Peter Bogdanovich devoted 74 pages to Jerry Lewis in his 2004 book, Who The Hell’s In It? (The follow up to 1997’s Who The Devil Made It?) Bogdanovich had a long association with Jerry Lewis beginning with an interview Bogdanovich did with Lewis for Esquire back in the early 60s.
Two things stand out to me today from that chapter on Jerry Lewis – both brought to mind by the news of Lewis’s passing at the age of 91.
The first is a comment Jerry Lewis made at the height of his power and success as a solo writer/director/actor/producer. The young interviewer noticed that the seasoned star always carried a thousand dollars in hundred-dollar-bills (this was in 1960s dollars) and that he loved to shop. Lewis: “I discovered a few years ago that I can’t buy what I really want, so I buy everything else.”
Jerry Lewis invented “video assist” – the system that allows for instant review of a take on a movie set. It was a cumbersome system cobbled together by mounting a video camera next to the film camera and setting up monitors around the set. All this was extraordinary and not immediately embraced by the Industry. Today, it’s standard operating procedure. And Lewis is universally credited with the concept and execution of the early innovation.
In light of Lewis’s technical prowess and innovativeness (by 60s & 70s standards), I was struck by this poignant comment when, in the spring of 2000, Bogdanovich pointed out that Lewis was still using an electric typewriter.
Lewis: “Hey, I wrote THE NUTTY PROFESSOR (1963) on that thing. I’ve got this terrible loyalty to equipment…because I love progress but I hate change.”
Over a life that spanned 91 years and a career that spanned nearly as long – his parents were itinerant actors and stage performers – Jerry Lewis saw and contributed to a lot of progress and change.