King of Comedy: The Life and Art of Jerry Lewis

Shawn Martin Levy, Author
Shawn Martin Levy, Author St. Martin's Press $24.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-312-13248-4
Reviewed on: 04/01/1996
Release date: 04/01/1996
Levy interviewed comedian Jerry Lewis extensively for this penetrating unauthorized biography, probably the fullest, most revealing portrait to date of the elusive star. Dumped by his parents, both small-time burlesque/vaudeville performers, and raised by his maternal grandmother, high-school dropout Lewis, born in 1926, eventually followed his parents onto the stage. Beneath the manic, zany persona, Oregonian film critic Levy finds an anxiety-ridden, lonely man with a shaky self-image, a psychologically abusive husband and distant, disciplinarian father, driven by a constant need to prove himself to the parents who ignored him; to partner Dean Martin, who deserted him; to the world that had jeered at him when he was a kid. Philanthropist and host of telethons against muscular dystrophy, Lewis in 1965 suffered a spinal injury causing persistent pain that led to drug addiction and a suicide attempt. Levy persuasively shows how Lewis, one of the last Borscht Belt comedians and burlesque performers, always brought traces of those bygone forms to his movies and stand-up acts. Photos. (Apr.)
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