Jerry Lewis – in person

Last week I attended the screening of MAX ROSE at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica. In the film, “a jazz pianist makes a discovery days before the death of his wife that causes him to believe his sixty-five year marriage was a lie. He embarks on an exploration of his own past that brings him face to face with a menagerie of characters from a bygone era.” (IMDB description.)

After the movie (which takes a bit of patience before finally picks up steam, but finishes strong), Jerry Lewis himself, recently turned 90, appeared for a Q & A. Unlike your standard L.A. Q & A fare, Lewis sat alone on the stage and ran it himself, telling the audience that he’s here for us, that’s his gift to us, and we are a gift to him.

Alongside a Q & A at Chapman with Henry Winkler, this was one of the finest Q & A’s I’ve been to**.

Over the course of the evening, he gave hilarious answers, dryly mocked a few of the questioners, and enlightened us with various bits of wisdom. A 14-year-old asked what advice he could give to a girl her age, and he said, “walk the streets of Hollywood.” Then he gave us a serious look, and said, “Wanna know what I did when I was 14? I planned for tonight.”

Later, he told us that comedy is so very important to just getting through the day, and providing comedy is what’s helped keep him feeling so young. He’s hoping someone offers him another role in a movie “soon!” and says he’s been typing away at a screenplay on a typewriter for the past year.

Jerry Lewis was exactly what you would think he would be like: Funny, sharp, dry, honest. He was there to entertain, and that’s just what he did, and did it well. He told jokes, he recalled past co-stars with a twinkle of joy, at one moment saying that Janet Leigh specifically was a treat to work with.

And he named THE NUTTY PROFESSOR as his favorite of his own films, also adding that he absolutely hated playing the Buddy Love character, who he jokingly (I think) added that he’d modeled on Hitler.

At the end of the evening, before saying goodnight, he said that he would be going home with a gift from us (his audience), something that nobody else would have — and that we should feel the same.

As the Aero Theater rep. said at the start of the evening, “Don’t take pictures. Tonight you get the gift of a memory.”


**A caveat about Q & A’s. Inevitably, they’re filled with people who speak endlessly about themselves before actually asking the question, or spout of the name of French New-Wave directors as though no one else has heard of them, or decide to sing a verse from a song in the hopes that Jerry Lewis will pick up the tune, or claim to have met the guest three years ago for a day and hope Mr. Lewis will remember their brief friendship, or… you get the idea. These are minor gripes that are more awkward than anything else, and overall they don’t taint the experiences too much… usually.

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