The following is Thrilling Days of Yesteryear’s contribution to the Dynamic Duos in Classic Film Blogathon, hosted by Once upon a Screen and the Classic Movie Hub July 13-14. For a complete list of the blogs participating and the personalities covered, click here.
In 1976, viewers who tuned into the annual MDA Labor Day Telethon got an unexpected surprise: twenty years after their acrimonious split, host Jerry Lewis was reunited with his former partner, actor-singer Dean Martin, when Martin’s fellow Rat Packer Francis Albert Sinatra brought him onto the show. It was a big deal for fans of the duo, and it was a big deal for a thirteen-year-old kid who had become a belated fan by watching their classic movies in just about any venue that offered them (mostly TV at that time).
There are a good number of people who revere Jerry Lewis. They are James Neibaur and the entire nation of France. The rest find it difficult to tolerate the man’s excesses, though I have always been on record as saying that I don’t mind some of Lewis’ solo vehicles. I gravitate mostly to the ones directed by Frank Tashlin—like Rock-a-Bye Baby (1958) and my personal favorite, It’$ Only Money (1962)—but I certainly wouldn’t object to an official DVD release of an underrated comedy, Don’t Give Up the Ship (1959). My greatest love for Jerry Lewis was when for a decade—1946 through 1956—he partnered with Dean Martin and made some very funny movie comedies…not to mention some hilarious TV programs and occasionally a rib-tickling radio broadcast or two.
Dean and Jerry decided to “go for broke.” While Dean was performing, Jerry came out dressed as a busboy and wreaked havoc during Martin’s performance—dropping an entire tray of dishes during one of his numbers. They dug old vaudeville jokes out of their memory, performed slapstick and engaged in a spirited exchange of insults. The audience ate it up. Martin and Lewis became an “overnight success,” and took their new act from club to club until it was estimated they were pulling down close to $15,000 weekly in 1948 alone.
a well-received radio appearance on an October 26, 1948 Bob Hope Show that prompted NBC to offer them a contract. An audition recorded was produced on December 21, 1948, and that program (with guest Lucille Ball), edited to a half-hour, became the April 3, 1949 premiere broadcast of The Martin & Lewis Show.
Dean and Jerry’s zany antics didn’t translate to radio too well. The network was spending $10,000 a week and luring big-name guest stars—John Garfield, Henry Fonda, Burt Lancaster, Jane Russell—but audiences were lukewarm to the show, and it soon came to a close on January 30, 1950. The future fan base of Martin and Lewis would become more acquainted with the team from movies and television—the duo were frequent hosts of NBC-TV’s The Colgate Comedy Hour, said by many to be the only medium that was really able to come close to capturing the spontaneity of their nightclub act (and surviving kinescopes demonstrate that Dean and Jer really had a ball on live TV). When the team’s movies made them big box-office attractions, NBC had another go at a radio program with them beginning on October 5, 1951 for a two-year run. Curiously, NBC chose to play up Martin’s role more than that of his partner's, renaming the series The Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis Show and introducing the crooner as the “master of ceremonies.” Jerry would then make his “late” appearance shortly after Dean’s opening number. This version, still packed with top guest stars, ultimately folded its tent July 14, 1953.
I have a soft spot for Sailor Beware because it was the film that introduced me to the reality that all those old movies I had been watching on TV actually had a first life in theaters; I learned this when I saw Beware on ABC’s Monday Night Movie and was flummoxed at how my father, who was watching it with me, was able to predict what would happen next. (He came clean and told me he saw the film when he was in the service.) Beware was directed by Hal Walker, who had also directed At War with the Army, and was co-scripted by Army’s original playwright, James Allardice.
in a blog post here so I’ll skip over the analysis. Since I also didn’t get an opportunity to revisit 3 Ring Circus (1954)—the only M&L comedy not available on DVD for unspecified reasons—I’ll pass that one by, too; I saw it many years ago but I don’t want to rely on an imperfect memory (for what it’s worth, I don’t remember it being very good).
Carole & Co. any minute now). Jerry plays the Carole Lombard role in a wacky tale of his and Dean’s (Martin plays his physician) attempts to take advantage of a New York newspaper’s offer to show Jerry the town when they mistakenly think he’s dying of radiation poisoning.
By the time this film went into production, rumors were rampant that the team was headed for splitsville; Martin had started to chafe at his straight man role, unhappy with playing colorless romantic leads…and Lewis didn’t help matters any with his insistence on concentrating on pathos as if he were a second Chaplin and focusing much of the comedy on himself. Martin fulfilled the rest of his Paramount contract but told his partner that he was “nothing to me but a fucking dollar sign.” On the day that Pardners was released (July 25, 1956), Martin and Lewis performed for the last time at New York's Copacabana.