When Martin Left Lewis
Last week was the anniversary of the last time Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin appeared as an act. 67 years ago, as the show ended at New York's Copacabana Club, "Dean threw his arm around Jerry, pulled him toward him, hugged him," remembers one biographer. "The joint was in an uproar. It was the biggest night in the club's history.
"There was no encore. Dean took one aisle away from the stage, Jerry took another."
That warts-and-all biography -- titled Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams -- captured Dean's growing frustration with Jerry Lewis. ("Jerry reportedly cried hysterically in his dressing room," remembers one web site.) But the biography ends this chapter -- "Bread and Circuses" -- with what were apparently their final words spoken in their last conversation later that night.
Jerry Lewis -- presumably feeling lost, if not clingy and needy -- phones Dean's room at the hotel in the "early-morning" hours.
Dean Martin: Hello, pallie. How're you holdin' up?
Jerry Lewis: I don't know. We had some good times, didn't we?
Dean: There'll be more.
Jerry: Yeah, well, take care of yourself.
Dean: You too, pal.
That's the story I've always heard -- but there's another version. While Jerry Lewis cries backstage in the dressing room, Dean Martin enters. There's a 2002 made-for-TV movie that ends with this scene, (which someone has helpfully pirated to YouTube).
The setup? Throughout the movie Dean is emotionally unavailable -- not just to Jerry, but to the wife he divorces and the people around him. Meanwhile Jerry's own father doesn't approve of their act, leaving Jerry with the opposite emotion: a lifelong desparation for approval.
So after their final show, here's how the movie envisions that final conversation:
Dean Martin: How you holdin' up?
Jerry Lewis: Good. (Dramatic pause) Okay. You?
Dean: Um... Good show, huh?
Jerry: Best one yet.
Dean: Yeah. (Long pause) Thanks for a great ride.
Jerry: Love you.
Dean: I love you back.
Reportedly Jerry Lewis worked as a "consultant" on the film -- and some fans complained the movie demonized Dean while giving Jerry everything he could've wanted. (Although there's also a rumor that Jerry Lewis bought the rights to the film -- just so he could stop it from ever being shown again.) I personally find this ending unsatisfying -- like Dean Martin finally gives in to the neediness of Jerry Lewis. I guess I want to believe Jerry Lewis just wrote it himself.
Both conversations could've happened. But where's the fun in that? (For what it's worth, the movie is based on a book by Groucho Marx's son Arthur Marx. The biographer who wrote Dino also cites an article by Arthur Marx -- but one that appeared in the National Enquirer.) I came here to argue that Jerry Lewis made up a story where Dean Martin showers him with all the approval he'd ever wanted.
And then for revenge, I'd share an equally-valid documentary about the life of Jerry Lewis -- from those noted documentary makers "Filmation"...
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