When Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis Made a Name for Themselves
A 1951 column by the comedy team on the early days (and gags) together as a duo.
On Oct. 29, 1951, famed comedy duo Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis shared a byline to dish on some behind the scenes details of their performances and early days in Atlantic City. Their original Hollywood Reporter column, timed to that year's movie comedy That's My Boy, is below.
DEAN MARTIN: It takes a guy with an iron constitution, nerves of steel and the patience of a dozen jobs to keep him from annihilating Idiot's Delight. I refer, of course, to that popular young comedian (and I use the word advisedly — I have to, it's in my contract!) Jerry Lewis. Every visual gag Jerry uses on an audience is guinea-pigged on me first. I didn't know that was to be part of Operations Lunatic. I had to learn the hard way.
A couple months ago, for instance, during one of our television shows, Jerry brought down the house when he began cutting up my dinner jacket with a pair of big shears. The audience really went crazy. So did I — that tuxedo had just set me back a couple of hundred bucks! But, "Anything for a laugh!" — that's Jerry's motto. That's my boy!
Another time I was singing one of my best numbers on the stage of a theatre during a personal appearance. I was in great voice that night. The audience was eating it up. I had 'em right in the palm of my hand — then suddenly a few people began tittering, and pretty soon the whole audience was rocking with laughter. I really couldn't blame them. I guess I looked like a fool, singing a torchy ballad and at the same time doing what must have looked like a comic dance routine. What the audience couldn't see was "mah lil' ole pahdner" standing off in the wings throwing lighted firecrackers at me! It's little things like this that endear him to me.
There was the night, too, when I was supposed to do a very quick change for one of our routines. So what happened? So Perpetual Motion had sewed my trouser legs together!
But, underneath his moronic exterior, Jerry is true blue. He is sentimental and thoughtful. There is nothing he wouldn't do for a pal. He proved this at my wedding. He'd been clowning around and getting in my hair generally, so I told him to go jump in the pool with clothes on. Brave, fearless, intrepid Lewis — he took the dare, all right — in the new suit I'd planned to wear on my honeymoon!
But I can't complain. I had my chance to even the score for all time, but I blew it. It was in Chicago. Jerry fell asleep in the barber chair, and I bribed the guy to cut all his hair off. That backfired, but good. His new "Butch" proved a big sensation, and I was out a five-buck bribe! If I'd had any foresight at all, I'd have put the fin back in my pocket, borrowed the guy's razor, and removed Lewis' second head!
But don't get me wrong — with all his faults, I love the kid. THAT's for real!
JERRY LEWIS: It was considerably less than a decade ago (circa, 1946) that Mr. Dean Martin had the extreme good fortune to make my acquaintance. At that time, in a burst of fraternal sentiment, we made a contractual agreement to unite in presenting public entertainment fare in a light vein.
Mr. Martin was convinced that his singing voice, although far from Metropolitan Opera calibre, was sufficiently pleasant to amuse the pleasure-seekers of that North American Riviera, Atlantic City. I was equally certain of titillating their theatrical taste buds with various antics and ludicrous capers.
Together we approached the impresario of a certain cafe and placed before him our well-thought-out plans on the subject. It was entirely natural that his interest was immediately aroused.
Dashed not a whit by the initial setback to our plans (the premiere audience had rudely forgotten to give kudos or plaudits) we followed a new pattern the next evening (one to which we have strictly adhered ever since). Its intent was to amuse and confuse. That we succeeded is now a matter of record.
Mr. Martin sang in his rather light and untutored manner, while I, emulating the waiters of the establishment, gather onto a large tray all manner of goblets, porcelain and silver from the various tables which gave onto the dance floor.
In order to divert attention from one of of Mr. Martin's less true notes (which he sprinkles liberally throughout his vocal exhibitions) I allowed the heavily-laden tray to descend suddenly to the floor. The ensuing cacophony, as the crystal and chinaware shattered into fragments, delighted the audience, and they indulged in loud and great merriment. To borrow a coarse term from the argot of the theatre, "We were a wow!"
Since that initial venture en duo, Mr. Martin and I have traveled the length and breadth of the land, impartially distributing our individual humor to prince and pauper alike.
We have but recently, as you are undoubtedly aware, broadened our scope to include other entertainment media: wireless, television and the cinema, such as, to get in a plug, That's My Boy. In this latter phase, we both feel a rapport, a great fulfillment of our artistic abilities.
The entire venture has been a most intriguing and educational experience. It has not only enriched the annals of theatrical lore, but has served (I must say, with a flush of quick pride) to enrich Mr. Martin and myself as well.