Happy birthday to the late, lamented Jerry Lewis. I wrote an earlier appreciation of the comedy auteur here and I hope to do much more at some point. His work merits a book length examination; and I really feel a film festival is merited in the near term future. The public ought to know more about Lewis’s work and appreciate its good qualities. There’s widespread misjudgment of Lewis on a superficial level, and though in the scheme of things who cares? I think there should be at least an effort, one push, in the name of comedy justice to put things right.
Today, I wanted to give a shout out to what has to have been my first introduction to the controversial comedian, even if it was at arm’s length. Children had always constituted a huge segment of Lewis’s fan base. But by the mid ’60s Lewis was maturing (relatively speaking). He had an awkward period where he made several films that were aimed more at grown-ups, with mixed success. Finally he reached a point where Paramount would no longer underwrite his pictures, despite the fact that he had once minted money for the studio. Which Way to the Front? (1970) would be his last comedy for a decade.
Or would it? For at this very moment, a brilliant solution was devised that went directly to kids. An animated cartoon! The concept was not at all crazy. There was much precedent,and everything had sort of pointed to it. There had previously been animated cartoons of Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, the Three Stooges and The Beatles, and Lewis had been the star of his own comic book since the 1950s. Filmation, which produced the new Saturday morning show, had gotten their start with a pilot for a Marx Brothers animated show that never got off the ground, but were currently very successful thanks to The Archies, The Hardy Boys, The Groovie Goolies and several DC superhero adaptations (DC was the same company that published The Adventures of Jerry Lewis comic).
The beauty part of an animated Lewis at this stage that he could still be the young, gangly, adenoidal adolescent his character had originally been, rather than the confusing, pretentious middle aged cineaste he had become by 1970. I say “he” but he didn’t do his own voice in the show — that was provided by David Lander, best known as Squiggy from Laverne and Shirley. The title is a reference to a catchphrase from the game show To Tell the Truth: “Will the real ____ please stand up?” As in Jerry Lewis movies like The Family Jewels and The Big Mouth, “Jerry” plays multiple characters, although that’s pretty conceptual when you consider the characters are all illustrated and they aren’t even played by Jerry Lewis. Still this filled a void with the kids audience and extended Lewis’s career just a little longer, through 1972 (the same year he directed the still unreleased The Day the Clown Cried). This cartoon was certainly my first introduction to Jerry Lewis, followed shortly I’m sure by his hosting of the annual Labor Day Telethon. I was a teenager before I began to discover his earlier classics (and those with his former partner Dean Martin) on television, and became a very devoted fan.
You can see some brief clips of the show (opening and closing sequences and wraparounds) on Youtube.