Martin and Lewis were an American comedy duo, comprising singer Dean Martin and comedian Jerry Lewis. They met in 1945 and debuted at Atlantic City's 500 Club on July 25, 1946; the team lasted ten years to the day. Before they teamed up, Martin was a nightclub singer, while Lewis performed a comedy act lip-synching to records.
They performed in nightclubs, and, starting in 1949, on radio. Later they branched out into television and films. In their early radio days they performed as Martin and Lewis but later became hugely popular as Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. These full names helped them launch successful solo careers after parting.
In 1945, Dean Martin met a young Jerry Lewis at the Glass Hat Club in New York City, where both men were performing. Martin and Lewis debuted at Atlantic City's 500 Club on July 25, 1946, when Lewis suggested to the club owner that Martin would be a good replacement for the scheduled singer who was unavailable.
The duo was not well received. The owner, Skinny D'Amato, threatened to terminate their contract if the act did not improve. Martin and Lewis disposed of pre-scripted gags and began improvising. Martin sang, and Lewis dressed as a busboy, dropping plates and making a shambles of Martin's songs and a mockery of the club's decorum. They performed slapstick and delivered vaudeville jokes to great fanfare. Their success at the 500 Club led to a series of well-paying engagements along the Eastern Seaboard, culminating with a run at New York's Copacabana Club.
The audience were convulsed with laughter by Lewis interrupting and heckling Martin while he was trying to sing, and ultimately by the two of them chasing each other around the stage and having as much fun as possible.
Radio, television, and films
An NBC radio series, The Martin and Lewis Show, ran from 1948-53. Martin and Lewis made a key appearance on the first episode of Ed Sullivan's show, Toast of the Town, in June 1948, although they may have appeared on TV earlier on Hour Glass, the first TV variety show which aired from May 1946 – March 1947, during the time the duo first paired up formally. On October 3 and 10, 1948, the team were stars on the first two episodes of the NBC live television variety show Welcome Aboard – kinescope survives of this live TV broadcast in UCLA Film and Television Archive.
On April 3, 1949, they debuted on their TV version of their "Martin & Lewis" radio show on the NBC-TV network, with guest Bob Hope, with their inaugural program drawing lackluster reviews in the April 30, 1949, issue of Billboard magazine. Lewis hired young comedy writers Norman Lear and Ed Simmons to improve their act. By 1950, Lear and Simmons were the main writers for Martin and Lewis.
Martin was thrilled to be out of New York City, a place he had developed a lifelong discomfort for, and he also wasn't a fan of tall buildings. Martin mostly avoided elevators due to claustrophobia. He didn't like having to climb multiple flights of stairs in tall buildings or having to take the elevator if he needed to go to a high floor. Even when his success allowed him to lease an apartment in a Manhattan highrise building, he chose one on the third floor. He liked Los Angeles and the fact that it had few tall buildings.
Their agent, Abby Greshler, negotiated for them one of Hollywood's best deals. They received $75,000 between them for their films with Wallis, a respectable film salary in the 1940s. Martin and Lewis were also free to do one outside film a year, which they would co-produce through their own York Productions. Their first starring feature was the independently produced At War with the Army (1950). They also had complete control of their club, records, radio, and television appearances, and it was through these endeavors that Martin and Lewis earned millions of dollars. They made regular appearances on NBC's Colgate Comedy Hour during the 1950s.
Their Comedy Hour shows consisted of musical song and dance from their nightclub act or movies, with Dick Stabile’s big band, sketch comedy with slapstick or satires of current films and tv shows, Martin’s solo songs, and Lewis’ solo pantomimes, physical numbers or conducting the orchestra. Martin and Lewis often broke out of character, ad-libbing and breaking the fourth wall. This early television show established their popularity nationwide.
Although there had been a number of hugely successful film teams before, Martin and Lewis were a new kind of duo. Both were talented entertainers, but the fact that they were such good friends on and off stage took their act to a new level. Lewis later offered an explanation for their success:
- "Who were Dean's fans? Men, women, the Italians. Who were Jerry's fans? Women, Jews, kids. Who were Martin and Lewis' fans? All of them... You had fans that didn't care that Lewis was on or that Martin was singing. Because if Dean was singing, that was Martin and Lewis. If Jerry was goin' nuts, that was Martin and Lewis."
Martin and Lewis were the hottest act in America during the early '50s, as well as the highest paid act in show business according to a 1951 LIFE Magazine article the duo was featured in while on their most successful movie tour promoting That's My Boy. The tour was so successful, audience members wouldn't leave their seats, so Martin and Lewis began doing "free shows" afterwards on fire escapes, or out their dressing room windows, jamming the streets with adoring fans hoping to catch a prize – a hat, a shoe, maybe an autograph. However, the pace and the pressure soon took their toll. Martin usually had the thankless job of the straight man, and his singing had yet to develop into his unique style of his later years. The critics praised Lewis, and while they admitted that Martin was the best partner he could have, most of them claimed that Lewis was the real talent of the team and could succeed with anyone. Lewis praised Martin in his book Dean & Me, where he called Martin one of the great comic geniuses of all time.
After five years at Paramount, Dean Martin was becoming tired of scripts limiting him to colorless romantic leads while parts of their films centered on the antics of Lewis. The last straw came when Look magazine gave Martin and Lewis a cover photo—and cropped Martin out of the picture. Martin dutifully fulfilled the rest of his movie contract, but became increasingly disillusioned about his partnership with Lewis, leading to escalating arguments between the pair. The two could no longer work together, especially when Martin angrily told Lewis that he was "nothing to me but a fucking dollar sign." Martin left the act at his first opportunity, following their farewell appearance at the Copacabana Club on July 25, 1956, exactly ten years after their first official teaming. Their final film together, Hollywood or Bust, was released that December.
After the split
According to Lewis, the two did not speak to each other privately for twenty years, to which Lewis later commented, "the stupidity of that, I cannot expound on. The ignorance of that is something I hope I'll always forget."
Dean Martin's career arguably reached new heights after the team split up, as a recording artist for the Capitol and Reprise labels, as a movie actor both on his own (Rio Bravo, The Young Lions, the Matt Helm series) and as a member of the Rat Pack (Ocean's 11, Sergeants 3, Robin and the 7 Hoods), and with his own hugely successful 1965–1974 television variety series, The Dean Martin Show.
Lewis remained with Paramount Pictures, appearing in and directing a succession of commercially successful films on his own (The Bellboy, The Nutty Professor), at one point becoming Paramount's biggest star. He also continued with his philanthropic work, which had begun while still partnered with Martin, hosting telethons for muscular dystrophy research until 2010.
In 1958, Lewis was the guest on an episode of NBC's The Eddie Fisher Show and was bantering with the host when Martin emerged from behind the curtain and said, "Don't sing. Do what you want but don't sing!" Martin was then immediately "pulled back" by singer Bing Crosby. Martin said something else but the rest of his words were drowned out by the wildly excited reaction from the audience. Martin's entire appearance was just eight seconds long, and Crosby was on camera for two seconds. After the applause died down, Fisher sang a few bars of Crosby's theme song "Where the Blue of the Night (Meets the Gold of the Day)" and Lewis crooned the title of Martin's then-current hit "Return to Me".
In 1960, four years after they broke up, Martin and Lewis briefly reunited, seemingly without prearrangement. Both were performing their own separate acts at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, a club they frequently played while they were together. Lewis caught Martin's closing act and Martin introduced his former partner to the audience, bringing him on stage. For about 15 minutes, they joked a bit and sang a duet of "Come Back to Me". However, the reunion was never duplicated. Later in 1960, when Lewis was rushing to finish The Bellboy and was too exhausted to perform his stage act, Martin generously replaced him. The two were also filmed laughing together in 1961, outside Eddie Fisher's opening at the Cocoanut Grove nightclub in Los Angeles.
The two men reconciled in September 1976, after Frank Sinatra orchestrated a surprise appearance by Martin on Lewis's annual Labor Day telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, saying only "I have a friend who loves what you do every year." The pair beamed and embraced, and then had a few minutes of friendly banter, during which Lewis asked Martin, "Uh, so, you workin'?" The brief reunion was big national news and, according to Lewis, the two spoke "every day after that".
In 1987, when Martin's son, Dean Paul Martin, was killed in a plane crash, Lewis attended the funeral unannounced, sat in the back, and did not reveal his presence to Martin. According to Lewis's 2005 memoir Dean & Me and Deana Martin's 2004 book Memories Are Made of This, when Martin found out about it, soon after, he called Lewis and talked to him for about an hour. In 1989, the two reunited for the last time at Bally's Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, where Martin was doing a week of shows, on his 72nd birthday. Lewis presented him with a birthday cake, thanked him for all the years he gave joy to the world and finally joked, "Why we broke up, I'll never know." This would be the last public reunion of the duo before Martin's death on Christmas Day 1995.
Despite their animosity after the split, Lewis published an affectionate memoir of his partnership with Martin called Dean & Me: A Love Story in 2005.
Martin and Lewis is a 2002 biographical CBS television movie which portrays the lives of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Directed by John Gray and starring Jeremy Northam as Martin and Sean Hayes as Lewis, the film depicts the years from 1946 to 1956, spanning the timeframe from the beginning until the end of their partnership.
|Year||Movie||Jerry Lewis role||Dean Martin role||Notes|
|1949||My Friend Irma||Seymour||Steve Laird||Film debut|
|1950||My Friend Irma Goes West||Seymour||Steve Laird|
|1950||At War with the Army||PFC Alvin Korwin||Sgt. Victor Puccinelli||Filmed before My Friend Irma Goes West|
|1951||That's My Boy||"Junior" Jackson||Bill Baker|
|1952||Sailor Beware||Melvin Jones||Al Crowthers|
|1952||Jumping Jacks||Hap Smith||Chick Allen|
|1952||Road to Bali||"Woman" in Lala's Dream||Man in Lala's Dream||Cameo. First appearance in color.|
|1952||The Stooge||Theodore Rogers||Bill Miller||Filmed before Sailor Beware and Jumping Jacks|
|1953||Scared Stiff||Myron Mertz||Larry Todd||Remake of The Ghost Breakers|
|1953||The Caddy||Harvey Miller Jr.||Joe Anthony|
|1953||Money from Home||Virgil Yokum||Herman "Honey Talk" Nelson||Filmed in 3-D.|
|1954||Living It Up||Homer Flagg||Dr. Steve Harris||Remake of Nothing Sacred|
|1954||3 Ring Circus||Jerome F. Hotchkiss||Pete Nelson||Re-edited and re-released in 1978 as 'Jerrico The Wonder Clown'|
|1955||You're Never Too Young||Wilbur Hoolick||Bob Miles||Remake of The Major and the Minor|
|1955||Artists and Models||Eugene Fullstack||Rick Todd|
|1956||Pardners||Wade Kingsley Sr. / Wade Kingsley Jr.||Slim Mosley Sr. / Slim Mosley Jr.||Partial Remake of Rhythm on the Range|
|1956||Hollywood or Bust||Malcolm Smith||Steve Wiley||Last film together|
- Bio Classics: Jerry Lewis, (1996).
- "Dean Martin Biography - Bio.com".
- Norman Lear Recalls Early Days as a Comedy Writer, By Tim Gray, October 30, 2015, Variety.
- 52G to Simmons, Lear to Do Five Martin-Lewis TV Shows, Page 3, 31 Oct 1953, Billboard.
- Tosches, Nick, Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams, Dell Publishing, 1992.
- Lewis, Jerry: Dean & Me: A Love Story, page 277. Pan Books, 2007.
- Lewis, Jerry: Dean & Me: A Love Story, page 321. Pan Books, 2007.
- Lewis, Jerry: Dean & Me: A Love Story, page 323. Pan Books, 2007.
- "Orillia Opera House Presents Dean and Jerry: What Might Have Been". Archived from the original on 2017-01-31.
- "Dean & Jerry: What Might Have Been - A Concert Presentation with Derek Marshall & Nick Arnold".
- "Morrisburg Leader Article - October 26, 2016 - Dean & Jerry: What Might Have Been draws cheers at Playhouse".
- The Jerry Lewis Films by James L. Neibaur and Ted Okuda. Jefferson, SC: McFarland, 1994, ISBN 0-89950-961-4
- Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime (Especially Himself): The Story of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis by Arthur Marx, New York, NY: Hawthorn Books, 1974, ISBN 9780801524301
- Hayde, Michael J. (2018). Side by Side:Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis on TV and Radio. BearManor Media. ISBN 9781629333526.