At age 5, Jerry Lewis began performing with his parents in vaudeville. Now 90, Lewis still performs live once a month and will bring his show to St. Louis next week.
On Saturday night, the legendary comedian will share stories, tell jokes, show film clips and take questions at the Family Arena in St. Charles, Mo. While here, he will pick up a Lifetime Achievement Award from the St. Louis International Film Festival.
Earlier that same day, the fest will present a free double-bill: The documentary “Jerry Lewis: The Man Behind the Clown” at 1 p.m. and his iconic comedy “The Nutty Professor” at 2:15 p.m. at Webster University's Winifred Moore Auditorium. Lewis has filmed a video introduction.
Known for his visual gags, pantomime sketches and slapstick humor, Lewis became one of the most recognized people on the planet.
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Jerry was born Joseph Levitch on March 16, 1926, in Newark, N.J. His father Danny Lewis was an entertainer and mother Rachel Levitch played piano.
He rose to fame at age 20 as part of a comedy duo with Dean Martin from 1946 to 1956. Their phenomenal success came from radio, TV, live performances and later movies. They were the biggest box office draw for six years.
He has appeared in more than 50 films, and was box office gold in the 1950s and early 1960s. Then, he moved into writing and directing a dozen movies.
He made his Broadway debut as Applegate in “Damn Yankees” in 1995.
He starred in the movie “Max Rose,” which was released this year, after not having been in a film since 1983’s "The King of Comedy" directed by Martin Scorsese.
Besides achievements in entertainment, Lewis is known for his humanitarian efforts. He emceed the Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon every Labor Day for 40 years. and served as national chairman.
Married twice, to Patti Palmer from 1944 to 1980, and to SanDee Pitnick since 1983, he is the father of six sons and one daughter.
A consummate entertainer, Lewis graciously took time to answer questions.
Q: At 90, you are in your eighth decade in show business. What do you enjoy about performing now that you might not have appreciated as much in your earlier years?
A: (Laughing) The fact that I can still get out there and do it. What I get from the audience is still the same and always the best part of what I do.
Q: Who were you influenced by during your childhood?
A: My dad, number one; Charlie Chaplin and Al Jolson.
Q: When did you know you could make people laugh?
A: At 5 years old when I sang “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” My foot hit a light when I bowed. When it exploded and the audience laughed, I was hooked.
Q: What was the best thing about your partnership with Dean Martin?
Q:. How did you come up with the distinctive voice? When did you first say, “La-a-a-dy” and why do you think that sound bite stuck?
A: I never said, “Hey, Lady,” but it’s one of those things that stuck, like the things Bette Davis and Cary Grant never said that every impersonator attributes to them.
Q: What’s left on your bucket list that you haven’t done yet?
A: (Laughing) First, I need to buy a bucket.
Q: What would you say now to the 21-year-old version of you?
A: Don’t worry you'll still be here at 90.
Q: Any words of advice to young filmmakers?
A: Don’t follow the rules, but make sure you know them.
"An Evening with Jerry Lewis"
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12
Where: Family Arena in St. Charles
Information: www.familyarena.com or MetroTix: 314-534-1111
See Jerry’s classic films
When: Saturday, Nov. 12
What: "Jerry Lewis: The Man Behind the Clown" (2016) at 1 p.m.; "The Nutty Professor" (1963) at 2:15 p.m.
Where: Winifred Moore Auditorium, Webster University
Cost: Free admission