By any measure Jerry Lewis is an American comic icon. A performer who has bridged vaudeville to the digital age, Lewis was part of one of the most successful comedy teams of all time. Along with his partner, Dean Martin, he imported a manic style of comedy and mayhem into nightclubs, living rooms, and theaters all over the world.
From 1946-1956 they were the biggest act anywhere. Their madcap foolishness made Lewis and Martin legends.
As writer and director of his own films, Lewis is responsible for some of the greatest slapstick gags in history. Just watch “The Nutty Professor,” “The Bellboy,” “The Errand Boy,” “Cinderfella” or “The Ladies Man,” and his particular comic genius is evident. In Europe, he has been named Best Director of the Year eight times since 1960.
He created Video Assist, a technology that allowed him to watch his on-screen performances, instantly, before the film was developed. Video Assist is still used by nearly every film and TV director to this day.
One Lewis project has been shrouded in mystery for decades: “The Day the Clown Cried.” It’s a World War II drama concerning a clown in Auschwitz. The film was mired in legal troubles, and Lewis has never allowed it to be seen.
Now, in an exclusive interview that LifeZette published first, he tells me why he has kept the film under wraps for so long. “That’s the problem, there was no artistry,” Lewis said. “The work was bad.”
This is just one of the many revelations he shared during a hilarious and moving interview that aired recently on “The World Over” on EWTN.
Lewis will be 90 in March. As he closes in on that milestone, I caught up with the legendary performer at his home in Las Vegas for an hour-long conversation touching on everything from his breakup with Martin to the real reason he led the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon for nearly 50 years.
He has always refused to discuss the motivation for his involvement with the Muscular Dystrophy Association. He broke his silence in our interview, and even discussed ISIS and his thoughts on presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Here are a few highlights from my interview with him, along with the clip below of the entire interview.
Raymond Arroyo: When you watch what’s been happening on CNN and on Fox, ISIS blowing up, shooting people indiscriminately — what went through your mind as you saw this?
Jerry Lewis: You gotta remember something. ISIS has attacked the world, OK? And all of a sudden I’m wondering, where are all of our NATO allies? Why don’t I have Germany, and Italy, and Great Britain? Why don’t I have all of them, including Spain, doing something? Get all of your military together, bring that military to our military, and wipe ’em out. They’re asking to be stopped. And we’re not stopping them, we’re just reporting what they’re doing. That’s ridiculous.
RA: And what do you think about the refugees?
Lewis: The refugees should stay where the hell they are.
RA: They say there’s a humanitarian crisis. They’re fleeing —
Lewis: Hey, nobody has worked harder for the human condition than I have. But they’re not part of the human condition, if 11 guys in that group of 10,000 are ISIS. How can I take the chance? I don’t want to lose another Frenchman or another Englishman. That bothers me. You can’t really knock the president per se because he was never given to understand that’s out there. He was never ready, never prepared for it. And what I’m watching in him is uncertainty. And you don’t have uncertainty in a leader. A leader doesn’t give a s— what he does, but he gets it done.
RA: Politics: I know you watch it. I see you watching news every minute of the day. What do you think of Donald Trump?
Lewis: I think he’s great.
Lewis: Because he’s a showman. And we’ve never had a showman in the president’s chair.
RA: Well, we had Ronald Reagan. He was a bit of a showman.
Lewis: Well, that’s different. You can’t make a comparison with Ronald Reagan, because I can do three hours on him with just praise, he was so good.
There’s much more, of course, in the full interview in the clip above. And enjoy this video clip of him and Dean Martin at the height of their madcap genius, which inspired generations of comedians:
@RaymondArroyo is a New York Times best-selling author of the soon-to-be released, “Will Wilder: The Relic of Perilous Falls” (Crown/Random House) and host of EWTN’s international news magazine, “The World Over.”