Celebrating Seniors - 89th Birthday for Jerry Lewis!

Update:  Comedian Jerry Lewis died today, August 20, 2017 at the age of 91. He is survived by his second wife, SanDee Pitnick, their adopted daughter Danielle Sarah Lewis, and five of his six sons with first wife Patti Palmer (m. 1944 - d. 1980) - singer Gary Lewis b. 1946 (Gary Lewis & the Playboys), adopted son Ronald Lewis b. 1949, Scott Lewis b. 1956, Christopher Lewis b. 1957, Anthony Lewis b. 1959. His youngest son Joseph Lewis (b. 1964) died in 2009. 

According to his official website, Jerome Levitch was born March 16, 1926, into a Newark, New Jersey family of professional entertainers. His first trip on stage came at age 5 singing, and by 15 he had a comedy routine worked out - making his debut at a Buffalo burlesque house under the name Joey Lewis, which he soon changed to Jerry Lewis. Below, Jerry Lewis on the piano, with Rosemary Clooney and Dean Martin in a 1952 episode of The Colgate Comedy Hour.

jerry lewis 1952, dean martin, martin and lewis, comedians, rosemary clooney, the colgate comedy hour, 1950s television (Photo: NBC Television | Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

At 18 Jerry Lewis married singer Patti Palmer and they were together for 36 years before divorcing in 1980. Their 5 sons (drummer & singer Gary Lewis of Gary Lewis and the Playboys; along with Ron, Scott, Chris and Anthony) have given them 7 grandchildren and one great granddaughter. Jerry Lewis has been married since 1983 to 2nd wife SanDee Pitnick, and their daughter Danielle was born in 1992 (Lewis was 66 and officially a senior citizen when Danielle Lewis was born). 

For ten years the slapstick artist Jerry Lewis and fellow actor/comedian/crooner Dean Martin were the highly successful comedy team of "Martin and Lewis". The partnership got started on an Atlantic City stage in 1946, and after their act skyrocketed to success, the duo moved to television appearances.

At a New York City show they came to the attention of Hollywood producer Hal Wallis, who cast them in their first feature film My Friend Irma in 1949. Below, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in a scene from 1954's Living It Up:

Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin starred in 16 Hal Wallis-produced films together and made radio, television, and stage appearances as a singing/comedy duo.

jerry lewis 1956, dean martin, lewis and martin, comedy duo, 1950s comediansRight, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in 1956. (Photo: Insomnia Cured Here | Flickr Some rights reserved)

Some of their films included two movies with Dorothy Malone (Peyton Place). The first was the horror-comedy-musical Scared Stiff (1953), which also had Lizabeth Scott and Carmen Miranda in the cast. 

Lewis and Martin's second film with Dorothy Malone was the popular comedy Artists and Models (1955), co-starring Shirley MacLaine, Eva Gabor (Green Acres), Anita Ekberg, and Jack Elam.  

The final film together for Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin was Hollywood or Bust (1956) with Pat Crowley. Although they appeared onscreen together, they were not talking to each other offscreen while it was filming. Jerry Lewis' rising star and Martin's decreasing importance to the act caused an estrangement for 31 years. Although they appeared briefly onscreen together in 1976 during an MDA telethon, it wouldn't be until they were seniors and the death of Dean Martin's son in 1987, that their friendship was renewed. Below, the movie trailer for Hollywood or Bust (movie in public domain).

In 1952 Jerry Lewis began his 58-year involvement with the Muscular Dystrophy Associations of America (MDAA), by hosting fundraising telethons. The first Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon was broadcast in 1966 from New York City and moved to Las Vegas in 1973; Jerry continued as host until 2010. During one telethon alone (2008), the charity raised over $65 million for "Jerry's Kids". His association with the MDA was severed in 2011 when they announced his retirement at age 84 as host of the annual telethon. Among many other accolades and honours over the years, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Price in 1977 for his efforts to fight Muscular Dystrophy.

jerry lewis 1958, jerry lewis show tv special, 1950s television, musical variety acts, stand up comedianRight, in the Jerry Lewis Show 1958 TV special. (Photo: NBC Television | Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

Jerry Lewis continued to successfully act, sing, produce and direct films, and write screenplays after the professional break-up with Dean Martin in 1956.

He co-starred with Dina Merrill in the comedy Don’t Give Up the Ship (1959). His comedy The Nutty Professor (1963) co-starring Stella Stevens, with Del Moore and Kathleen Freeman, has been hailed as a movie classic.

Below, Jerry Lewis as Buddy Love in The Nutty Professor movie trailer from 1963.

Thanks to baby boomers and their love for broad comedy in movies in the 50's & 60's, his film career didn't start to wane until the later 1960's. Jerry Lewis was kept busy with live stage appearances and starred in a 3 different short-lived television shows (all called The Jerry Lewis Show) throughout the 1960's. Lewis has continued to make appearances in movies in every decade since then...a 64-year movie career! Jerry Lewis is idolized in France and has won their Best Director award 3 times since 1960.

In 1967 the University of Southern California hired Lewis as a professor and he taught film direction to grad students, which included the likes of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Jerry Lewis has won a lifetime achievement award from The American Comedy Awards, the Governors Award (an Emmy Award) from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

As can be expected with aging, Jerry Lewis has had his share of health concerns over the years including prostate cancer, diabetes, pulmonary fibrosis and heart disease; he had a serious heart attack in 1982. Pratfalls from his slapstick days played havoc with his back and finally in 2002 he had a neurostimular implant to reduce his back pain. Below, a cantankerous Jerry Lewis is interviewed about people working into their nineties.

Happy 89th Birthday Jerry Lewis!

Anita Hamilton

Baby boomer Anita Hamilton has always been interested in the "real people" stories behind the characters that create and inhabit the world of music, books, movies, television shows, current events, history, etc. A lifelong love of research (ok, nosiness) and writing, combined with a loving and supportive family and 3 mini-dachshund minions, keeps her busy.


Suzanna Eckchum

Jerry Lewis came into my life when I was very young. I remember his movies well, Jerry would entertained me for hours. As a child I was sick most of the time, his laughter and smiles were the best medicine I ever had. Jerry gifted my life with Comedy and how to live it in my heart. He was my mentor. From the first phone conversation we had to stumping him on the 1974 MDA Telethon at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas and throughout my youth and adulthood, Jerry Lewis has always shined on my inner child with continuous laughter teaching me its okay to let your inner child play to be funny, to make others happy with your funniness. I remembered being called "Little Jerry Lewis" when I was 19, I remember his son Ron giving me a rose and the letters, pictures his first wife Patti sent me in High School and after. Jerry taught me many things in life such as Laughter is the best medicine, how can others love you if you don't love yourself, you can touch others with just a smile, don't be afraid to create outside the box and humor is only one mishap away. Though I didn't get the chance to take his comedy directing course at USC ( only open to graduates, I was an undergraduate at the time) At the age of 19 I wanted to be a comedy director, follow in his footsteps, I learned all aspects of movie production, Cinematography, comic timing. I created my own clown, "Giggles" I was a natural. Somewhere along the way a new direction led me to more creative endeavors but I never stopped breathing comedy, I lived it! Life is full of changes, throws a few curve balls your way I never stopped making others laugh or smile. Thank You Jerry Lewis not just for being my mentor but forever touching my life, what a magical journey its been and will continue on!!

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