JERRY LEWIS: IN PERSON by Jerry with Herb Gluck Lewis


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Jerry, with an obvious, often-overdone literary assist, tells Not-Quite-All: the first half of this autobiography is generally smooth, likable, and candid-seeming; from the Martin/Lewis break-up on, however, the book becomes disjointed and more than a little shifty. Child of ever-traveling vaudeville performers, Jerry (nÉ Joey Levitch) grew up in New Jersey, feeling neglected and usually staying with his loving Grandma. But soon, at 15, tagging along on the Borscht Belt as a busboy, he was doing a ""record act"": comic lip-synching. And a year later he was traveling the Loew's circuit--meeting Italian singer-wife Patti (who converted to Judaism to appease Jerry's appalled, guilt-machine parents) and another Italian named Dean, ""the greatest straight man in the history of show business."" Very quickly, then, Dean and Jerry were teaming up by half-accident and improvising (just how is not quite clear) their knock-'em-dead act. ""There I was at twenty-two, already owning two Cadillacs and a Jaguar XKE. . . ."" But Martin & Lewis, despite multimedia triumph, couldn't last: while Jerry loved Dean like a brother, feckless, unreliable Dean said ""To me, you're nothing but a dollar sign""--so ""I had to break out of it."" And Jerry went on alone (""ONE! ONE! ONE ALONE!"") to be writer-director-star of big-grossing films, to flop on TV, to labor for Muscular Dystrophy research, to raise a big family, to fight show-biz segregation. As for his moviemaking decline, Jerry blames Hollywood's ""corporate structure."" He avoids details on the feuding with Alex Cohen over the Hellzapoppin bomb. He discusses his addiction to the pain-killer Percodan (an incurable spine injury)--which he overcame after an ulcer operation. But he breezes by his recent divorce (""it was time to go our separate ways""), with new love Sandee--""a lovely, warm, sensitive, caring, loving human being""--appearing on the last page. The candor here, then, seems to be highly selective. And the frequent lapses into platitudes and bland show-biz anecdotes don't help to fill out the sketchy self-portrait. Still, the evocation of Jerry's Borscht Belt days is engaging--and his many fans will probably find this a serviceable celebrity memoir, frequently heart-on-sleeve yet never too intimate for comfort.

Pub Date: Sept. 13th, 1982
Publisher: Atheneum