Jerry Lewis Gets Publicists’ Lifetime Achievement Award for Ruling Philanthropy

Jerry Lewis Gets Publicists' Lifetime Achievement
Bobby Bank/WireImage

Publicists Guild honors king of comedy

Only a few entertainers have careers that span decades and display multiple skills as performers, writers, directors and producers. An even smaller number become synonymous with a charitable cause. Only one has raised billions of dollars for such a cause.

That entertainer is Jerry Lewis.

Touted for his mastery of slapstick and clownish pratfalls, Lewis was born Joseph Levitch in Newark, N.J., and achieved early fame as half of the Martin and Lewis comedy team, where Lewis played the zany one to crooner Dean Martin’s straight man. Their Copacabana nightclub act and a 1948 appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” landed the duo a string of successful Hal Wallis laffers for Paramount, including “My Friend Irma Goes West,” “At War With the Army” and “Sailor Beware.”

Lewis later embarked on a solo career as an actor-writer-director-producer that has stretched across some 65 years and spawned such classic screwball comedies as “The Nutty Professor,” “The Family Jewels” and “The Bellboy.”

“He’s as iconic as Bugs Bunny,” says Daniel Noah, who directed Lewis in the 2013 drama “Max Rose.” “When he agreed to be in the film I was very nervous because not only is Jerry one of the greatest movie stars to have ever appeared onscreen, but he is an extremely accomplished director and producer and writer. When I met him he instantly took on the role of a friend and mentor.”

For Michael Klastorin, who served as the publicist on “Max,” working with Lewis, whom he considers one of his “childhood heroes,” was “everything (he) hoped it would be.”

“The first day of production we gathered the entire cast and crew and he welcomed everybody personally,” he remembers. “Within three days he knew the names of everybody on the set. His work ethic was spectacular. I can’t remember somebody being so involved in a project as Jerry. He invests all of his energy and talent and his love in every project that he undertakes.”

This dedication is especially evident in “The King of Comedy,” Martin Scorsese’s searing black comedy about an obsessed fan (Robert De Niro) who kidnaps a popular latenight talkshow host, a role that required Lewis to mine his satirical side.

“Jerry has an incredible sense of timing,” marvels editor Thelma Schoonmaker, who worked with him on the 1982 film. “He would say to the actors, ‘Wait, count to three before you answer me.’ Or ‘Say half the sentence and then count to three and then answer me.’ It was fascinating for me to watch (how) he was training people to do classic comic timing.”

Per Leonard Morpurgo, former head of European publicity at Columbia, Lewis’ generosity extends off-set as well.

“It was 1965 and I was having dinner with George Segal at the Lido in Paris when a waiter brought us a bottle of champagne offered by ‘that gentleman,’ ” he recalls. “He pointed to Jerry Lewis. I went over to Jerry, told him who I was and thanked him. A few weeks later Jerry ended his multiyear contract with Paramount and moved to Columbia. I joked to anyone who’d listen that I was responsible, of course.”

But Lewis’ crowning achievement is undoubtedly his 44-year-long run as founder and host of the Muscular Dystrophy Assn. telethon, which has raised billions of dollars for medical research of the disease.

“He is a very caring person,” Klastorin says. “He has very heartfelt beliefs and causes, and he gives of himself 100% to those causes. I don’t believe Jerry Lewis to be capable of doing anything on a casual basis — either as an entertainer, a filmmaker or a humanitarian.”

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  1. Joni Kric says:

    Other than my perfect husband of over 30 years and my generous, gorgeous and gifted daughter, I could Not Adore ANYONE more than Jerry Lewis. I’ve seen every movie uncountable times. Read all of his books. My daughter and I have a Jerry Lewis Bday party every March 16th! I could go on & on for days but can end this by saying I Love Jerry Lewis and will forever!!!!

  2. deborahgilbert says:

    I spent over 25 years volunteering for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, an organization that was put on the map by JL, and did ALOT of good. From working with MDA all those years, I know that there were countless acts of kindness by Jerry to individual kids and their families that the public will never know about. And he has often gotten a raw deal in the press – undeservedly so.

    Just one example: Years ago when he was in the show Hellzapoppin, a friend and I went to see it in DC. In the lobby before the show that night, we struck up a conversation with a boy with late stage Duchenne MD and his family, and they told us that earlier that day they had gotten to meet Jerry Lewis. A family member was an usher at the theater and got word to him about this boy and he invited them in to meet him. Jerry spent almost 2 hours having a private chat with him, backstage in his dressing room. Needless to say, the boy was thrilled not only to meet, but to spend all this time with his hero. Soon after in the press there were stories about how Lewis wouldn’t come out of his dressing room and had kept the cast waiting, never saying why (that he was spending time with a terminally ill child who wanted to meet him). Lewis could have issued a statement and defended himself by saying why he was late, but he didn’t. He just took the hit. He is quite terrific!

  3. KAIE says:

    I agree, Jerry Lewis is the most amazing man on this earth. He has talent and he is a very caring man. I have adored this man since I was a small child, and I am now 64 yrs old. My life dream is to meet him in person and let him knnow how much I adore him and his talent. I have spent so much of my life watching and laughing at his antics. Jeryy Lewis……….long live you and your talent. Continued success and many more happy and healthy years to come your way. Love you Jerry

  4. Video Vision says:

    The gentleman who oversaw the Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis films for Paramount was HAL B. WALLIS, not Hal Walker, as erroneously noted in the otherwise well-written article above. Hopefully, Variety still takes enough pride in the accuracy of its reporting to correct the mistake.

  5. Jerry Lewis is deserving of this award. He is one of the most likable people around today. Congratulations Mr. Jerry Lewis!!!

  6. Jerry Lewis you have been the most favorite comedian ever in my life of 56 years. I love you always and forever. I always felt that your heart was bigger than the world. God Bless you Mr Lewis for all you are and all you have done in your lifetime thus far.

  7. maria says:

    I love Jerry Lewis, and have followed the telethon for as far back as I can remember. As far as the comment that no research has found a cure to disease I must say really? Those research dollars even if they have not cured a specific disease they have led to locating genes, gene therapy, and medicines to ease or slow symptoms. Without that money for research progress would be way behind. Jerry is a hero in my book as well as all the researchers. I admire their dedication!

  8. kidimi says:

    And you must point this out WHY? JUst because a disease has yet to be conquered, it doesn’t make the fundraising efforts, the donation of time and energy and spirit, any less generous or humanitarian.

    • I love Jerry Lewis. He has made me laugh since the 50’s. I still cant figure out what happened with the MD telethon and why he never got a chance to say good by…but whatever. His work on stage and for the disease is amazing.

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