JERRY: LIVE AND UNLEASHED
Editor, Shock Cinema magazine
Editor, Shock Cinema magazine
Jerry Lewis has probably been responsible for more outrageous live-television moments than any other celeb -- many of them due to the impromptu insanity that erupts during his Labor Day telethons. But one of Lewis' most mindroasting (yet brutally insightful) TV-appearances, over 33 years ago, didn't even have a national audience. At the height of his Percodan-addiction, Jerry stopped by WABC-TV's morning talk-show A.M. NEW YORK on February 23,1976,, and spent the next 50-minutes fielding 'Live Call-In' questions, massaging his own rampaging ego, and ultimately bonding with Screw Magazine's Al Goldstein.
In town for a Frank Sinatra tribute at the Waldorf, tanned-'n'-heavily-greased-haired Jerry paid a visit to "good pal" and A.M. NEW YORK host Stanley Siegel, who earlier helped publicize his Muscular Dystrophy work while working in Nashville. At the time, Siegel was considered one of the craziest, pushiest personalities on the air -- tackling tough subjects and tangling with his guests (not unlike a pop-culture Joe Pyne) -- and I've got to hand it to the guy, because he isn't afraid to dive right into "tough questions" -- which has Jerry often lowering his guard, looking mildly pissed-off and delivering some pointed insults. When asked about Judith Exner, who claimed to have had an affair with John F. Kennedy and Mafia-kingpin Sam Giancana, and slammed "ego-maniac" Lewis in her latest book, he bluntly replies, "She looked at her bank balance, and since she's too old to be a streetwalker anymore, she decided this is a good shot. I'll make some money." Asked about American critics, and if they've been too unkind to his work: "No, they're just stupid."
Later, in response to a caller who adores his acting, Jerry has an opportunity to plug a new, "very heavy, dramatic film," THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED -- informing viewers that this 1972-lensed Nazi-concentration-camp feature will finally be released in the Fall of 1976. Unfortunately, that's not his only lousy, on-air prediction. In discussing Muscular Dystrophy, his "Kids" and all of the money he's taken in over the years, Siegel asks if "a cure is in the next year or two." Jerry definitively replies, "It is," and that his researchers hope to deliver it before Jerry's 50th birthday. (Happy 83rd, Jer -- it's probably time to get some new fuckin' researchers.) Plus, in one of the most telling moments, a woman who had a heart attack (after sucking down 2-1/2 packs of cigarettes a day) begs her screen-hero to quit smoking. His response: basically, a big screw-you. "Mentally, I think that I'm beating it... I will not allow anything to happen to me, because I have a lot of stuff I have to do yet." Basically, he tells a seriously-ill fan that "positive thinking" can defeat any disease -- even cancer -- as he chain-smokes throughout his appearance. Of course, Lewis also spends time regaling us with his personal wonderfulness, from a 1968 standing ovation at the London Palladium, to paring Miami's Blue Monster golf course (while whining about how some Reno-newspaper "yutz" downplayed his 18-hole golf score as "a very credible 67"), and even reading a fawning letter from his 19-year-old son Scotty.
But the best was saved for last, when Jerry sticks around for the show's final segment, a visit by Screw Magazine's Al Goldstein, who was taking a break from hardcore-pornography in order to promote the era's coolest new high-tech inventions and his GADGET newsletter. And Jerry seems totally into these amazing 'high-tech' products. We witness the wonders of a digital gold watch that also contains a basic-calculator ($3900), a briefcase-sized 'portable' telephone ($2200), a Panasonic talking-clock-radio that's larger than most microwaves, and Jerry so loves a Mickey Mouse child's calculator that Al kindly gives it to him (I hope Jerry had it sterilized before passing it onto his kids though, because if it's previously been in Al's hands, you can only imagine what bodily fluids are caked on that toy.). There's even a cameo appearance by Goldstein's third-wife Gena and his toddler-son Jordan, who both publicly despise Al nowadays.
Adding to the fun, it's all punctuated by local commercials that'll provide a nostalgia-overdose for anyone who grew up in the NYC-area during this era -- the Mount Airy Lodge; the Buddy Greco '1001 Songbook'; Joey Heatherton Serta Perfect-Sleeper mattresses; the overwrought song-styling of Sergio Franchi; John Callum starring in the Broadway musical SHENANDOAH; and (best of all) leisure-suited, helmet-haired crooner Peter Lemongello hawking his "mood-rock experience" double-album Love '76 (also available on 8-Track... naturally).