Today is the birthday of “Grandpa” Al Lewis (Albert or Alexander Meister, 1923-2006).
Among many other fake biographical tidbits, Lewis often gave out that he was born in 1910 (see grave marker above). Some have speculated that he did that so the public (and the television producers) wouldn’t know that he was actually one year younger than Yvonne de Carlo, who played his daughter Lily on The Munsters (1964-1966).
I postulate an added reason — it sorts of bolsters the credibility of the image he liked to project of an old time vaudeville and burlesque comic (and an advocate for social justice, i.e. it’s hard to have been involved with the Sacco & Vanzetti case if you weren’t old enough). In reality, vaudeville and burlesque were almost gone by the time Lewis was old enough to have performed in them. (He also claimed to have gotten a Ph.D. in child psychology from Columbia, of which no record exists). He undoubtedly did some live performing at whatever kind of venues were around in the 1940s — those great comic chops came from somewhere. But it’s not until the 1950s when he begins to show up in Broadway shows and on television that anything verifiable on Mr. Lewis emerges.
Prior to his stint on The Munsters, he’d been on the Nat Hiken shows Bilko (1959) and Car 54, Where Are you? (1961-63), among other shows. His last film was in 2002.
My fellow New Yorkers remember his last years fondly — he was very prominent on the local scene, with his Italian restaurant Grandpa’s in the Village (customers were thrilled to see him there all the time, sitting at a table smoking his omnipresent cigar), his WBAI radio show and his candidacy for Governor of New York on the Green Party Ticket. When he passed away in 2006, he was not 95 as everyone thought, but 82.
Clips like the one below, though, are why I say to you that it is good to be alive on this earth:
To find out more about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube either!
I used to see Al on Bleecker St. at 6th Ave all the time. What an icon! Contrarily, Fred Gwynne was always on Bleecker around Broadway. Was it an East/West thing? ha. And although Al is known to us for his tv and theater, he probably made is most important contributions to society as a basketball scout. I understand that he moved the careers of many high school ballers into the college and pro ranks. I hear he was a freak about the game.
I like the idea of the entire Munsters cast working the very length and breadth of Bleecker Street. what their nefarious purpose would be, I don’t know
A fake bio and a fake Ph.D.? I’m laughing out loud – that’s fabulous – go, Grandpa Munster, GO!!!!