It’s Not All Laughs—Jerry Lewis & Patti Palmer
Late the other evening my husband came home from work, his face haggard, his eyes looking like two poached eggs. He was so tired and depressed that he stumbled into the house and went directly to the bedroom, without saying a word, and closed the door. I knew he was upset, so I left him alone. After a while, I opened the door slowly and peered in. There was my hero sitting on the edge of the bed staring moodily into space.
“Darling, how do you feel now?” I asked.
I was beginning to feel anxious myself. “Do you want me to bring you dinner on a tray?”
Still no answer.
I knew the best thing for me to do was to leave him alone until his depressed mood lifted, so I closed the door and had dinner alone with the children.
Now I’ll grant you that that little scene may not sound unusual. All over the country, thousands of husbands come home tense, moody, depressed, not fit to talk or be spoken to.
But the odd thing about my case is that my husband is one of the funniest men in the world—Jerry Lewis. He’s a national institution standing for all that is wacky and hilarious. Some people have only to look at his face or hear a sound out of his mouth and they fall on the floor with laughter. The public has seldom seen my husband in any situation other than that of sheer, unrestrained fun.
“What a joy to be married to Jerry Lewis,” people always tell me. “Life must be one big laugh. How lucky you are!”
A lucky girl I am. And it’s something being married to Jerry. But life is definitely not one big laugh. My husband takes his laugh-making so seriously that sometimes he’s depressed for hours! You’d be surprised at the way he worries himself sick in order to work out a comedy bit that will convulse millions of people watching him.
Of course, that’s the hidden side of him that only I as his loving spouse would know. It’s either ’way up or ’way down with my husband’s moods. If you were to live with him, as I do, you’d learn soon enough that he’s a moody madman. He goes from one extreme to another. When he’s not sunk in a low mood, he carries on like the crazy idiot you see on the screen.
He can’t resist playing practical jokes any more than a teenager can resist rock ’n’ roll. When we’re with friends, my husband always has up his sleeve some prank that soon has everyone in stitches. Sometimes even I find his jokes funny. But not always, for good reason: Even after thirteen years of wedded bliss with the guy, I sometimes find it hard to laugh at jokes when I’m the foil.
There was the other night at home, when we were at the dinner table with guests. Jerry turned to me and said, “Do you know who asked for you today, honey? You’ll never guess.”
“Well—” started my husband. Then he stuffed his mouth with food and was unable to talk.
“Who?” I asked again. My husband speared more steak and potatoes into his mouth and was too busy munching to get a word out.
He continued chewing like this for several minutes, and I was beginning to go out of my mind with curiosity. “Who?” I asked, and this time I could feel my voice getting higher and shriller. More food, and more chewing by my husband, and this time I was ready to pop. “Who?” I practically yelled.
My husband looked at me and asked in the gentlest of tones, “What are you screaming about, darling?” Everyone roared. I felt like an idiot.
Sometimes at moments like these, I want to clobber my husband. But then I love him all the more when he turns an ordinary dull evening into a hilarious event. When we go to parties, Jerry is usually the center of attention, with the guests crowding around him, laughing at his words and gestures.
One night, at a very formal Hollywood dinner party, my husband broke up the guests by holding a napkin in front of his face like a veil and pretending he was a harem dancer. Everyone howled. I thought I’d die. Behaving like that at a formal party! But when we left, the hostess grabbed our hands and with all sincerity said, “You made my party, Jerry. It would have been nothing without you.” How could I complain when we got home?
And there was the time we attended a lovely dinner at Loretta Young’s home. I’d seldom been to a more elegant affair. Loretta does everything with such flair. The dining room was softly lit by candles, and the silver and crystal sparkled in the gracious surroundings. There was only the soft hum of conversation and laughter at the table. Even my husband blended in with the quiet background. I should have known it couldn’t last. When the finger bowls were served, I heard loud, swooshing noises coming from the direction of my husband. Everyone turned to stare at him. There he was, holding the finger bowl up to his mouth and drinking the contents. He had that zany look on his face, and he called out, “You know, Loretta, I don’t like this soup.”
I turned around red-faced, but when I saw Van Johnson, Tyrone Power, Rosalind Russell and all the other distinguished guests howling with laughter, I—well, I joined in, too.
The guests just wouldn’t let go of Jerry that night. I guess you’d say he was the rage of the party, even when he turned to a woman wearing a very low-cut gown and innocently remarked, “Why don’t you close up your dress?”
As we were leaving, I began to apologize to Loretta Young for my husband’s antics. “You know how he is,” I began. “He loves to cut up.”
Loretta smiled warmly and said, “Don’t ever worry about your husband. Be proud of any man who has the magic gift of creating laughter wherever he goes. He’s made this a truly outstanding night for all of us.”
It isn’t laughs, however. Wherever we go, while everyone is howling at my husband’s carryings-on, I usually sit alone—laughing at him, too, enormously proud of him, but also a bit lonely. I feel slightly cheated sitting by myself while other women have their husbands by their sides. But I know that when my man has people around, he can no more resist getting up and making them laugh than he can stop breathing.
Besides, for all his wild and wacky ways, he’s the tenderest and most sentimental of husbands. He remembers every birthday and every anniversary—with gifts of diamonds. He’s sentimental to the point of superstition about his wedding ring. One morning on the set of “The Sad Sack,” he broke the ring doing a certain rough scene. He was frantic and wouldn’t go on until I rushed down to the studio with a spare ring that I keep in a box. I gave the ring a kiss, slipped it on his finger, made a wish—and only after this ritual was he ready to go on with the scene.
How can I get angry, then, when he does such crazy things as pouring a bowl of cereal over his head in a restaurant? And when he’s so sweet, how could I bawl him out just because I got the fright of my life? That happened one afternoon in Chicago, when two police officers knocked on the door demanding to see my husband. I was petrified, until I learned that Jerry, having a couple of hours to kill between shows, had stuck his head out the window and yelled, “Help! Murder! Police!”
Being funny is both his relaxation and his worry. His capacity for work is staggering, and he’s his own severest critic. He is always thinking about his work—even when he sleeps. Very often an idea comes to him in the middle of the night. He turns on the light and writes it out on the tablet he keeps next to his bed. If he’s sufficiently inspired, however, he leaps out of bed and sits down at his typewriter and types all night. How many times I’ve heard him pecking away at our and five o’clock in the morning!
He’s usually in a keyed-up state because he just can’t unwind from the furious antics and the nervous energy he builds up during the day. Even when he sleeps, he moves around so restlessly, swinging his arms and tossing his blanket off, that I usually have to re-cover him.
For years I’ve tried to get my husband to relax at breakfast time and forget his work, but he can’t do it. When he’s working in a picture, he’s up at six. I get up with him so that I can give him breakfast and see to it that he starts the day right. But what happens? Even at this unpleasant hour, he starts to make telephone calls and have long, frenzied conversations with his writers. The eggs get cold, so I cook another batch. That batch gets cold while he thinks of another dozen calls to make. I usually cook three breakfasts before he sits down to one.
He used to have an-extreme case of telephonitis at dinner time, until I put my foot down. Jerry would always be so busy talking on the phone that he could never sit down to have dinner with us. He even wanted to have a telephone installed right next to his chair in the dining room so that he could talk while he ate. “Nothing doing,” I said flatly. “If a phone is put in the dining room, the food goes out.”
So he’s reformed—to some extent. He makes a few dozen calls while the roast gets cold. But once he sits down at the table, we turn the phone off.
He has a completely vague attitude about food and anything relating to food, anyway. When we’re having guests for dinner, he always comes home late. This used to drive me wild, until I found out why he does it. Being a comedian twenty-four hours a day, he likes to walk in only when his audience is there!
But that doesn’t help matters. I’ll never forget the night we had Joan Crawford over for dinner. I’ve always been a great admirer of Miss Crawford’s, and, since I didn’t know her well, I was understandably nervous at the prospect of entertaining her. Even though my husband is a celebrity in the business, I’m still rather awed when I’m in the presence of certain big-name stars. Miss Crawford arrived on time, and no Jerry. An hour passed, and, even though she was very friendly, I began to fidget. Two hours later, my husband bounced in, pointed at Joan and shrieked, “Get in the kitchen! The help isn’t allowed in the living room.” Joan howled with laughter, and I forgot my jitters.
I had my finest silver and china out that evening and was anxious to make an impression. Just as we were about to begin, I asked Jerry to ring for the maid. He pulled out a huge cowbell, which he’d hidden under his chair, and clanged like crazy. Miss Crawford was so convulsed with laughter she was barely able to eat.
I never really know what Jerry’s going to do. At another dinner party at our house, when we had as guests Jack and Mary Benny, I was startled to hear Jerry’s voice boom through our hi-fi in the dining room: “I hope you’re enjoying your dinner. Don’t complain about the food. You’re getting it for nothing.” From that point on, the dinner was short on dignity, but long on laughs.
A habit of his that used to annoy me was that of inviting people over for dinner without telling me. One night, with only Judy and Ernie Glucksman (his TV producer) due for dinner, I prepared one duck for the four of us. We were ready to sit down when the doorbell rang. I said, “I wonder who that is?”
“Oh,” replied my hero with a sheepish smile, “I just remembered I invited a few more of our friends.”
Eight more friends showed up! I gave my husband the high sign and got him alone in the kitchen. “What,” I asked frantically, “do I do now?”
“Don’t get excited,” said my spouse. “Just put more stuffing in the duck.”
These problems don’t stymie me any longer. Now when I expect two guests I marinate fifteen steaks.
I’ve had to give in on this, because my husband loves to have people around him. Because he’s always “on,” I think he feels it almost a necessity to have a perpetual audience to laugh at the things he says, or to serve as a sound board. Also, in Jerry’s case, it is probably a throwback to his childhood, which was such a lonely one. Friends build up a momentary sense of self-confidence in him.
In fact, his need to be surrounded by hordes of people caused the only rift in our marriage. It happened several years ago. At that time, Jerry couldn’t say no to anyone. Let him meet someone and five minutes later he had that person and his relatives and friends up to our house. Soon, our home began to look like Grand Central Station at rush hour. It became an increasing strain for me to have to fight my way through the crowds in my own home just to talk to my husband. I wouldn’t have minded so much if they had really been Jerry’s friends, but so many of them were opportunists and free-loaders, who wanted to take full advantage of Jerry’s influence and food. They’d come around every day and stay for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I found myself practically running a hotel, and nothing I could say to that naive guy of mine could make him open his eyes to the fact that this was wrecking our home life.
I wanted desperately to have some quiet and peace at home, and a little privacy with my husband. Jerry, bless him, has such an open attitude about people that he couldn’t seem to get my message.
Finally, I had it out with my husband. “Either the mobs go or I go,” I said quite melodramatically. Jerry accused me of being unreasonable, but I maintained my stand. I thought he needed to have his eyes opened. He was about to leave on a two-month tour, so we decided to use this absence as a cooling-off period. This would be a good time to think the thing out. While he was away, I didn’t accept any of his long-distance calls. I knew that if I heard his voice I’d weaken. I wanted time to figure things out and see if we could come to separate decisions. We both missed each other terribly during this separation, but it did the trick. When my husband returned, we fell into each other’s arms. But we’d both come to our senses. Jerry saw my point of view; I saw his. He has since become more selective about the people he asks to the house. The free-loaders who made a hangout of our home are out.
On the other hand, I realized then that my husband needs people around him to give him the sense of security he requires. He needs a constant personal audience the way a plant needs water. These days our large home in Brentwood is open to Jerry’s friends, and I enjoy being hostess—but the mob scenes are over.
Beyond that falling out, we have had a good marriage. We were both show-business kids when we met and fell in love. We were playing on the same bill in a theater. I was a band singer at the time, and Jerry was an eighteen-year-old comic who was barely earning enough to support himself, much less a wife. And he had to support me, because I believe in a one-career marriage. I quit singing as soon as I became Mrs. Jerry Lewis.
He was making fifty dollars a week then—some weeks. We rented a little walk-up flat in Newark, N.J., and furnished it on the installment plan. Then, overnight, we stepped into a dream world. Jerry teamed up with Dean Martin. In no time he was earning $5,000 a week, and that salary kept spiraling with his fame. Today, separated from Dean, Jerry is doing better than ever.
Although Jerry usually portrays a slaphappy kind of idiot, he is very serious about all that marriage stands for. To him, family means everything. From the very beginning, he’s been a family man. It was even revealed in the way he proposed.
One night I walked into my dressing room backstage and found a pair of pink baby booties hanging on my mirror, with a note: “I haven’t a buck, but how about getting married and filling these?”
For twelve years we have been trying to fill those pink booties, but so far our family—including our fourth and most recent arrival, baby Christopher—has been a blue-bootie clan.
Last year, when we learned we were going to have another baby, Jerry almost went out cf his mind with joy. “I know it’s going to be a girl this time. I know it!” yelled my husband. He promptly rushed out and bought a load of pink organdy dresses.
All during my pregnancy, he called our expected “Katherine” and continued to buy up all the pretty little dresses he saw.
One night I asked, “What if it’s a boy?”
My husband’s mouth fell open. “But it won’t be. It can’t be.”
On the afternoon of October 9th, as I was being wheeled down the corridor of St. John’s Hospital, all these thoughts began to float hazily in my mind. I had just given birth to a lusty, seven-and-a-half-pound boy. How would Jerry take it?
Suddenly his face appeared above me as he leaned over to kiss me. I felt the moistness of his face, as though he had been crying.
“Are you disappointed?” I asked.
“No, Mommy,” he said. “But I don’t think this kid’s going to like being called ‘Katherine.’ ”
We’re still hoping we’ll have our little Katherine. As a matter of fact, the other night Jerry and I were sitting in our cozy little den talking about our children and our plans for the future.
“Do you know,” he said reflectively, “everything is planned by God. We were meant to have a boy, I guess, because we were meant to have a big family. We’re going to try to have a kid who’ll answer to the name Katherine. If we’d had her this time, we might have decided that our family was complete. But this way we’ll have more babies—until we get our girl. And maybe that will give us a family of a dozen, until we get that someone who’ll be able to wear those dresses I bought.”
And that’s my Jerry.
—BY PATTI LEWIS as told to HELEN WELLER
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE FEBRUARY 1958
invention22 Mart 2023
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