June 6, 2013
Now: Dean Martin, booze-hound member of The Rat Pack, world-famous crooner, deceased.
Then: Up and coming singer performing in small clubs, still developing his style.
Now: Jerry Lewis, icon to the French, former longtime host of the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon, movie star.
Then: Up and coming comic performing in small clubs, still developing his style.
In the era of radio, with movies and Las Vegas far in their futures, Martin and Lewis had gone about as far as their careers were going to go. Martin back then was good but not great. Lewis’ act seemed to have reached a peak. Working separately, and in fact not even knowing each other, they were finding it harder and harder to find bookings. So one day, a nightclub owner decided to put together his two weak acts and see what they could come up with. That night, after just having met, they totally improvised an act that set the crowds to laughter and so a team was born.
In my mind, a weak team. I realize that they were an amazing popular radio act, lasting from 1949 to 1953. On the surface they were an Abbott and Costello style act: smooth straight man and childlike jokester. The problem was, Abbott and Costello had refined their act until they were a well oiled machine, doing classic and time tested vaudeville acts while Martin and Lewis were tossed together out of the blue. I always found their shows an uncomfortable fit.
Often, shows would simply be Martin as an emcee, introducing guests and singing, while being interrupted by Lewis doing some kind of manic-moron act. Other times they would be thrust into some sitcom-like skit that served neither well as Martin was always apologizing for his sidekick, whom he invariably called a moron. So why were they together?
Their styles never meshed. Martin didn’t fit into Lewis’ style of wackiness and Lewis’ attempts to fit into Martin’s suave milieu were generally uncomfortable failures. In many shows, it seemed as if Jerry Lewis was simply there to (badly) croon parodies of Dean Martin songs. (Ironically, it would be Lewis’ impersonation of Martin that propelled The Nutty Professor to huge box office numbers years later.)
But despite what I see as an awkward and ill-fitting pairing, the team did well, moving from TV to movies and always finding success. Eventually, as with Abbott and Costello, the Beatles, and the Soviet Union, they broke up. And is it an accident that after the break-up each went on to greater heights? Dean Martin found fame and fortune alongside Frank Sinatra on the Las Vegas stage, while Jerry Lewis continued to make movies and become a comedy icon. (For my money, The King of Comedy is his greatest role.)
So if there is a moral here I leave it for you to find. All I see is that you can never predict success. And a lot of people like Martin and Lewis more than I do. (One person who hates them both is Sammy Petrillo, but that is a blog for another time.)
Want to hear some episodes of The Martin and Lewis Show? Click on this link (http://www.relicradio.com/otr/series/martin-and-lewis-show/) and listen to a few episodes at Relic Radio and while you are there, poke around a little. there is a ton of great stuff there.