During the past year I have written about baseball, basketball, boxing, football, and horse racing. Today I am writing about a real sport: Jerry Lewis.
On September 4, 1972, I was at a Padres baseball game. In the second inning, the message board read, "Give a San Diego welcome to Jerry Lewis." I turned around and saw him in the press box. JERRY LEWIS!! He was sitting with two of his sons. If it had been Charlton Heston, Veronica Lake, Jim Brown, or even Katherine Hepburn, I would not have done what I then did. But I'm the one who as an usher in the ninety-degree heat of New York City insisted on the wearing of cardboard dickeys en hommage to Jerry Lewis. I'm the guy who watched him guest host the Tonight Show, even though I had a playoff basketball game the next day. I'm the person who cried with Jerry during the Ethel Merman medley on his ill-fated ABC talk show. And I'm the one who did not watch the Dick Cavett repeat of a solo interview with Orson Welles because Orson had described Lewis's movie intellect in a disparaging way. So how could I let this opportunity slip by? I slithered up to the guest press level, strode forward, and in my most humble manner begged his pardon for disturbing him, but could I please ask him three quick questions about his movies.
And Jerry Lewis answered in a tone that suggested we were at the Last Supper and he was the guest of honor. "At a baseball game? You want to ask me questions about movies at a baseball game?" "Well, if you would rather talk about baseball," I answered. It was at this very moment that an usher appeared to expunge me from Mr. Lewis's midst. Luckily enough, I thought, since I was very certain that Jerry Lewis was either about to tell me to get a haircut or dangle by his teeth from the railing for the TV cameras.
On November 8, 1973, the Movieland Wax Museum inducted Jerry Lewis and his Nutty Professor set into the Buena Park Stars' Hall of Fame. I was there thanks to a lucky, last-minute invitation from Kitty Peeling of San Diego North County Living Magazine.
At 6 p.m. that evening, I arrived at Perino's Restaurant for a Hollywood Press and invited guests cocktail reception. I locked my keys inside my car and spent the next half hour in the company of two parking lot attendants and three busboys, trying to break into my car. Attempt 36 succeeded and I was soon inside Perino's eating minuscule English muffin pizzas at a rapid pace. The hors d'ouevres ran out 15 minutes before we were put on buses which took us en masse to the outdoor ceremonies on the Movieland front lawn.
Thousands of people were gathered in the wet evening to see Jerry Lewis in person. The people stood and loved it. The press groused about their wet seats. While waiting an extra 20 minutes for Jerry Lewis's arrival, I followed actor Steve Franken around as people tried to figure out who he was (Chadsworth Osborne Jr. on the Dobie Gillis show, also in movies). I asked him what movies he had done lately. He said Westworld. I asked him where did he appear in the film. He said I should wait until I saw it. I didn't tell him I'd already seen it. I asked him quickly about his role in Lewis's Which Way to the Front, and he told me about The Party and Peter Sellers' great personality, the improvisatory nature of the set, and Blake Edwards' us of Jerry Lewis' videomatic equipment. He reminded me that The Americanization of Emily was one of the first antiwar films, and that Arthur Hiller was a good director. I reminded him of Hiller's Love Story and Hiller's Man of La Mancha. We parted.
Lewis arrived to a public in love with him. The rostrum overflowed with praise-makers, then Jerry Lewis accepted them and made a speech which included thanks to the end of X-rated films. Lewis led the way inside for the unveiling of the Nutty Professor set, chosen especially by Jerry Lewis, followed by photographers, the press, and the public could come back tomorrow. Then the mad rush for the food and beverage in the Movieland commissary. It was certainly worth the wait. Roast beef sandwiches off Charles Atlas cows, not a piece of fat on them; shish-ka-bob, fried chicken, Swedish meatballs, pickles, olives, celery, cookies, cake, coffee, and a partridge in a pear tree.
The food was such a smash I got to talk to Jerry Lewis, who was available all night to everyone. Except that he would not sign autographs because of the ensuing commotion, though he did sign one for a nurse from a hospital, so she said. Anyway, Lewis told me that his serious film, The Day the Clown Cried, would be out in the spring, that he had bought out the trouble-making French producers. (Later his associate who records everything that Lewis ever says told me that the film would be out in the spring if they could settle with the French producers. Still later, Lewis's manager told me there was no way the film would be out in the spring because of the French producers.) Lewis also told me that he chose Wallace Kelley as his cinematographer because of his personality, not his previous work; that he lent Blake Edwards his videomatic equipment because they were friends but that he never hired Edwards to direct him because why hire a director not as good as oneself; that he did not hire Jerry Paris to direct him, but that Paris was chosen for him by a British producer, though Paris was not a terrible director; that asking him about The Disorderly Orderly was a dumb question; and that he was thrilled to hear that Jean-Luc Godard had publicly stated that the set in Tout va Bien was en hommage to Jerry Lewis's Ladies' Man though Lewis himself had never seen Godard's film.
Otherwise, I spent my time overhearing Lou Brown, Lewis's musical director, discuss his own distribution of pornography, "not the soft-core stuff but the real thing." I also spoke with Lewis's manager some more and found out that Wallace Kelley was getting on in years but had been Paramount's chief process photographer before Lewis hired him, and that most of Lewis's friends think that the Buddy Love character in The Nutty Professor was an unconscious imitation of Dean Martin, who Lewis still loves adn always idolized until teh trouble which broke them up.
The bus trip back to Perino's was the real topper. A guy looking like Elliott Richardson talked about his Rand 1 personalized license plates, while some of Lewis's invited guests discussed the possibility of making it home in time to see the end of The Graduate, and a 58-year-old photographer named Irving Glaser who said he invented natural lighting modern jazz photography attempted to pick up a fruity blonde sometimes-actress who said she had gone out with Melvin Belli, but wouldn't name the films she had been in, and wanted to know if Glaser had any longevity in his family.