Time Magazine just featured 86-year-old Jerry Lewis in what is likely to be his last great battle to re-win the hearts of his American audience. Unlike his old partner Dean Martin and fellow legend Tony Bennett, Jerry’s spectacular reign in movies and television ended some 40 years ago. Before many of you were born.
Still, Jerry Lewis is a name and a career to be reckoned with. Why? Because he is a study in (1) the delights and dangers of Ego (2) the classic American catechism which says everyone gets a second chance.
He made the original film ‘The Nutty Professor’ in 1963. Now hobbled by age and disease, he has put his last stack of chips on a bet that he can direct and revive the story for the Broadway stage. Jerry played Broadway only once in his fabled career, saying: “Dad always told me you’re nothing till you play the Palace!” Right now his stage production is in tryouts before testing its chances for the big time.
For those who think of Lewis, if they think of him at all, as another has-been reaching for the brass ring, this report is of small consequence. For those who laughed at Martin & Lewis when they were America’s greatest show business team, they may see this as a test of sorts. Can a once-upon-a-time America still catch fire in today’s cruder culture? can humor without nudity and vulgarity get anyone’s attention?
No one knows, not even the investors gambling on Jerry having one last hurray in him. But I’ll tell you this. Every grandparent, every senior community, every gray haired columnist in the country [especially in France where he is still deemed a comic genius] will be wishing him well. And probably saying: “The kids may be running the country, but it’s the country WE built they’re running…”
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