Lewis, Jerry

Lewis, Jerry

Lewis, Jerry, 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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Lewis, Jerry (b. Joseph Levitch)

(1926–  ) film actor, director, producer; born in Newark, N.J. A zany, mugging, sentimental comic, he worked as a one-night-stand entertainer until he met singer Dean Martin in 1946. The team made their first screen appearance in My Friend Irma (1949). After 16 more films, they split up. Lewis began producing and then directing his own movies, becoming a special favorite in France. A dedicated campaigner for charitable causes, he became closely identified with the annual fundraising telethons for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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