IF YOU CAN'T SAY ANYTHING GOOD ...
My heart sank a couple of days ago when I read Jerry Lewis had a minor heart attack. Though the report stated that Jerry is expected to fully recover, the notice reminded me of how seldom we speak kind words about a person until after they pass away and leave us.
In 1960, pre “Lloyd Thaxton Show,” I was hosting the show “Lloyd Thaxton’s Record Shop” on KCOP-TV in LA. Sometime during the first few months of the show, I got a letter from a fan. Now you have to understand, getting a fan letter at KCOP was somewhat of a rarity. At the time, the station didn’t have what you would call a “huge” viewing audience; especially for a show that went on at 11 in the morning. I was a staff announcer at the time and this show was what you might call a fill-an-hour-a-day TV show. There was no such thing as an “over-night” rating system, so receiving fan mail was worthy of some kind of celebration. A fan letter meant that at least one person was watching.
And, this fan letter was a doozie!
It looks like you are never going to write to me, or my wife Patty, so I am writing you. I want you to know how much we enjoy the show. Keep up the good work.
In 1960, Jerry Lewis was fresh off the highly successful Martin and Lewis comedy team and was at the apex of his own solo career. He was host of “The Jerry Lewis Show” on ABC and was an award winning feature film director. A new kid on the block like me getting a fan letter from Jerry Lewis was about as exciting as it gets. Man! JERRY LEWIS!
He even left a return address. And, I wrote him back. I got real brazen and asked if he would like to be a guest on the “Record Shop.” He immediately wrote back, “Anytime.”
And that was the beginning of a wonderful relationship. We really connected because Jerry started his own career doing a record lip-sync act in nightclubs. He would edit several records together and lip-sync female voices and then switch to male voices doing opera and country. It was a very physical act filled with Jerry Lewis prat-falls and body contortions. Very funny stuff. This, he told me, is what drew him to the crazy things that I was doing during my own record routines.
Jerry not only was a guest on my show many times (see picture), he was one of the reasons the show continued to climb in ratings; a ratings success that led to creation of “The Lloyd Thaxton Show.” I will be forever thankful.
Jerry even created a part for me in his movie, “The Patsy.” Many times during the shoot, he would drop into my dressing room for some long show business discussions. I will always appreciate the time he took to teach this new kid how to do good shtick.
About 12 years ago, my wife Barbara worked with Jerry on the movie “Funny Bones.” She never stops talking about how wonderful Jerry was to work with. If you haven’t seen “Funny Bones,” rent a copy and enjoy some great talent at work.
Because of the heart attack, Jerry had to cancel his scheduled return to the Las Vegas stage. I can only hope that he is up and jumping and back to work soon. So he can break a leg.