Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Remember a month back when I rambled on about Jerry Lewis' original two-hour-long Saturday evening television series that went from being ABC's brightest hope to their worst thud during the glorious 1963-64 tee-vee season? If you'll recall (or easily enough just click on the linkup in the previous sentence), I mentioned that Lewis' second attempt at a series, this time for NBC, fared a bit better in that it actually lasted a good two seasons unlike the mid-season cancellation ol' Jer got a good week or so after Prez Kennedy's head-cave signalled more than the end of some fabled era. However, judging from this DVD-R I received outta nowhere (actually it came from Brad Kohler who got it from Bill Shute who didn't want it anymore!) it's amazing to think that this late-sixties series lasted as long as it did, even if it was pre-recorded and we didn't have to put up with Lewis mugging for the camera for a full two hours straight either!

The print's rather fuzzy and in black & white which is probably how a good portion of the viewing audience got to see it back then, but that doesn't deter from the program's natural dinge any. And, unlike how I remember it, THE JERRY LEWIS SHOW second edition comes off rather "hip" and "swinging" even for a late-sixties comedy/variety series from an "establishment" pro, for not only do we get to see loads of blippoid "pop art" graphics and hear poppy musical introductions to the weekly guest stars (in this case Lynn Redgrave, Harold "Odd Job" Sakata, the Baja Marimba Band and Sonny and Cher), but in an attempt to be "with it" Lewis even appears with his hair banged down in front of his forehead in sort of a mock-Beatle style kinda reminding me of Robert Morse for some reason! (A bad sign, almost as bad as when all of those professional stars started growing long hair in the seventies in order to have a youthful allure, and as far as I can tell I think Stan Freberg still wears his hair in a 'fro even this late in the game!)

And yeah, you, I and even Helen Keller could have told NBC that this overly-obvious attempt to cash in with some sort of imagined "youth market" of the day really doesn't work on any level, sorta reminding me of that final season of THE RED SKELTON SHOW when NBC picked him up after the famed CBS purge of '70 and tried marketing him in the same manner. Even an outta-the-loop kid such as myself could see that this long-running series on its last legs kinda came off like Peter Max trying to re-package Curtis LeMay, but really by the early-seventies these shows were part and parcel to an "era's end" if you know what I mean but that doesn't mean you weren't sad to see 'em go!

But I doubt that I would've shed any tears over JERRY LEWIS's NBC axing even if he did get Moby Grape to make an appearance! For being a variety show, you can already see a lotta the rot that would infest all of those GLEN CAMPBELL GOODTIME HOURs and TONY ORLANDO AND DAWNs in the seventies that I'm sure many of you felt obligated to watch after a hard day of school and homework mostly because you had no choice. Y'know, complete with the same unfunny skits (including one where Lewis plays a cube who rents at a swinging singles apartment misfiring a lotta pathos in the process) and dullsville musical/production numbers that were part and parcel to just about every comedy/variety program of the seventies. And by "production numbers" I have in mind the finale with the Baja Marimba Band doing the lazy Mexican peon schtick straight outta Speedy Gonzalez complete with Lewis as a Frito Bandito that would have driven Ceasar Chavez to eat grapes and offends even the more non-socially-inclined amongst us! For totally different reasons natch but at least their hearts are in the right place.

The whole thing is of course marinated in Lewis' patented and well-worn doofus act that might still have worked wonders with the 12-year-old boys who were tuning in for all of those old Martin and Lewis films but what about the rest of us? I have the sneaking suspicion that Sonny and Cher were taking notes for their own variety series of a good five/six years later, and hey I can recall when Lewis himself guested on that very series singing "Send in the Clowns" which must prove that karma works in very mysterious ways!

Well, gotta take one thing back and that is that I kinda got some enjoyment, hackneyed as it may be, outta the spy spoof featuring Lewis (in his NUTTY PROFESSOR guise), Redgrave and Sakata (who really must've been hurting for work at the time) with Redgrave as a secret agent wife who hasn't quite broken the news to Lewis about her true profession yet. Got at least one mild yuk outta that one, especially the part where Lewis tries to get Sakata to stop strangling Redgrave by dealing a slew of ineffectual karate chops. (It does watch a lot better than I am describing this...believe me!) But once that moment passes its back to the same late-sixties television doldrums which, sad to say, seemed to have lasted well into the seventies and perhaps even eighties with only a few bright spots on the network and syndication levels to appreciate. TRANSLATION: if you ever have the misfortune to live or re-live for that matter the late-sixties and seventies, stick to the indie stations, syndication and PBS at its liveliest (MONTY PYTHON, silent movies...) lest you become an even bigger zombie than the ones who turned into these programs with mid-amerigan relish. Better yet, buy a bus ticket to either Cleveland or New York City and immerse yourself in the underground rock happening in those burghs, which was at least my own personal salvation even if I experienced this stuff nth generation!

The strangest thing about THE JERRY LEWIS SHOW mach II is that for a production from the not-so tail end of the sixties it sure doesn't retain much of the spark and verve from the fifties/early-mid-sixties days of the medium like Gleason's and Skelton's shows at least attempted to. All of those 1958-period SKELTONs that PBS aired in the late-nineties are vastly superior on all levels to what Lewis was doing a good decade later, and even a classic like the Harpo Marx episode (the first full-hour SKELTON) from '62 cuts Jerry acting hipster for an audience that probably didn't even exist to ribbons. Considering that I do remember this show being more trad in a mid-sixties way (with Lewis beginning each episode with a monologue in front of a big JERRY sign that was usually misspelled for comic effect), it's probable that someone at NBC "updated" THE JERRY LEWIS SHOW for its second season in order to get more of a LAUGH IN effect, and we all know how well that show's held up, eh?

I dunno, but I was expecting a tad more, perhaps a bit of a reverberation from that fabled television Golden Age which made Lewis a star to begin with, but frankly with prime time entertainment like this no wonder the airplane glue industry skyrocketed overnight. At least Dean Martin knew how to put on a good hour fulla sly sexual innuendo and barfly gags galore, right?


dino martin peters said...

Hey pallie Christopher, your last statement says it all dude, " At least Dean Martin knew how to put on a good hour fulla sly sexual innuendo and barfly gags galore, right?" Never was, never will be anyone as cool as the King of Cool...oh, to return to days when Dino walked the earth...

Christopher said...

I got my sex education watching THE DEAN MARTIN SHOW!

dino martin peters said...

hey pallie christopher, none wiser in worldly ways that our Dino...indeed Dino was, is, and will always be IT!!!