National treasure and comedy legend Jerry Lewis dies at age 91
I was not the greatest fan of his comedy. In fact, although I saw most of his films as a child, he very rarely made me laugh. Yet he influenced my life in many ways.
1) Among the first films I remember viewing at the Ole Atlas Theatre on H Street NE, back in the ’60s, was a Lewis double feature: “Living it Up” and “Pardners.” It must have been some special viewing package, as both were previously released. I love old movies, they are my great escape. Even old Jerry Lewis films.
2) I associated myself with the comedy team because of their name, Martin & Lewis. I went to see them as both a team and later in Lewis and Dean Martin’s independent films. They both played a role in my love for movies. As I mentioned, I rarely laughed at Lewis. But I did laugh with him on occasions. Some of his solo films were very good. “That’s My Boy,” comes to mind, as well as Gore Vidal’s “Visit To A Small Planet,” a satirical social commentary on similarity-difference in humanity, come to mind. (We still don’t get the message, as recently evidenced in Charlottesville, VA.)
3) It’s because of people like Lewis that I use humor or wit to diffuse unpleasant situations when possible.
The “Clown” was a brilliantly gifted actor with an admirable work ethic. It showed in his polished performance. He cared about what he did on and off the set. His work with Jerry’s Kids and the Muscular Dystrophy Association was not only the stuff that legends are made of – that work inspired some little Black elementary school kids on my block to order the carnival kit, ask the local stores for contributions of prizes and sponsor a basement carnival for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. I was probably 9 or 10 when we did that. I don’t recall the amount that we made. I do vaguely recall getting a receipt for the donation and some sort of pin or badge. Clearly that a kid grew up to study social rehabilitation and become an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer after he got his first taste of community organizing because of Jerry Lewis is indelibly printed in my mind.
Thanks Citizen Lewis. May you rest in peace. You’ve earned it.