With Jerry Lewis celebrating his 90th birthday, the New York Post’s Lou Lumenick has republished the fruits of a two-hour interview he did with the “Nutty Professor” auteur in 1984. Among the most intriguing exchanges bits are his thoughts are his thoughts on then-young comedians like Billy Crystal (“he’s brilliant”) and Eddie Murphy (” He’s got that innate Jewish comic tendency… in the black form”), and his comments on “The Day the Clown Cried,” which suggest that at that point, his issues with releasing the movie were legal rather than aesthetic.
But two years “The King of Comedy,” which got Lewis the best reviews of his career, it’s particularly interesting to sample his thoughts Lewis movie critics. By the early 1980s, the stereotype that Lewis was only appreciated by the French no longer held true, but the wounds of the years when Lewis was regarded primarily as a low comedian — even after he published “The Total Film-Maker,” one of the first (and still one of the best) books on directing — still stung. But at the same time, Lewis was moved to admit that critic had helped keep his reputation alive, perhaps especially during the decade he went without releasing a film in theaters.
Q: Were you gratified by the good reviews you got [for “The King of Comedy”, virtually your first in this country?
A: What? (Mock astonishment.) From the critics? No! How can I keep telling them they’re morons and then when they write good about me, tell them they’re wonderful? None of us in the film industry really [cares] about getting ripped as long as the guy takes a look at our work and has a point of view. But a lot of reviews come straight from press brochures.
Q: In your opinion, why are the critics are so hostile to you?
They’re prejudiced because I’ve ripped them. I’ve asked for it. But on the other hand, the critics have given me a longevity. The greatest thing that can happen to a young performer is for the critics to jump on him, so the public can defend him, embrace him. The difference between Martin and Lewis’s earning capacity — $8 million a year — and my personal earning capacity at present is only half.
I’ve had over 40 years as a star; that’s unheard of. George Burns is unique, he didn’t become a big name alone until he was 75. Bob Hope cannot be placed in the same category, he’s a national treasure. Other than that, you name for me someone who’s had a pretty consistent position for 40 years. I have had about 8 to 10 years longer in my career than I should have had; and it’s largely thanks to the critics. And my fans.
I’ve grown up with most of you young guys that were a part of my life and I was a part of your lives. Whether you like Jerry or not, the recollection is there. More than likely it’s a good one, because I portrayed you when you were 7 years old.
Lewis most recent movie, “Max Rose,” which will be released on April 10, was called “an excruciating indie” by Variety when it premiered at Cannes in 2013, and the film moved Paste’s Tim Grierson to observe, “The Jerry Lewis that’s on the screen here is not one you’ll want to recall.” One wonders what Jerry Lewis would say about critics now.