The unstoppable Jerry Lewis sat down for an interview with Illeana Douglas Saturday evening at the El Capitan, prior to a screening of THE NUTTY PROFESSOR (1963). In her introduction Douglas advised the audience to “fasten your seatbelts,” but the 88-year-old comic was mostly restrained and serious during the discussion. (Perhaps Jerry was better able to indulge in hijinks on Saturday morning during the courtyard handprint ceremony, at which he bit Quentin Tarantino on the hand!)
Lewis and Douglas exhibited a natural rapport and the intelligent questions brought up topics that ranged from Lewis’ childhood all the way through the present day and Jerry’s upcoming starring role in the film Max Rose, in which Douglas has a supporting role. Here are a few highlights of the conversation:
- Asked what he thought of the enthusiastic standing ovation he received as he walked out on the El Capitan stage, Jerry replied, “Most of these people were invited by my attorney.”
- In response to a question about his father, Jerry reminisced about his happy childhood in New Jersey and said his father was “…very upbeat; positive. He rooted for strange people.”
- Jerry described his first screen test with Dean Martin, made for producer Hal Wallis and Paramount. He knew it was a terrible test because “I was smiling at the crew and they weren’t smiling back.” Jerry called Wallis that night and said he’d leave town, but “…take good care of my partner.” Wallis instead suggested that Jerry write material for a new screen test, so Jerry got together with My Friend Irma (1949) screenwriter Cy Howard and did just that. The second test was “incredible.”
- Illeana Douglas asked Jerry which Martin & Lewis movie he would recommend watching to see what Martin & Lewis was all about. Lewis answered without hesitation: The Stooge (1952).
- When Dean and Jerry split (10 years to the day after they got together), “it came as a lightning bolt for Wallis,” because he had a contract with the pair as a team, not as individuals.
- Jerry revealed that the song “By Myself” — performed in his first solo film The Delicate Delinquent (1957) –was a deliberate message to the team’s fans about the split, and “the reaction to it was very good.”
- Jerry once asked Billy Wilder to direct him in The Bellboy (1960), but Wilder said, “You can’t afford what I get as a director… Why don’t YOU direct it?”
- When directing, Jerry had grandstands built in the studio and invited fans to come in and watch filming. He did this “…because the crew loved it.” He also said that once a good take was captured, many funny routines were done one last time so that the crowd in the stands could laugh without ruining the take.
- Asked about his dance scenes in his films, Jerry said he included them because “when you’re dancing, you’re giving the audience a chance to take a deep breath.”
- While acting in Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy (1982), Scorsese asked Jerry to direct the TV-show-within-the-movie scenes because Scorsese had no experience with television.
- As for THE NUTTY PROFESSOR, Douglas started to ask Jerry what he thought of the “Buddy Love” character and before she could even finish the question, Jerry yelled, “I HATED ‘IM!” Nevertheless, Lewis said that the studio received thousands of pieces of mail from people wondering how to contact “Buddy”!