Two former co-stars of Jerry Lewis, actresses Karen Sharpe and Hope Holiday, have accused the late comic legend and actor of sexual assault and harassment in a new feature published by Vanity Fair. The interviews were conducted by documentarians Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick, the filmmakers who tackled sexual abuse allegations against Woody Allen in the HBO documentary series “Allen v. Farrow,” and who also received an Oscar nomination for examining the prevalence of campus rape in the documentary film “The Hunting Ground.”
Lewis, who died in 2017, was known as the “King of Comedy,” and made his professional debut as part of the iconic duo Martin and Lewis alongside Dean Martin, kicking off an eight-decade career that included hits like “The Nutty Professor,” “The Bellboy,” “The Patsy,” and “The Ladies Man.”
As detailed in the Vanity Fair piece, Sharpe (now Karen Kramer, having been married to director Stanley Kramer, who died in 2001) met Lewis on the set of 1964’s “The Disorderly Orderly.” In the film, she plays the love interest to Lewis’ zany hyperactive character. When Lewis, who had a $10 million deal at Paramount, approached Sharpe about the role, he offered her a tripled salary and guaranteed collaboration with famed costume designer Edith Head. “It was an offer I shouldn’t and couldn’t refuse,” Sharpe, now 87, said.
At one point, Sharpe was summoned for a costume fitting in Lewis’ private office. After excusing the guards from outside his offer, Sharpe alleged that it was then that he “started moving in on me. … He grabbed me. He began to fondle me. He unzipped his pants. Quite frankly, I was dumbstruck.”
Sharpe, in protest, recalled saying, “I put my hand up and said, ‘Wait a minute. I don’t know if this is a requirement for your leading ladies, but this is something I don’t do.’ I could see that he was furious. I got the feeling that that never really happened to him.”
After the alleged incident, Sharpe was told by a crew member that no one on set besides the director and assistant director was allowed to speak to her. “If anyone speaks to you … we’ll be fined,” the crew member said. “I wanted to let you know. … But I can’t even speak to you.” Afterward, Sharpe said that Lewis refused to acknowledge her. “He never worked with me. He never spoke to me. The first take of what we did together was what went on film. And that was what everyone was going to see.”
Meanwhile, Hope Holiday, now 91, recalled an incident with Lewis that occurred on the set of 1961’s “The Ladies’ Man.” Lewis summoned her to his dressing room to discuss the next day’s shoot, but Holiday said that upon arrival, “I sit down and he presses a button, locks me in the dressing room with him.”
She added, “Then he starts to talk to me: ‘Y’know, you could be very attractive but you wear pants all the time. I have never seen you in a skirt. You have nice legs and you’ve got good boobs.’ Then he starts to talk to me about sex.”
But while Holiday told Lewis that her boyfriend was waiting outside, she said that he proceeded with his advances. “He starts to talk dirty to me and as he’s talking, the pants open, and the ugly thing came out and he starts to jerk off. I was frightened. … I just sat there and I wanted to leave so badly.”
Holiday said that she confronted him the next day on set. “I hit him so hard that I spun around. And I didn’t mean to,” she said, adding, “Maybe down deep I did. But he walked off the set and sulked for an hour. He said I did it on purpose.” It was then that production was halted because Lewis was both the director and star. “He finally came back and didn’t talk to me,” Holiday said. “He never spoke to me again.”
IndieWire has reached out to representatives for Lewis for comment.