Funny man Jerry Lewis (Levitch) was born in Newark, New Jersey on this date in 1926, to a vaudevillian father and a piano-playing mother. After on-stage training on the Borscht Belt (with his parents from the age of 5), he teamed up with Dean Martin in 1946, and within a year they were playing the Copacabana for $5,000 a week. Lewis and Martin were stars of radio, stage, and film, making sixteen movies before their act broke up after ten years. Lewis then debuted as a movie director with The Bellboy (1960), which he followed up with The Nutty Professor (1963); he has won eight Best Director of the Year awards in Europe, three of them in France, where film critic Robert Benayoun has called him “since the death of Buster Keaton… the foremost comic artist of the time. He corresponds to his era both reflecting and criticizing our civilization.” On television, Lewis hosted three different programs called The Jerry Lewis Show, starting in 1963, but became best known as host of the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon, in 1952 and then from 1966 to 2010, which ran for more than 21 hours each Labor Day and raised more than $2.6 billion over the years while featuring a steady stream of musicians, celebrities, and shmaltz. To see him jazz-dancing, look below.
“I’ve had great success being a total idiot.” —Jerry Lewis