at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, a club they frequently played while they were together. Lewis caught Martin's closing act and Martin introduced his former partner to the audience, bringing him on stage. For about 15 minutes, they joked a bit and sang a duet of "Come Back to Me". However, the reunion was never duplicated. Later in 1960, when Lewis was rushing to finish The Bellboy and was too exhausted to perform his stage act, Martin generously replaced him. The two were also filmed laughing together in 1961, outside Eddie Fisher's opening at the Cocoanut Grove nightclub in Los Angeles.

The two men reconciled in September 1976, after Frank Sinatra orchestrated a surprise appearance by Martin on Lewis's annual Labor Day telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, saying only "I have a friend who loves what you do every year." The pair beamed and embraced, and then had a few minutes of friendly banter, during which Lewis asked Martin, "Uh, so, you workin'?" The brief reunion was big national news and, according to Lewis, the two spoke "every day after that".

In 1987, when Martin's son, Dean Paul Martin, was killed in a plane crash, Lewis attended the funeral unannounced, sat in the back, and did not reveal his presence to Martin. According to Lewis's 2005 memoir Dean & Me and Deana Martin's 2004 book Memories Are Made of This,[ citation needed ] when Martin found out about it, soon after, he called Lewis and talked to him for about an hour. [7] In 1989, the two reunited for the last time at Bally's Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, where Martin was doing a week of shows, on his 72nd birthday. Lewis presented him with a birthday cake, thanked him for all the years he gave joy to the world and finally joked, "Why we broke up, I'll never know." [8] This would be the last public reunion of the duo before Martin's death on Christmas Day 1995.

Despite their animosity after the split, Lewis published an affectionate memoir of his partnership with Martin called Dean & Me: A Love Story in 2005.

Biopic

Martin and Lewis is a 2002 biographical CBS television movie which portrays the lives of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Directed by John Gray and starring Jeremy Northam as Martin and Sean Hayes as Lewis, the film depicts the years from 1946 to 1956, spanning the timeframe from the beginning until the end of their partnership.

Filmography

YearMovieJerry Lewis roleDean Martin roleNotes
1949 My Friend Irma SeymourSteve LairdFilm debut
1950 My Friend Irma Goes West SeymourSteve Laird
1950 At War with the Army PFC Alvin KorwinSgt. Victor PuccinelliFilmed before My Friend Irma Goes West
1951 That's My Boy "Junior" JacksonBill Baker
1952 Sailor Beware Melvin JonesAl Crowthers
1952 Jumping Jacks Hap SmithChick Allen
1952 Road to Bali "Woman" in Lala's DreamMan in Lala's DreamCameo. First appearance in color.
1952 The Stooge Theodore RogersBill MillerFilmed before Sailor Beware and Jumping Jacks
1953 Scared Stiff Myron MertzLarry ToddRemake of The Ghost Breakers
1953 The Caddy Harvey Miller Jr.Joe Anthony
1953 Money from Home Virgil YokumHerman "Honey Talk" NelsonFilmed in 3-D.
1954 Living It Up Homer FlaggDr. Steve HarrisRemake of Nothing Sacred
1954 3 Ring Circus Jerome F. HotchkissPete NelsonRe-edited and re-released in 1978 as 'Jerrico The Wonder Clown'
1955 You're Never Too Young Wilbur HoolickBob MilesRemake of The Major and the Minor
1955 Artists and Models Eugene FullstackRick Todd
1956 Pardners Wade Kingsley Sr. / Wade Kingsley Jr.Slim Mosley Sr. / Slim Mosley Jr.Partial Remake of Rhythm on the Range
1956 Hollywood or Bust Malcolm SmithSteve WileyLast film together

Legacy

In 2016, a tribute show called "Dean and Jerry: What Might Have Been", starring Derek Marshall (Dean Martin) and Nicholas Arnold (Jerry Lewis), started touring North America. [9] [10] [11]

See also

Related Research Articles

Jerry Lewis American comedian, actor, and filmmaker

Jerry Lewis was an American comedian, filmmaker, actor, humanitarian and singer. Nicknamed "The King of Comedy", he was widely known for his "kid" and "idiot" persona of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.

Abbott and Costello American comedy duo

Abbott and Costello were an American comedy duo composed of comedians Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, whose work with radio, film, and television made them the most popular comedy team of the 1940s and early 1950s, and the highest-paid entertainers in the world during World War II. Their patter routine "Who's on First?" is considered one of the best-known comedy routines of all time. Their popularity waned in the early 1950s due to overexposure and changing tastes in comedy, and their film and television contracts lapsed. The partnership ended soon afterwards.

Burns and Allen American comedic duo

Burns and Allen was an American comedy duo consisting of George Burns and his wife, Gracie Allen. They worked together as a successful comedy team that entertained vaudeville, film, radio, and television audiences for over forty years.

Dean Martin American singer and actor (1917–1995)

Dean Martin was an American singer, actor and comedian. One of the most popular and enduring American entertainers of the mid-20th century, Martin was nicknamed "The King of Cool". Martin gained his career breakthrough together with comedian Jerry Lewis, billed as Martin & Lewis, in 1946. They performed in nightclubs and later had numerous appearances on radio, television and in films.

Norman Lear American television writer and producer

Norman Milton Lear is an American television writer and producer who created or developed many 1970s sitcoms such as All in the Family, Maude, Sanford and Son, One Day at a Time and its 2017 remake, The Jeffersons, and Good Times and the 2021 Netflix revival alongside Seth MacFarlane.

<i>Broadway Open House</i>

Broadway Open House is network television's first late-night comedy-variety series. It was telecast live on NBC from May 29, 1950, to August 24, 1951, airing weeknights from 11pm to midnight. One of the pioneering TV creations of NBC president Pat Weaver, it demonstrated the potential for late-night programming and led to the later development of The Tonight Show.

<i>The Dean Martin Show</i>

The Dean Martin Show, not to be confused with the Dean Martin Variety Show (1959–1960), is a TV variety-comedy series that ran from 1965 to 1974 for 264 episodes. It was broadcast by NBC and hosted by Dean Martin. The theme song to the series was his 1964 hit "Everybody Loves Somebody."

<i>Scared Stiff</i> (1953 film) 1953 film by George Marshall

Scared Stiff is a 1953 American horror paranormal semi-musical comedy film directed by George Marshall and starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. One of the 17 films made by the Martin and Lewis team, it was released on April 27, 1953 by Paramount Pictures. It is the fourth screen adaptation of the 1909 play The Ghost Breaker by Paul Dickey and Charles W. Goddard, previously filmed under that title in 1914 and 1922 and as The Ghost Breakers in 1940.

The Golddiggers was a female singing and dancing troupe that performed in the style of Las Vegas showgirls. The group was formed in 1968, dissolved in 1992, and reorganized in 2007, and has numbered between four and 13 members over various time periods.

<i>Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla</i> 1952 film by William Beaudine

Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla is a 1952 American comedy horror science fiction film directed by William Beaudine and starring horror veteran Bela Lugosi with nightclub performers Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo in roles approximating the then-popular duo of Martin and Lewis.

Sammy Petrillo

Sammy Petrillo was an American nightclub and movie comedian best known as a Jerry Lewis imitator.

<i>My Friend Irma</i> (film) 1949 film by George Marshall

My Friend Irma is a 1949 American comedy film directed by George Marshall. It was the motion picture debut of the comedy team Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. The film was released on August 16, 1949, by Paramount, and is based upon the CBS radio series My Friend Irma that first aired in 1947.

<i>The Colgate Comedy Hour</i>

The Colgate Comedy Hour is an American comedy-musical variety series that aired live on the NBC network from 1950 to 1955. The show featured many notable comedians and entertainers of the era as guest stars.

<i>Jumping Jacks</i> 1952 film by Norman Taurog

Jumping Jacks is a 1952 American semi-musical comedy film starring the comedy team of Martin and Lewis. The film was directed by Norman Taurog, and released by Paramount Pictures. It was one of the military comedies that marked the duo's early career. Brigadier General Frank Dern, Deputy Chief of the US Army's Information Office praised Jumping Jacks as something that would "contribute to troop morale within the Army."

Dick Martin (comedian)

Thomas Richard Martin, known professionally as Dick Martin, was an American comedian and director. He was known for his role as the co-host of the sketch comedy program Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In from 1968 to 1973.

<i>Martin and Lewis</i> (film)

Martin and Lewis is a 2002 American made-for-television biographical film written and directed by John Gray, exploring the lives of the comedy team of Martin and Lewis. The film stars Jeremy Northam as Dean Martin and Sean Hayes as Jerry Lewis.

<i>The Martin and Lewis Show</i>

The Martin and Lewis Show was a radio comedy-variety program in the United States starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. It was broadcast on the NBC Radio Network beginning April 3, 1949, and ending July 14, 1953.

<i>The Jerry Lewis Show</i>

The Jerry Lewis Show was the name of several separate but similar American variety, talk and comedy programs starring comedian Jerry Lewis that aired non-consecutively between 1963 and 1984. The original version of the series aired on ABC from September 21, 1963–December 21, 1963. A second series of the same name aired on NBC from September 12, 1967–May 27, 1969. A final version also of the same name aired in first-run syndication for one week in June 1984.

500 Club Nightclub and supper club in Atlantic City, New Jersey,

The 500 Club, popularly known as The Five, was a nightclub and supper club at 6 Missouri Avenue in Atlantic City, New Jersey, United States. It was owned by racketeer Paul "Skinny" D'Amato, and operated from the 1930s until the building burned down in 1973. It became one of the most popular nightspots on the East Coast, and housed the first illegal casino to be run in the city.

Nightclub act

A nightclub act is a production, usually of nightclub music or comedy, designed for performance at a nightclub, a type of drinking establishment, by a nightclub performer such as a nightclub singer or nightclub dancer, whose performance may also be referred to as a nightclub act. A scheduled performance, such as a wedding gig, is a club date.

References

  1. Bio Classics: Jerry Lewis, (1996).
  2. "Dean Martin Biography - Bio.com".
  3. Norman Lear Recalls Early Days as a Comedy Writer, By Tim Gray, October 30, 2015, Variety.
  4. 52G to Simmons, Lear to Do Five Martin-Lewis TV Shows, Page 3, 31 Oct 1953, Billboard.
  5. Tosches, Nick, Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams, Dell Publishing, 1992.
  6. Lewis, Jerry: Dean & Me: A Love Story, page 277. Pan Books, 2007.
  7. Lewis, Jerry: Dean & Me: A Love Story, page 321. Pan Books, 2007.
  8. Lewis, Jerry: Dean & Me: A Love Story, page 323. Pan Books, 2007.
  9. "Orillia Opera House Presents Dean and Jerry: What Might Have Been". Archived from the original on 2017-01-31.
  10. "Dean & Jerry: What Might Have Been - A Concert Presentation with Derek Marshall & Nick Arnold".
  11. "Morrisburg Leader Article - October 26, 2016 - Dean & Jerry: What Might Have Been draws cheers at Playhouse".

Further reading