Guest Author - Carol Taller
Slapstick comedian Jerry Lewis was born with the name Joseph Levitch on March 16, 1926 in Newark, New Jersey. Both of his parents were Russian and worked in the entertainment business. His father was a vaudeville entertainer using Danny Lewis as his professional name and his mother played piano for a radio station.
Jerry Lewis joined his parents entertaining in New York’s Catskill Mountains by the time he was five years old . By fifteen he had his own act where he mouthed the lyrics to songs on a recording. First he used the professional name Joey Lewis, but changed his first name to Jerry so that he wouldn’t be confused with comedian Joe E. Lewis or boxing champion Joe Louis.
Lewis married his first wife, Patti Palmer (born Esther Calonico), on October 3, 1944. They had six sons together and they divorced in September of 1980. In 1983 he married SanDee Pitnick at the age of 56. She was a 32 year old Las Vegas dancer. They adopted one daughter in 1992.
Lewis would perform in NY nightclubs, burlesque, and specialty theaters. He met Dean Martin in 1944, and later became the famous performing team known as Martin and Lewis. Martin would sing and be the straight man to Lewis, who would clown around with his slapstick humor.
They were well received by audiences and quickly became nationally famous. The duo performed at nightclubs, on radio, and then eventually live television. They made several comedic movies together at Paramount Pictures.
Eventually, Martin’s role in the team diminished, and in 1954 Look Magazine cropped Martin out of a cover photo. The partnership dissolved by 1956, and both performers went on to successful solo careers.
Lewis’s reputation grew as an innovative film maker and he was credited with inventing a video assist system. This system used multiple closed circuit monitors and allowed him to review his performances faster.
By 1966, at the age of 40, Paramount thought Lewis’ comedy was not suitable for his age and no longer wanted his services. Lewis moved to Columbia Pictures where he continued to make more movies. He taught at the University of Southern California having Steven Spielberg and George Lucas as students.
More recently Lewis is known for his extensive charity work. He took on the position of National Chairman for the Muscular Dystrophy Association where he sponsored and hosted an annual Labor Day Marathon to earn money for the cause.
Lewis made his home in Las Vegas, Nevada. He suffered a heart attack in 1982 and another in 2006. Later it was discovered that his heart was damaged and he had a cardiac catheterization with two stents inserted. He cancelled several appearances, but went back to work. He has, to date, battled prostate cancer, diabetes, pulmonary fibrosis, at least two known heart attacks, and meningitis, and yet still continues to make appearances and represent the Muscular Dystrophy Association.