(Air Date: Week Of 9/25/96)
It's a funny thing, alright, this love-hate affair we have with living legends. They are part of our 1 for what seems like forever, always familiar and always distant. We learn about them through their work and from biographies, magazines, tabloid newspapers, tabloid shows and, rarely, through personal contact. I remember hearing a woman bitterly describe her brief encounter with a former actress who turned down her request for an autograph while shopping in a peninsula supermarket. The celebrity wasn't sweet and kind like in her movies, she was rude and mean for declining to snap back into the role she'd vacated nearly fifty years ago.
Jerry Lewis has been world famous for half a century. If I'd thought about it for half a minute and I admit I didn't, I might have wondered why the American press seemed to be unceasingly hostile to him for so long. He made movies, in front of and behind the camera. He made people laugh. Like any show business veteran, he had his fair share of rough patches, but nothing he ever did seemed to justify the onslaught of journalistic bashing.
Jerry Lewis is on the road now with "Damn Yankees", playing the devil with all the joy and energy of a kid in his first major role. For those expecting Lewis to dominate this ensemble show, forget it. He plays it smart, gradually building his character within the context of the plot, withholding most of his tried and true shticks until well into Act Two. He's generous with the rest of the cast, and is especially good in his sequences with the delightful Valerie Wright, who plays Lola. "Damn Yankees" is one of those big splashy musicals from the mid-fifties that has been revived pretty much in its original form, with most of its topical references intact. Its message, clearly, is above and beyond baseball. It shows a man in love with his wife who keeps returning to her for company and comfort. Lola the temptress is as sizzling as they get, but she's no match for a warm, understanding wife. Not a bad message, then or now, actually. And Jerry Lewis promises to continue with its world wide tour, so you may soon see him at a theatre near you.
In a pre-opening press conference in San Francisco, Lewis frankly admitted his personality quirks, but he is a charmer alright, with an alert and interesting mind and a wealth of filmmaking knowledge that he shares candidly and without condescension. He hopes to make it to his 104th birthday, in the year 2030 and with his vitality & tenacity, he may very well make it. Just don't believe everything you hear about this comedy king: he's gotten a bad rap for way too long.
Copyright 1996 Monica Sullivan
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