Thursday, September 21, 2017

Creative Personalities, Jerry Lewis (Enfant Terrible!), Women's Mental Reactions

Jerry Lewis plays The Nutty Professor as a lovable loser who gets so lost in his own head that he drones on obliviously. Some of the funniest scenes don’t involve Kelp croaking and yelping, but him rambling on about modern music, or about why he failed to put his glasses in his locker. (“I would’ve put them there myself if I’d known there was a restriction. Some people use them for a façade, I use them for eyes.”) With alter-ego Buddy Love, mostly Lewis is spoofing the kind of macho man sold by the advertising industry, exposing the thin line between arousing the opposite sex and becoming a total creep. There was no love lost between Jerry Lewis and the Rat Pack. It is in the scene at the prom the real Jerry Lewis most clearly emerges—he must step out of character and speak directly to his audience. No matter how that audience reacts, it is Jerry Lewis the man to whom they are directly reacting. And when we see that Buddy Love is a lonely, pitiful man who feels trapped by his audience, by his act, we see how Jerry Lewis sees himself. The Nutty Professor isn’t the only film in which Lewis delves into the schisms within his own psyche, but it was his personal favorite. Source:

People With Creative Personalities Really Do See the World Differently—What is it about a creative work that elicits our awe and admiration? Is it the thrill of being shown something new, something different, something the artist saw that we did not? The idea that some people see more possibilities than others is central to the concept of creativity. Psychologists often measure creativity using divergent thinking tasks. The aspect of our personality that appears to drive our creativity is called openness to experience. Among the five major personality traits, it is openness that best predicts performance on divergent thinking tasks. Openness also predicts real-world creative achievements, as well as engagement in everyday creative pursuits.

As Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire explain in their book Wired to Create, the creativity of open people stems from a ‘drive for cognitive exploration of one’s inner and outer worlds’. This curiosity to examine things from all angles may lead people high in openness to see more than the average person, or as another research team put it, to discover ‘complex possibilities laying dormant in so-called “familiar environments”. Another well-known perceptual phenomenon is called “inattentional blindness.” People experience this when they are so focused on one thing that they completely fail to see something else right before their eyes. In our research, published in the Journal of Research in Personality, we found that open people don’t just bring a different perspective to things, they genuinely see things differently to the average individual. Source:

The Stooge (1951) is in many ways a mirror of Dean & Jerry's own rise to fame and also a precursor of the demise of their partnership in 1956. Ted Rogers (Jerry Lewis) is no professional clown. He's funny because he's a dimwit, but also because of a natural ability and, most importantly, because he has a pure heart. Like his character in The Patsy (1964), Ted magically ad-libs a polished routine complete with costumes and props. Also great are Lewis's scenes with a wide-eyed admirer, freckle-faced Genevieve Tait, played with great charm by Marion Marshall. By acting like a little boy in 1952, Jerry was exactly in tune with the Baby Boom generation, and his audience identified with him as a peer. But Jerry could only accept legitimacy in the terms of an earlier culture, one in which such values as “sadness and gracious humility” still  held currency. 

That in his private life he tried as much as possible to comport himself like an up-to-date adult only further revealed the split he felt between himself and the world around him. Even though he was adored, highly compensated and kowtowed, he felt as if the only time in which he wanted to be loved—his childhood—had passed him by. Jerry Lewis was no street urchin, but he had lacked many of the little luxuries most of the kids in his working-class neighborhood had—a rocking horse, a bike, new school clothes each fall. His parents Danny and Rae had moved into a hotel in Times Square, further proof that they saw themselves more as show people than parents and never owned their own home; they rented apartments until Jerry bought them a house in the late 1940s. Jerry couldn’t hide his pain when recalling his family’s modest financial condition: “They were poor and couldn’t help leaving me alone. But I’m supersensitive, and it killed me.” This was a couple, it seems, that just did not care for children; and they had little apparent concern for his comfort, happiness, or security. 

When he was old enough to choose a path for himself, he turned to show business as a way of creating a family for himself. Though Jerry wasn’t an orphan, he was often made to feel like one, and in his on-again-off-again relationship with his parents can be found the origins of his thin skin, his eager manner, and his quickness to tears or anger. Many people have survived worse childhoods with less obvious scars, but Jerry came out of his with all these. Her bizarre early relationships with women would  also take its toll on his already messy demeanor. He had lost his virginity at age 12 to a stripper named Trudine who lured him into her dressing-room. “She was a piece of work. She danced with a snake,” he remembered. During his Christmas vacation of 1938–39, he met one of his biggest crushes at the Arthur Hotel in Lakewood, New Jersey, a resort forty miles south of Newark. Charlie and Lillian Brown worked as managers in the resort and included Jerry as another member of their family. In later life Jerry remained exceedingly loyal to the Browns, always referring to them as Aunt and Uncle, playing engagements at Arthur Hotel when he could have commanded much more lucrative work. 

One of the definitive ruptures between him and Dean Martin, in fact, would be instigated by his loyalty to the Brown family. A large part of Jerry’s affection for the Browns was devoted to their daughter, Lonnie. Like her parents, she sensed the despair that plagued Jerry. A shy, bookish girl, she took Jerry under her wing. He had a crush on her, and he followed her around the hotel and the town of Lakewood like a puppy dog. Lonnie saw how Jerry behaved around his parents, and she was sensitive to the pain her younger friend was suffering. She began to let him into her private world, an entrée that would soon have a monumental impact on his life. There was a clear dychotomy between Trudine and Lonnie, total opposites of female conduct, which would inevitable wreak havoc in his mind and would warrant the genuine awkwardness of his interacions with women onscreen.

Research recurrently demonstrates that females perform better on various mindreading tasks such as mindreading accuracy, mental state inference, facial expression processing, or emotion labeling. Although this account is not uncontroversial, Simon Baron-Cohen (author of The extreme male brain") proposes that the “typical female” brain would engage more strongly in understanding mental states of social agents, whereas the “typical male brain” tends to analyze non-agentic systems.  In the present study, published recently (August 2017) in Frontiers in Psychology, women outperformed men particularly when asked to read female targets, whereas no such own-gender bias was found in men. (...) The reverse pattern occurred in male participants." Women were better able than men to infer other women’s mental states. This result specifies the understanding of gender effects which have been reported by previous research showing that women hold an advantage over men across various components of mindreading. The current study, apart from the obvious "women understand women better than men", also claims that "men actually understand men worse than women," and that's more surprising. Source:

During the shoot of My Friend Irma Goes West (1950), Corinne Calvet recalled in her autobiography: “I found Dean friendly, a man of the world, self-assured and quiet. Lewis was exactly the opposite, nervous and trying to override his shyness by flattering and entertaining everyone around him. He seemed to be afraid of silence, to feel compelled to fill the empty spaces. I was sensitive to his great anxiety, his wanting to be liked by everyone.” In the film’s finale, Yvonne Yvonne (Calvet) fell for Seymour (Lewis) and ended up in a romantic clinch with him. In January 1961, Jerry panicked when he learned he stood to be named in a divorce suit being filed by a Southern California restaurateur against his starlet wife, who wanted to collect on her soon-to-be-ex-husband’s estate. Jerry, according to Judith Campbell, who was working for him at the time, “ranted and raved. He would be ruined, his wife Patti would divorce him, his audience would desert him, his friends would hold him in contempt.” Judith Campbell, mistress to both Sam Giancana and John Kennedy, wasn’t at all impressed with Jerry and she found him perfectly resistible: “He quickly goes overboard,” she said. “You expect him to start speaking French. Although he is very serious about his flirting, from a woman’s viewpoint it is funnier than his pratfalls.”

In the early 1950s Martin and Lewis had been a moneymaking machine, it turned out, for everyone except Martin and Lewis. “Plenty of pockets were getting filled,” Jerry remembered, “but there was a big mysterious hole in our own.” Outwardly it looked swell, but it was a dicey existence. “There I was,” Jerry recalled, “driving around in a Cadillac, living in a movie star’s home, and sometimes I didn’t have enough money to pay the grocery bills.” After leaving  his home studio, Paramount,  most of his solo films tanked or were poorly distributed. American critics—most of whom hadn’t liked his early films—were merciless toward his later ones. (The dim, imperious Bosley Crowther, the longtime chief critic of the New York Times, was reliably harsh.) He was buoyed by the French adoration, but instead of taking that as a reflection of Lewis’s genius, most Americans took that as a sign that the French were nuts.

Jerry Lewis was convinced that too many modern comedians aped previous artists but his opinion was that “imitators never get anywhere”: “At heart I really belong to the old school which believed that screen comedy is essentially a combination of situation, sadness, and gracious humility.” Murray Pomerance, in his essay Enfant Terrible!: Jerry Lewis in American Film (2002) wrote: "What we really laughted at in Jerry Lewis' films was not the otherness of the suffering but the sameness to our own." “I like good entertainment, nothin’ sordid,” Lewis told Peter Bogdanovich. Asked by Bogdanovich what advice he’d give to young people, Lewis said, “Reach for the child within. The child has never died within you, you’ve just abandoned him, that’s all. Dig him out. Give him some wings and some air and you’ll fly with him.” —"King of Comedy: The Life and Art of Jerry Lewis" (1997) by Shawn Levy

Monday, September 18, 2017

Suburbicon, Fantasy Femmes, Jerry Lewis

Like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich laced with too many prescription drugs, Suburbicon (2017) might look, sound, and perhaps even taste a little like a Joel and Ethan Coen picture because, in a sense, it is. The Minnesota brothers penned the script for this acerbically funny 1960s suburban nightmare years ago before being picked up and brought to life by George Clooney. Matt Damon and Julianne Moore play characters who appear on the surface to be regular 1950s archetypes—the dependable breadwinner and the sweet-as-pie homemaker—before being exposed as amoral schemers when their bad decisions unravel. Everything from the Corn Flakes boxes that line the shelves of the local convenience store to the whoosh of Julianne Moore’s pristine hair feels tactile and carefully considered. Greed, sex, power, and consumerism are the driving forces of the white inhabitants of Suburbicon and these forces are enough, it would seem, to justify tearing each other apart and thinking little of it. Needless to say, parables will be drawn to our current state of affairs. Source:

“Over the past five decades, Middle America has been stagnant in terms of its economic growth,” said Mark Rank, a professor of social work at Washington University in St. Louis. In 1973, the inflation-adjusted median income of men working full time was $54,030. In 2016, it was $51,640 — roughly $2,400 lower. As in an Agatha Christie mystery, the potential culprits behind the long-term trends are many — global competition, technological advances, trade imbalances, a mismatch of skills, the tax system, housing prices, factory shutdowns, excessive regulation, Wall Street pressure, the erosion of labor unions and more. In 2011, the median income for 25-year-old men was less than $25,000 — pretty much the same as it was in 1959. The result is that, since the 1950s, three-quarters of working Americans have seen no change in lifetime income. Source:

Joan O'Brien is most remembered for her popular 1950s drive-in films where she could be counted on to look fabulous and give a pleasant performance. In It Happened at the World's Fair (1963) she plays a prim nurse romantically pursued by pilot Elvis Presley amid the excitement of the Seattle World's Fair. When The Bob Crosby Show was cancelled in 1958 due to slipping ratings, Joan was urged by her MCA agents to give acting a try. They presented her to all the major studios as a beauty who could not only sing and dance but act as well. MGM signed her to a multiple picture deal. "This was the ideal arrangement to have," says Joan. "It meant that MGM had to use me in three films within a certain period of time. But I also had loanout rights to work at any other major Hollywood studio if  I so chose to."  

Joan tried her hand at physical comedy opposite the wild and woolly Jerry Lewis in one of his funniest films, It's Only Money (1962) directed by Frank Tashlin. The film is full of live action cartoon elements from start to finish, and most of the supporting turns would seem perfectly at home in any given Looney Tunes feature. Lewis plays a bungling would-be detective searching for Mae Questal's long-lost nephew and heir to her fortune. Joan is delightful as Questal's nurse, who also suspects that Jerry may be the nephew and tries to help him. 

Describing the experience of working with the comic genius, Joan says, "Jerry Lewis was totally off the wall and we had a lot of fun working on this film. He had me laughing so hard and so long during some scenes we had to stop and start over. He was such a practical joker and had all of us including Frank Tashlin, in stitches. But Jerry could be serious also. He was very generous and gave me a book that I still have called You're Better Than You Think. Inside he inscribed, 'And you really are, Joannie.' I was going through a period of time with a bad marriage and feeling down and depressed. Jerry really set my head straight. He said, 'Do you want to see some people who really have problems? Then come with me to visit my kids with Muscular Dystrophy who are wired up. Yours are nothing in comparison.' He also gave me some insight on how to appreciate myself a lot more as an individual."

Francine York arrived in Hollywood via beauty pageants (with the Miss San Francisco title) and modeling after an unsuccessful stint as a secretary for Northwest Airlines. Her first feature film role was a conniving magazine editor who pays a sleazy ex-detective (Robert Clarke) to set up show business people in compromising situations to help sell her scandal sheet (a la Confidential Magazine) in Secret File: Hollywood (1962). Casting director Eddie Morse took note of York and thought she would be a perfect foil for Jerry Lewis. Francine was late to her appointment to meet Lewis because she lost her wristwatch.  She was pleasantly surprised by Jerry's reaction. "I told Jerry that I lost the watch and that it was a graduation present," recalls Francine.

"He said, 'Just a minute!' He called his secretary and told her to order me a new watch to be delivered to my home. I said to him, 'Gee, I never had anyone do something that nice for me here in Hollywood.' Up to that point he was probably the biggest star I ever met. He tried to alleviate my fears and said, 'Just remember that the person behind the desk is probably insecure too. And my giving you that watch is really selfish. By doing it, it makes me feel good.' I've always remembered that. I thought that was quite a statement. A lot of people don't really know Jerry. He likes to do things for people. He thought I was perfect for this part in It's Only Money." York went on to appear in five other Lewis films, including The Nutty Professor (1963), The Disorderly Orderly (1964) and Cracking Up (1982). —"Fantasy Femmes of 60's Cinema" (2001) by Tom Lisanti

In Who’s Minding the Store and The Disorderly Orderly, the Lewis character’s masculinity is threatened by matriarchy. At heart, The Ladies Man is no sex comedy. Its “ladies” constitute the optical and emotional world of the film. The three dozen of young actresses Lewis had hired to populate his giant double stage were lavished with gifts like pearl bracelets and perfumes. By showing Herbert’s clueless masculinity, Jerry Lewis the filmmaker continued to work out more generalised portraits of individual alienation from cultural context; he points to, and diagnoses, a spectacular failure of fit endemic to modernity. Lewis, whose favourite films include The Sting, Dr. Zhivago, and Oklahoma! was not a fan of modern cinema, remarking to The Telegraph in September 2016: “There are things I see in the picture business today that upset me. But if it’s making money they will tell you you’re nuts for not liking it. That’s OK, I’ll stay nuts.”

Buddy Love represents, among other things, Jerry Lewis’ own dark side. Love is also a commentary on the nice guy’s perpetual complaint that the bad boys are the ones who undeservedly get all the pretty girls. What remains pure Lewis in The Nutty Professor is the manic-depressive mood swings between Kelp and Love. But unavoidably, I see Buddy Love as a comment on the Dean Martin part of “Martin & Lewis” – a simultaneous recreation and rejection of it. Of course, Lewis would deny that Buddy Love had something to do with Martin. But as D.H. Lawrence used to say, “Never trust the artist, trust the tale.” Jerry Lewis clearly favors the qualities of kindness and intelligence of Kelp (Lewis) against the apathy and arrogance of Love (Martin).

What is traditionally condemned as sentimental self-indulgence is Jerry Lewis’ compulsive need to “be himself.” In confiding to his female puppet-friend, Morty the clod becomes Morty the sensitive. In forcing such a deliberate shift in tone from slapstick comedy to out-of-character sentiment, Jerry Lewis reveals his need to step out of character, confronting the power of his Hollywood image to eat him alive; his need to play neither the star nor the clumsy idiot, but rather to be directly honest; to play no roles; to be the original, untainted, ordinary and therefore honest and sensitive real self. That is, Jerry Lewis without Hollywood. First surfacing in the discordant last part of The Errand Boy, this compulsion makes for cataclysmic ruptures of tone in The Nutty Professor and The Patsy, and surreal fragmentations of character in The Family Jewels. Source:

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Populuxe: Marilyn Monroe, Jerry Lewis

Marilyn Monroe's comic style soothed the nation's fears, while reflecting the 1950s "populuxe" style in design, which spoofed consumption and laughed at fears through a populist version of luxury. When Marilyn put on her Betty Boop character she was populuxe to the hilt. Marilyn didn't like Hemingway's masculine heroes. "Those big tough guys are so sick. They aren't even all that tough! They're afraid of kindness and gentleness and beauty. They always want to kill something to prove themselves!" Ralph Greenson was considered daring to take on Marilyn. Many psychiatrists wouldn't have treated her because of her suicide attempts. The suicide of a patient could destroy a psychiatrist's career. Greenson liked treating celebrities, and treated many famous performers, including Frank Sinatra and Vivien Leigh. Marilyn ranted not only against the people she claimed were persecuting her but also against anyone who acted in a way she considered to be against her interests.

Greenson decided at this point that Marilyn was at base an adolescent waif who acted irresponsibly, sulking or throwing tantrums when crossed. Marilyn had brought the nation's most famous acting teachers to heel; she had done the same to the nation's most famous athlete and its most famous playwright. Now she was facing down a famous psychoanalyst. Greenson tried to end her relationship with Sinatra, who had been his patient and whose neuroses he knew well. He also dismissed Ralph Roberts, her driver, masseur and friend, for he may have decided that Roberts, a vodka drinker, was enabling Marilyn. Greenson was exhausted by Marilyn and in December 1961 he brought Eunice Murray, a friend of his with some practical nursing experience, into Marilyn's life. Source:

We've frequently examined Carole Lombard as a feminist before her time, a quality she almost certainly inherited from her mother. But Lombard wasn't the only actress or celebrity to embrace feminism -- one can look back to the earliest silent stars such as Florence Lawrence and Mary Pickford for examples. The same can be said of Marilyn Monroe. Last year, Michelle Morgan released the long-awaited Lombard bio "Carole Lombard: Twentieth-Century Star." Now arrives "The Girl: Marilyn Monroe, The Seven Year Itch, and the Birth of an Unlikely Feminist" (which will be released on May 8, 2018) titled after her character in "The Seven Year Itch," telling the story of how that film transformed Marilyn Monroe from another Hollywood star into "The Girl" of modern times. Marilyn’s friend, the poet Norman Rosten, suspected that she would have been ambivalent towards feminism. ‘She had achieved the financial and legal gains (feminists) sought,’ Lois Banner reflects. ‘And she enjoyed her femininity, recognising its power over men.’ Banner identifies this stance as post-feminist. Lombard is rarely seen as an influence on Marilyn, though I'm certain she appreciated Carole's work. Jean Harlow, certainly regularly cited in that vein, was indeed a feminist. Source:

Lois Banner's offering a new interpretation of the star's life which draws on feminism and the history of gender. It's certainly the case that Marilyn Monroe's story has been handled in the past by biographers and critics who don't share that perspective, including the novelist Norman Mailer and her ex-husband Arthur Miller. Mailer's book on Monroe is a drooling rehearsal of a particular species of male fantasy, while Miller's play After The Fall presents her as a monster. Banner isn't the first feminist to write about Monroe; she was beaten to it by Gloria Steinem, whose 1986 biography is a lovingly-crafted rescue fantasy. But "Marilyn, The Passion and the Paradox" (2012) by Lois Banner seems two-fold: to claim Monroe as a kind of pre-feminist icon, and to establish herself as the foremost scholar in a crowded field. Her Marilyn is difficult, ironic, insecure, bisexual; she's also clever - far from an original claim. Banner's biography dispels some myths about Monroe's childhood but the sheer quantity of detail is daunting, and her prose is sometimes excruciating. Source:

Jeanne Carmen was a highly sought after pin-up model in the 1950's. Carmen appeared with Mamie Van Doren and Eddie Cochran in Untamed Youth (1957), and inspired the rock'n'roller to cover "Jeannie, Jeannie, Jeannie". All along the way, she had crazy adventures with all sort of artists (Eddie Cochran, Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Jerry Lewis, etc.) She was also a friend and confidant to Marilyn Monroe. George Jacobs, Frank Sinatra's long time butler and personal valet during the legendary Rat Pack years, states “Jeanne Carmen was a classic blonde starlet and pinup girl with one of the most perfect figures in Hollywood.” Sinatra “really liked Jeanne, whom he dated both when he was down, and after he was up again,” adding Jeanne -along with Marilyn Monroe- used Sinatra's complex at 882 North Doheny Drive in West Hollywood as a safehouse. Jacobs specifically states that Jeanne Carmen was Sinatra's “longtime on-off bedmate, who became Marilyn’s best girlfriend.” Source:

Jeanne Carmen (Queen of the B movies) claimed she supplied the shapely torso for the 1952 Esquire calendars and demanded $50,000 in damages from television comic Ken Murray for introducing another girl as the “calendar girl.” In June 1954, she was chosen "Miss Potato Chip of 1954." Marilyn Monroe confided to her friend Jeanne about her liaison with JFK: “Jeanne, you don’t aim high enough. All you care about is seducing another movie star and adding another notch to your garter belt. Jack Benny and Errol Flynn. I like to pursue bigger game… like presidents. Going to bed with Jerry Lewis is no big deal.” In 1958 columnist Harrison Carroll reported that “Sinatra, in Palm Springs for a fast two days before resuming work on Hole in the Head, found time to see Jeanne Carmen...” In June 1959 Jeanne was Frank Sinatra’s date at the Share Boomtown party at the Moulin Rouge. Guests included Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Milton Berle. In 1963 Jeanne Carmen moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, and married a stockbroker. They had three children, Melinda, Brandon James, and Jade Austin. Source:

In 1958 Frank Sinatra threw himself into a killing pace of movie-making (Some Came Running, Kings Go Forth, A Hole in the Head). All of Frank’s work catapulted him to number one among the ten biggest money-making movie stars in 1958, who included Glenn Ford, Elizabeth Taylor, Brigitte Bardot, Jerry Lewis, Rock Hudson, William Holden, James Stewart, Yul Brynner, and Marlon Brando. Those close to Sinatra claimed that he actually fell in love with Marilyn after his divorce from Ava in 1954. “He was still in love with Ava,” Dean Martin said. “But he also loved Marilyn in a different way. Frank was capable of loving two women at the same time.” Gangsters had always been drawn to Dean Martin, who diplomatically but definitively rebuffed them. Jerry Lewis never, unlike Sinatra, entered into business ventures that bore the spoor of mob money, and he was never forced to testify about organized crime before an investigatory body.

The women who passed through Lewis' life are cast by his words more like mother figures than sex partners. Lewis offered the “women wanted to burp me” line as a way of undercutting his boasts of sexual conquest but it reveals his shaky self-image, showing just how strongly his promiscuity was a compensation for his childhood feelings of inadequacy—he slept around because his mother hadn’t shown him sufficient love. Patti saw her husband’s mix of volatility and neediness as a manifestation of his poor self-esteem. In part, she recognized his distaste for competing with their brood of boys for her attention and affection: “I felt his jealousy of the love I lavished on the boys. He was not predisposed to share me. At times, Jerry seemed unreasonable, but he needed a portion of child love along with adult love.”

Jerry could be syrupy and sentimental, composing elaborate paeans to Patti (“Just ’Cause I Love Her,” he entitled one that ran nearly fifteen hundred words; in another, he described her as “the first human being that has ever cared about me”) and smothering her in gifts of jewelry, perfume, and clothes. “When we had a crisis, Jerry simply ignored any unpleasantness,” Patti said. Even when he was steely toward her, Jerry couldn’t stop seeking her approval and affection. —"King of Comedy: The Life and Art of Jerry Lewis" (1997) by Shawn Levy

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Rebel in the Rye, The Patsy (Jerry Lewis)

J.D. Salinger is 20th-century literature’s greatest enigma. But you won’t find much new light shed on the reclusive author of The Catcher in the Rye in writer-director Danny Strong’s polished but cliché-festooned biopic Rebel in the Rye. Nicholas Hoult manages to rise above the tortured-genius claptrap as the young Salinger, a wildly talented but prickly short-story writer whose uniquely contemporary voice is nearly snuffed out by the horrors he witnesses during World War II. Kevin Spacey, as his friend and mentor, gives the film’s sledgehammer moments some subtlety and a bit of his signature special sauce. But Strong’s script is far too conventional for such an unconventional subject. Important events are glossed over, while seemingly unimportant ones overstay their welcome. Worst of all is the film’s troweled-on dime-store psychology: Salinger’s father isn’t supportive; his socialite girlfriend dumps him for Charlie Chaplin; after he stumbles onto Eastern meditation, writing becomes his religion. Added together, they make for convenient story beats, but they don’t provide any real or particularly deep insight into Salinger’s talent, his demons, or his curious exile from the world. In the words of Holden Caulfield, the whole thing feels a bit phony. Source:

The Catcher in the Rye had been published to universal critical acclaim and enthusiastic public reception by J. D. Salinger in 1951, but Jerry Lewis seemed to have first become aware of it in the early 1960s. “Time magazine did a profile of Salinger,” recalled Art Zigouras. “Jerry had read the profile and sent out people to get copies of The Catcher in the Rye. He wanted to play Holden Caulfield.” Even though he was in his mid-thirties and had never attempted anything besides “The Jazz Singer” that remotely resembled real drama, Jerry was telling people that he was the perfect choice to play Salinger’s alienated anti-hero. “You never saw a more Holden Caulfield guy than you’re sittin’ with right now,” he informed Peter Bogdanovich. “If a person ain’t genuine, I know it. I can spot a dirty, lying, phony rat. I can smell ’em.” He tried to approach Salinger through his agent, but the representative of the notoriously reclusive author didn’t even respond to his queries. Salinger wouldn’t even let not-for-profit groups like the Yale Drama School produce adaptations of his works.

Jerry Lewis found out later that Salinger’s sister was a buyer for one of the department stores in New York, and he wrote to her to influence Salinger to go ahead with it. He said, ‘Don’t worry. I’ll get him.’” “Salinger’s sister told me she used to call him ‘Sonny,’” Lewis revealed to Bogdanovich. “That’s what my grandmother used to call me. It’s frightening.” He never did succeed in wheedling the rights to the novel from Salinger, but even in the late 1970s he was discussing the possibility with dreamy enthusiasm. “Salinger’s sister told me if anyone would get it from him it would be me,” he told an interviewer. “I’m still trying. He’s nuts also. And that’s the only reason that he’s entertaining talking to me—because he likes nuts.” —"King of Comedy: The Life and Art of Jerry Lewis" (1997) by Shawn Levy

Jerry Lewis and his 1960s masterpieces, including The Patsy (1964), are supreme examples of vulgar modernism, but they are also profoundly humanist. It is often the case in Lewis movies that a female character is the sole source by which Lewis the person/persona can validate his own impulses towards goodness. Ellen (Ina Balin) is the only bulwark against the rest of the world that pushes Stanley away from his simple, bumbling, “authentic” self, which they see as childish, ineffectual, and foolish, the same way those in the audience who have eye-rollingly dismissed Lewis and his movies may see him. Lewis may actually make you feel a little less alone about the unsettling truth that to be human is a constant struggle. Source:

At Home with Jerry Lewis, It Takes a Lot to Laugh

Jerry Lewis (It Takes a Lot to Laugh) video. Featuring photos and film stills of Jerry Lewis and his co-stars and Hollywood friends Dean Martin, Stella Stevens, Connie Stevens, Janet Leigh, Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball, Lana Turner, Natalie Wood, etc. and his wives Patti Palmer and SanDee Pitnick. Soundtrack: "It Takes a Lot to Laugh" by Bob Dylan and "Laugh at me" by Sonny Bono.

Jerry Lewis beams towards his wife SanDee: “She is the love of my life,” he said, and there seemed no reason to doubt him. “Most people are embarrassed to admit there’s another human being that’s in control of them, that your heart beats three times as fast because you’ve given yourself to someone else.” His adventures on screen, once a source of pleasure, were, he said, right up there with the night he thought he was going to have sex with Marilyn Monroe. Mr. Lewis, who has boasted in the past of an affair with the legendary siren, went silent when pressed. “I could have been talking about Bette Davis,” he offered at last, opaquely. Although the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences never honored Mr. Lewis for his film work, he received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for his charitable activity in 2009.

“I'd made 41 movies in thirty years; in the next seven years, I made only one. I wouldn't play the game. There weren't many people in the business who wanted me. I usually said what I believed. And there is no place in the corporate structure for a man with convictions, who also happens to be ruthlessly honest. The two archenemies of film corporate enterprises are 'conviction' and 'honesty'. If you have those qualities, you will labeled 'difficult,' 'egomaniacal,' and 'tough to get along with' but it's the people who have earned those reputations who know their craft and care about the films they are making.”

Mr. Lewis knows he can be slippery, his distrust of the interview process deep and abiding. “I almost always can tell when the interviewer is going to give me a spritz,” he said, punching the air by way of illustration. “For that, you’ve got to be prepared. You’ve got to be out in the world. And my tendency is to be alone.” Many critics interpreted his performance in Scorsese's The King of Comedy as a projection of his dark side. Mr. Lewis scoffs at it: "there is no darkness. I've got news for you. In comparison to the nerd, if the reverse of that is silence, it could be interpreted as dark." -"Jerry Lewis: In Person" (1982) and "At Home with Jerry Lewis" (2016) by Ruth La Ferla

Monday, September 04, 2017

Jerry Lewis, American Icon, on TCM Marathon

Turner Classic Movies pays tribute to Jerry Lewis on Monday, September 4 with the following festival of films. This program will replace the previously scheduled movies for that day so please take note. "The Nutty Professor" was named the Best Picture of 1963 by French critics. The schedule for the evening of Monday, September 4:

8:00 PM The Nutty Professor (1963)
10:00 PM The King of Comedy (1983)
12:00 AM The Stooge (1952)
2:00 AM The Bellboy (1960)
3:30 AM The Disorderly Orderly (1964)

"I don't need other people's pain to make comedy. I just call on my own. I need only to call upon my sorrow to create laughter. Sorrow and laughter are so close, hand-in-glove." —Jerry Lewis 

Jerry Lewis was a pyrotechnic wonder, a font of gibberish, voices, and caterwauls, a living Gumby doll, a bouncing Super Ball. He was so fast and natural that he made it look elementary, but it wasn’t: In the 1990s the undeniably agile Jim Carrey wowed audiences and scooped up $20 million per film with a pale imitation of Lewis. Carrey's act had no taste, no soul, no center. Even at its crassest, Jerry Lewis’ comedy tried to be about the human spirit—the human spirit of a truly excitable boy. Many of the biggest comedy stars of the Seventies (Woody Allen, Richard Pryor, Robin Williams, Steve Martin, Andy Kaufman), Eighties (Martin Short, Eddie Murphy, Bill Murray, Pee Wee Herman), and Nineties (Jim Carrey, Pauly Shore, Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler) can trace their comic roots directly back to the Jerry Lewis of the Forties, Fifties, and Sixties. The only career like his, with its five-decade cycle of acmes, nadirs, rebirths, and reevaluations, is that of Richard Nixon. 

Frank Tashlin, Jerry claimed, let him “codirect” Rock-a-Bye Baby (1958) and The Geisha Boy (1958). Both films do, in fact, bear more resemblance to Jerry’s self-directed films of the 1960s than to Artists and Models and Hollywood or Bust, but it’s hard to say whether this is because Jerry Lewis produced them or because of some stylistic influence he exerted on Tashlin. It was unusual enough for a popular movie comedian to write and direct a film in 1960—mind-boggling under conditions like those of an independent film. Part of the reason Lewis succeeded was that he was willing to abuse his body to produce work. His history of collapses, ulcers, and cardiac emergencies was directly related to his tendency to overwork himself. 

The Nutty Professor (1963) was his undeniable, ineradicable masterpiece, the one piece of work that even his critical antagonists would concede had true merit. Upon its initial release, the film got moderately positive views in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. In The New Yorker, which didn’t bother to review most of his films, physician and theatrical director Jonathan Miller, slumming as a critic, wrote, “This is a very funny movie, with some brilliant visual gags and a stunning parody by Lewis of a Hollywood Rat Pack cad.” The New York Times called it “his most painless romp in some time and probably the most curiously imaginative one of his screen career… less of a showcase for a clown than the revelation (and not for the first time) of a superb actor.” In 2004, The Nutty Professor was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

At the time of the film’s release, a handful of viewers theorized a connection between Buddy Love and Dean Martin. In France, where the film was known as Docteur Jerry et Monsieur Love, critic Robert Benayoun saw the film as the acme of Jerry’s long obsession with doppelgangers and doubling. It’s easy to see the despicable Love as a rap at Dean, but it’s also facile and biographically unlikely. The film was written in 1962, more than a half-decade since the team’s acrimonious split. Relations between the two were nonexistent, but there was no cloud of animus, either. Jerry swore that the character wasn’t based on Dean. And in fact very little about Buddy Love is like Dean. The traditional Dean Martin character may have been a a cad with the ladies, a singer, and an occasional tippler, but he didn’t do any of it with the headstrong purposefulness of Buddy Love. In fact, looking at Buddy Love’s thick eyebrows, apparently mascaraed eyelashes, plump lips, and dripping-with-grease hair, one notes more of a resemblance to Tony Curtis than to Dean Martin.

Julius Kelp, the pathetic soul from within whom Buddy Love emerged, was nearer to the persona Jerry presented in movies—the well-meaning bungler—and nearer to Jerry’s own view of his deep-down inner self. Jerry saw himself as a bright man with strong empathetic feelings who suffered slights in childhood and desperately wanted to be loved. Like Kelp, he transformed himself into a performer to receive affection and attention; like Kelp, he suffered nagging doubts about whether the public loved the real man or the mask. The Nutty Professor is, in effect, a confessional about the perils of succeeding in the public arena. Kelp is a wonder: articulate and stammering, intelligent and utterly naïve, with a chipmunk’s voice and teeth, bullied but unvanquished, a zealous explorer of scientific puzzles, a hopeless klutz trying desperately to walk a tightrope of decorum and respectability. He's completely lost around a girl who arouses him. He blows up classrooms, he wrecks gymnasia, he myopically hurls his bowling ball at people instead of pins. Yet he’s utterly charming, all the same. 

Shot in warm but vivid color, expertly paced and edited, The Nutty Professor is rivaled only by Jerry’s best work with Frank Tashlin as an artistic achievement. There are moments of marvelous cinematic invention—the point-of-view shot of the newly emergent Buddy Love walking from a haberdashery into the Purple Pit nightclub (a shot ironically echoed by the famous Steadycam shot into the Copacabana in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas); a hilariously composed sequence showing Kelp’s reactions to sounds as he suffers a brutish hangover; the devolution of Love into Kelp in the final confessional scene. Inevitably, as in most of Jerry’s films, there’s a drive toward a homilistic finale. Kelp reveals, after putting his glasses on in a genuinely heart-touching moment, what the experience of being two different people has taught him: “You might as well like yourself. Just think about all the time you’re going to have to spend with you.” It’s an ironic message, coming from such a fragmentary figure as Jerry Lewis. 

In retrospect, The Patsy (1964) seems a calculated good-bye to the life of sycophants and the star-making apparatus on which he had thrived. A combination of a sequel to The Bellboy (it had even been called, early on, “Son of the Bellboy”) and a cynical remake of Pygmalion, it’s rather like Jerry’s version of The Circus or Limelight, a black comic exploration of the nature of comedy as constructed by the Hollywood flesh machine. To the French, who discovered Edgar Allan Poe, Sidney Bechet, Josephine Baker, and other indisputable giants who found no appreciative audiences on their native American soil, Jerry Lewis was yet another genius neglected in his myopic homeland. By the early ’60s, Lewis had long since passed from the American public’s consciousness as a hot item. “Jerry was never chic in America,” reflected Peter Bogdanovich, one of the few American writers who took the comedian seriously at this stage in his career. On the release of The Family Jewels in the summer of 1965, France-Soir declared the film’s sentimental ending proof that Jerry was “a true human being and not merely a marvelous laugh-making machine,” and Robert Benayoun, writing for Positif, described how it “deliberately severs space-time and leaves us a series of nearly interchangeable moments.”

When Lewis spoke about his distaste for new trends in the film industry with Earl Wilson, he explained it in economic terms, as if to disguise his personal antagonism. Sneering about the presence of sex and violence in films, he argued “it’s in the hands of the public, which is to blame. As long as the public wants to buy it, they’re going to make it. I’ve had a couple of dozen scripts submitted to me that I just wouldn’t go near. The funny part is, eventually, they get done! Some freaks are making an awful lot of money and an awful lot of noise in our business. I can’t understand some of it; it’s like going to a zoo.” It became a point of pride for him that he wouldn’t consent to the kind of projects the studios were asking him to make. However wild his exaggerations, there was no doubt he was fed up with Hollywood, maybe even with America itself. He had won over America with a comic character born of abandonment; now America was abandoning him.

When Merrill Schindler of Los Angeles magazine asked Jerry several times why he inspired hostility, he got a frightening glimpse of Jerry’s self-image: “I’m a multi-faceted, talented, wealthy, internationally famous genius. People don’t like that.” On October 2, 1973, his twenty-ninth wedding anniversary, the pain, the drugs, and the hopeless situation he felt himself to be in finally overwhelmed him. “I felt everything was finished,” he confessed years later. “I didn’t have the stamina to sustain one more sweep of that red hand on the clock.” He retreated to his bathroom, opened the padlock on a drawer, pulled out a .38 revolver, loaded it, and stuck it in his mouth: “I came as close as you could come,” he told a reporter. His workaholism had been neutered by his lack of career opportunities. His financial situation was precarious. But suicide? Even if the melodrama of that scene is exaggerated, the very notion that he would choose to share such an anecdote indicated how seriously wrong things had gone for him. 

In September 1980, thirty-six years after they first met in Detroit, Patti Palmer filed for divorce in California Superior Court, asking for $450,000 a year in alimony, custody of and support for sixteen-year-old Joseph, and half of their community property, which she judged to be worth in excess of $7 million. Martin Scorsese had gotten Jerry involved in The King of Comedy (1982), and one of the results of the improvising experiment was Jerry Langford’s heartfelt confession to his kidnappers that his life was unenviable—a scene that stood as one of the highlights of Jerry’s performance. “He really got into the dramatic stuff,” Scorsese said. “I think he’s a wonderful actor.” Time Out called the film "Creepiest movie of the year in every sense, and one of the best". Roger Ebert wrote, "The King of Comedy is one of the most arid, painful, wounded movies I've ever seen." Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader gave the film a favorable review, calling The King of Comedy "clearly an extension of Taxi Driver." Whether or not he felt he had been manipulated into his performance by Scorsese and his costars, Jerry was extremely proud of his work. “He was very funny between takes,” said Scorsese. “Jerry is totally surreal. And when he started cracking jokes, I’d get asthma attacks from laughing. It got to the point of being maniacal, you had to shake him to stop it.”

Jerry Lewis never lost the hope that the people loved him again: “They have put me right where I am,” he declared, “giving me glowing affection and support. I’m an American icon.” And the cadences of this evolution echo our own history. No American entertainer embodied the fate of the nation since World War II more succinctly: the giddy surplus of the postwar years; the arrogant confidence of the Fifties; the incomprehensible unraveling of the Sixties and Seventies; and our subsequent struggle to place blame for the downfall. It’s no coincidence that the most triumphant moment of Jerry’s career came just weeks before the death of John Kennedy. Soon after, along with the dissolution of the national consensus, came his marginalization. 

Behind the clown, the showman, the director, and the philanthropist stood another person altogether—the “real” Jerry Lewis. Always introspective, a dabbler in psychology and an autodidact with a taste for aphorism, he relished the notion of presenting more than one persona to his public. Jerry Lewis maintained that conspiracy theories about the MDA telethons reflected not public awareness that his career had slowed but rather the mood of the nation after Watergate. “You cannot get by in this world, apparently, if you are a courageous, honest crusader or stand-up, straight-ahead man... There’s nothing wrong with a do-gooder,” he stated. “There’s nothing wrong with corny. I’ve lived an entire life on corn—crying, spreading my emotions through comedy and through seriousness. We need more people in this world to say what they feel from the heart rather than the head.” —"King of Comedy: The Life and Art of Jerry Lewis" (1997) by Shawn Levy