JERRY LEWIS: THE NUTTY HUMANITARIAN
Remembering Jerry Lewis on Labor Day, 2017
What is the measure of a man? And what is the worth of a soul—or a life? Mr. Lewis showed us that, and demonstrated it—in spades.
He was born either Jerome, or Joseph, Levitch—depending on what source you consult—at the Newark Beth Israel Hospital in Newark, New Jersey. The date was March 16, 1926. Jerome (possibly Joseph) Levitch, or Jerry Lewis, as he became much better known, would spend a bit over 91 years on the planet, and pass in Las Vegas, Nevada, August 20, 2017, just a short couple of weeks ago.
When a person visits the gravesite of an individual, that’s pretty much all you see. The name, and the date of birth and death. Those two dates are inevitably separated by a dash, and when you stop and think about it, that little dash represents the totality of a life. That is to say, the dash is everything that happened between the birth and the death of the person lying just beneath your feet.
Not much, when you stop and think about it.
Not much at all.
One has to wonder, standing in that lonely and forlorn graveyard, just what that “dash” might have encompassed.
In the case of Mr. Lewis, it was a lot.
Jerry Lewis had one hell of a dash.
For over three-quarters of a century, Mr. Lewis kept people laughing—and he kept them in tears.
Tears of joy.
And tears of gratefulness.
Mr. Lewis was, at various times throughout his long life and career, a comedian, an actor, a singer, a producer, a director, a screenwriter, and most importantly of all . . . a world class humanitarian—perhaps one of the greatest of the entire twentieth century.
He came from good stock. Lewis’s father was Daniel Levitch (Danny Lewis) a noted vaudevillian. Mom (Rachel “Rae” Levitch) was a consummate pianist that played for a radio station.
The list of wonderful, funny, and often enchanting motion pictures starring either Lewis alone, or with partner Dean Martin is long indeed. A personal favorite of my own, is the original (and of course best) The Nutty Professor. Lewis plays a duel role in this modern and humorous updating of the classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde tale. Lewis literally chews the scenery as Professor Julius Kelp (Jekyll) and Buddy Love (Hyde). It never grows old. Stella Stevens is the resident pretty girl and love interest. I saw the film (first-run) back in 1963 with my late brother Dale, in a downtown Detroit movie theater. I have watched it countless and an unknown number of times since.
Timeless, ageless, priceless—and it just gets better as the years roll by.
The humanitarian part of Lewis does too.
It started way back in 1946, when Lewis and then comedic partner Dean Martin began hosting Labor Day telethons to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA). Those lasted until the end of Jerry’s professional association with Martin, but Lewis went on, on his own, to host telethons year-after-year-after-year, finally becoming national chairman of the organization in 1966. The telethons would grow in scope and size, and continue with Lewis until 2010, and Lewis would remain as the leader of MDA until 2011, when advancing age and ill-health would force him into retirement.
It was quite a run. Jerry Lewis would raise nearly three billion dollars for the organization in his forty-five year tenure, never taking so much as a dime from the association for all of his efforts, and even contributing sizable amounts personally as the years went by.
God himself only knows how many children and families were helped and aided by MDA in all that time.
It was like Lewis himself—some class act.
Jerry never revealed his reasons for doing what he did. God only knows that now too—and only God need know. For the rest of us, it is simply enough that he did.
On this Labor-Day weekend, let’s remember Jerry Lewis—the nutty-humanitarian, and one hellofa funny guy.
Thanks for all you did, Jerry. Thanks for your inimitable style. Thanks for the zany movies, the prat-falls, the gooney faces, the weird voices, the wonderful TV shows, the late Summer Labor-Day weekends glued to the set watching all the entertainment and the MDA tote-board grow—and listening to the timpani’s as it did.
Thanks for it all, dear sir.
But most of all—thanks for the memories—and the good, good times.
Yup—one hell of a dash.
We love you.
We’ll miss you.
We’ll see you again one day.
And may God be with you and your millions of kids—and with us, ‘til we do.
Dumb joke of the day:
“The doc told me I had a dual personality. Then he lays an 82-dollar bill on me, so I give him 41 bucks and tell him to get the rest from the other guy.”
Thanks so much for reading. We’ll be back in a day or two with Chapter Two of INNOCENCE. Until then, have a wonderful Labor Day weekend. Be safe, have joy, and most of all . . . keep laughing.