In 1945, comprising singer Dean Martin met a young comic named Jerry Lewis at the Glass Hat Club in New York, where both men were performing. Martin and Lewis debuted at Atlantic City’s 500 Club on July 25, 1946, when Lewis suggested to the club owner that Martin would be a good replacement for the scheduled singer who was unavailable. The duo were not well received. The owner, Skinny D’Amato, threatened to terminate their contract if the act did not improve. Martin and Lewis disposed of pre-scripted gags and began improvising. Dean sang, and Jerry dressed as a busboy, dropping plates and making a shambles of Martin’s songs and a mockery of the club’s decorum. They performed slapstick and delivered vaudeville jokes to great fanfare.
Their success at the 500 Club led to a series of well-paying engagements along the Eastern seaboard, culminating with a triumphant run at New York’s Copacabana Club. The audience were convulsed with laughter by Lewis interrupting and heckling Martin while he was trying to sing, and ultimately by the two of them chasing each other around the stage and having as much fun as possible.
Eventually, the two hired young comedy writers Norman Lear and Ed Simmons to improve their act. By 1950, Lear and Simmons were the main writers for Martin and Lewis.
One of the secrets to their success was the diversity of their audience as Jerry Lewis explained: ‘Who were Dean’s fans? Men, women, the Italians. Who were Jerry’s fans? Women, Jews, kids. Who were Martin and Lewis’ fans? All of them.’ When the partnership ended in 1956, the comedians fell into a bitter feud that lasted for decades only did they reunite on rare occasions until Dean Martin’s death in 1995.
Jerry Lewis died at his home in Las Vegas, Nevada on August 20, 2017 at the age of 91.