Category Archives: Charity

Jerry Lewis 1926-2017

One of the most popular American comedians of the last century, Jerry Lewis has died of heart disease aged 91.

He was born Joseph (or Jerome) Levitch to Russian Jewish parents in Newark, New Jersey, in 1926. His father was a vaudeville performer, and his mother played piano. He joined them onstage at an early age, and dropped out of high school in the tenth grade. A heart murmur rendered him ineligible for military service in World War II. Already a prankster at 15, he developed a ‘Record Act’, exaggeratedly miming the lyrics to popular songs. He married singer Patti Palmer in 1944, and they would raise six sons together.

In 1946, he formed a comedy partnership with crooner Dean Martin. Over the next ten years, they graduated from nightclub act to the internationally celebrated stars of radio, television and movies.

On February 9, 1953, Marilyn Monroe met Lewis and Martin for the first time, at the annual Photoplay Awards at the Beverly Hills Hotel. She was wearing the revealing gold lame dress fleetingly glimpsed in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Actress Joan Crawford would later speak witheringly of Marilyn’s ‘vulgar display’ as she collected the award for Fastest Rising Star. “The audience yelled and shouted, and Jerry Lewis shouted,” Crawford told reporter Bob Thomas. “But those of us in the industry just shuddered. It reminded me of a burlesque show.” At twenty-six, Marilyn was the same age as Jerry Lewis, and part of Hollywood’s new vanguard. Crawford, a star from a prior generation, later apologised for her remarks amid widespread criticism.

On February 24, Marilyn appeared on the Martin and Lewis Radio Show, accepting an award from Redbook magazine, and sparring with the comedy duo in an eight-minute sketch, ‘So Who Needs Friends.’ Columnist Sidney Skolsky, who accompanied her that day, wrote about it in his 1954 book, Marilyn.

“Jerry Lewis visited her dressing room and said, ‘I know you’re scared. Don’t be. I was awfully nervous when I went on the radio for the first time, with Bob Hope.’ He pressed her hand. ‘You’ll be great,’ he said, and left the room. This brief talk and vote of confidence from Lewis helped Marilyn considerably. Marilyn was great on the program. After it, Jerry said to me, ‘She’s got nothing to worry about. She knows more about sex than I do about comedy.’ Which is the highest compliment a comedian could bestow on an actress who is selling glamour.”

Marilyn became good friends with both Jerry and Dean Martin. Sensing her loneliness, they often invited her to dinner alongside fellow pal Sammy Davis Jr. A lifelong insomniac, Marilyn would sometimes call them in the small hours and ask to meet up at all-night diners.

On October 18th, columnist Sheilah Graham published an interview with Marilyn in which she named the ten most fascinating men in the world, including future husbands Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller, her River of No Return co-star Robert Mitchum, Asphalt Jungle director John Huston, close friends Marlon Brando and Sidney Skolsky, acting coach Michael Chekhov, photographer Milton Greene, and India’s Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru (the only one she hadn’t met.) And the last man on her list was Jerry Lewis…

“I think that Jerry has a lot of sex appeal. It might have something to do with his vitality. I can’t figure out what it is. He makes funny faces because he thinks people want him to make funny faces. But behind it all there’s something serious and very sexy. I just think he’s sexy.”

On December 6, Hedda Hopper reported that Jerry and Dean had called upon friends to donate items for a charity auction for muscular dystrophy. “They asked Marilyn Monroe for something personal – anything close to her. What they got was a copy of Tolstoy’s War and Peace autographed by Marilyn.”

After Marilyn moved to New York in early 1955, the men-only Friars’ Club broke code and invited her to their annual roast, compered by Milton Berle in Martin and Lewis’s honour. When Berle called her to the podium, Marilyn blew a kiss and whispered, “I love you, Jerry.”

Lewis remembered Marilyn with great affection in his 2005 memoir, Dean & Me: A Love Story…

“To my vast regret, the one actress we never performed with was Marilyn Monroe – and how great she would have been in a Martin and Lewis picture. She had a delicious sense of humour, an ability not only to appreciate what was funny but to see the absurdity of things in general. God, she was magnificent – perfect physically and in every other way. She was someone anyone would just love to be with, not only for the obvious reasons but for her energy and perseverance and yes, focus. She had the capacity to make you feel that she was totally engaged with whatever you were talking about. She was kind, she was good, she was beautiful, and the press took shots at her that she didn’t deserve. They got on her case from day one – a textbook example of celebrity-bashing.”

In 1956, the Martin and Lewis collaboration ended as Dean, tired of being the ‘straight man’, decided to pursue a solo career. Jerry was heartbroken but his partner was adamant, and despite occasional public appearances together, the pair were estranged for thirty years.

In 1958, Jerry was offered the chance to star opposite Marilyn as jazz musician and ‘bosom pal’ Jerry/Daphne in Billy Wilder’s classic drag farce, Some Like It Hot. Unsure of his ability to convincingly impersonate a woman, he declined and the part went to Jack Lemmon. In 1959, Lewis signed a groundbreaking deal with Paramount Pictures, earning $10 million plus 60% of the profits for 14 films over the next 7 years. In partnership with director Frank Tashlin, Jerry also produced and co-wrote his movies, including his greatest success, The Nutty Professor (1962.)

Shortly before her death in 1962, Marilyn had been filming Something’s Got to Give with Dean Martin, who refused to work with another actress after Monroe was fired. Many of the rumours surrounding her demise have focused on her alleged affair with John F. Kennedy, but in a 2002 interview with GQ magazine, Lewis – himself a friend of the president – quipped that it wasn’t true, because Marilyn was having an affair with him. This bizarre remark – possibly a joke – nonetheless made headlines, but a sexual liaison at this time seems unlikely.

By the mid-1960s, Jerry’s popularity was fading, though he became a cult figure in France, where he was hailed as a comedic auteur. In 1966, he hosted the first of 44 annual US telethons for muscular dystrophy on Labour Day weekend. His long marriage to Patti Palmer ended in 1982, and a year later he married 30 year-Old stewardess San-Dee Pitnick. They later adopted a daughter.

His performance in Martin Scorsese’s King of Comedy (1983), as a television host stalked by obsessive fans, hinted at a darker side to the Lewis persona and established him as a serious actor. He played further acclaimed roles in Arizona Dream (1994), Funny Bones (1995.)

In recent years he suffered from increasingly poor health. Tragedy struck in 2009 when his 45 year-old son Joseph died of a drug overdose, and in 2010, Lewis began raising funds to build a facility for vulnerable and traumatised children in Melbourne, Australia. In a recent television interview, he spoke candidly about his fear of dying. He continued working until the end, playing the titular role in Max Rose (2016.) Jerry Lewis died at home in Las Vegas on August 20, 2017.

Further Reading

Holding a Good Thought for Marilyn: 1926-1954 – The Hollywood Years by Stacy Eubank (2015)

‘Jerry Lewis: the knockabout clown with a dark and melancholy inner life’ by Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, August 20, 2017

‘Marilyn, Jerry Lewis and Some Like It Hot’ by Tara Hanks, ES Updates, October 8, 2015

‘Jerry Lewis and Marilyn Monroe: Inside the Comedy King’s Story of His Secret Affair With the Sexy Screen Siren’ by Victoria Miller, The Inquisitr, August 21, 2017

‘My Two Days With Jerry Lewis’ by Amy Wallace, GQ, August 21, 2017

Shining a Light on Marilyn

Photo by Hans Knopf, 1956

In an article for the Biography website, Sara Kettler sheds light on some lesser-known aspects of Marilyn’s personality including her struggle to overcome a traumatic childhood and mental health problems; her passion for justice and equality; and her charitable nature.

“Monroe was generous throughout her life, a trait that was apparent even as she spent time in institutions and foster homes. She gave an acting teacher a valuable fur coat and offered money to people in need; shopping companions would often find Monroe had sent them items she’d ostensibly purchased for herself. She was especially generous with children, and offered assistance to child-focused charities like the Milk Fund for Babies and the March of Dimes.”

Hollywood’s Formosa Cafe Closes

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The legendary Formosa Cafe on Santa Monica Boulevard, where the cast of Some Like It Hot dined between filming scenes at the nearby Samuel Goldwyn Studios, closed its doors last month, as Julia Bennett Rylah reports for LAist. (The restaurant features in the Oscar-winning L.A. Confidential (1997), and was more recently the venue for a 2015 benefit for Hollygrove, the children’s charity named after the orphanage where the young Norma Jeane once lived.)

“Prize-fighter Jimmy Bernstein opened the Red Spot in 1925 inside a defunct red trolly car, near a film studio that would, in the late 1930s, become Samuel Goldwyn Studio. It was a simple lunch counter that slowly grew into a much larger operation, and was renamed the Formosa Cafe around the same time that Samuel Goldwyn moved in, according to KCET. They served Cantonese and American food courtesy of Chef Lem Quon, who took over the joint after Bernstein’s death in 1976. He then enlisted the aid of his stepson, William Jung.

The Formosa was not a fine dining establishment, but it was famous for its famous clientele, which included actors and rock icons from the Golden Age of Hollywood and beyond.

In 1991, Warner Bros. replaced Goldwyn Studio and foresaw the Formosa as a parking lot. As often happens in Los Angeles, a group quickly assembled to save the cafe. Their protest were successful, and the little building remained as the city grew around it.

The worse it got, according to many, came via a remodel in the summer of 2015. The restaurant was gutted and revamped … while the exterior of the building, including its neon green sign, is protected, the inside was not.

However, since everyone apparently hated the remodel so very much, Formosa owners decided to put it back to the way it was. The revert was apparently not enough to save the historic restaurant from closure.”

However, all may not yet be lost, according to LA Magazine.

“The longtime operator of the recently shuttered Formosa Café hasn’t even turned in his keys yet, and the building’s owner is already hearing proposals from new tenants. Vince Jung abruptly closed the restaurant this week. New York-based real estate firm Clarion Partners purchased the West Hollywood Gateway shopping center in 2004 and owns the restaurant property. ‘My goal is to find someone that wants to bring back the history,’ said Gabe Kadosh, vice president of leasing firm Colliers International. ‘This is not going to turn into a Sharky’s or something.’

Jung had been on a month-to-month, below-market lease for many years and made several unsuccessful attempts to revive the business by taking on partners and hosting pop-up nights. One of those partners remodeled the interior without permission from Clarion … Now that the owners have control of the landmark they are seeking a new tenant to restore the Formosa.”

Marilyn, Ralph Roberts and the Missing Coat

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Marilyn arrives in London, 1956

Today, items from Marilyn’s wardrobe sell for thousands – millions, even. But as Hap Roberts – nephew of Marilyn’s masseur and close friend, Ralph – tells the Salisbury Post‘s Mark Wineka, the  Burberry trench-coat which she gave him is now lost.

It’s not clear exactly which coat this was – but Marilyn wore a trench-coat during her time in England, while filming The Prince and the Showgirl – and again for a scene in Let’s Make Love (1960.)

In one interview, Ralph claimed that Marilyn picked it up from Arthur Miller’s home in Roxbury, Connecticut after their divorce, but she decided to give it to Ralph when she found it smelled of another woman’s perfume. (This is odd, because in her own account of the same visit, Marilyn’s half-sister Bernice Baker Miracle said it was a fur coat, and that MM gave it to her dog, Maf, to sleep on.)

“Roberts became Monroe’s official masseur in 1959, and for the last three-plus years of her life, during her various romantic entanglements, Ralph would give her massages daily, becoming a close confidante and friend to Monroe.

Together, they ran errands, ate meals, attended parties and took plane trips across the country between New York and California.

Toward the end of his life, Ralph Roberts returned to Salisbury and lived in a little house off Parkview Circle, not far from Hap’s offices with Statewide Title. They would meet every afternoon around 4 p.m. to talk, and every Sunday at 5 p.m. Ralph would show up at Hap and his wife Annette’s house for martinis.

Ralph Roberts always brought his Sunday New York Times with him and would leave the newspaper with the couple so they could read it later. Once, Roberts carried with him an art deco martini set Monroe had given him.

Roberts also possessed a box of chandelier crystals Monroe had collected. The actress thought the crystals carried healing properties, and in the years after her death, Ralph sometimes would hand them out as gifts to friends.

Ralph Roberts died April 30, 1999, at age 82. About a month later, Hap and his cousin Claudette began the somber task of cleaning up and going through their uncle’s house. They noticed a woman’s Burberry trench coat in the closet and figured it was a friend’s coat, left at Ralph’s house in the past.

They placed it in the things going to Goodwill.

About a month later, Hap found a list of Marilyn Monroe items Ralph had inventoried. On the list was ‘Burberry trench coat.’

Hap could only ease the heartache of having given away the coat by thinking to himself  that ‘at least it’s keeping somebody dry and warm and Ralph would like that.'”

Marilyn Jetty Swim in Adelaide

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More news from Australia: a group of Marilyn lookalikes have swum around the Brighton jetty, near Adelaide, raising over $50,000 for Cancer Council SA, reports ABC News. (The event was initially planned as a mass ukulele strum.)

“The event, now in its third year, a little less than The Seven Year Itch, attracted 107 participants, and is part of the larger Brighton Jetty Classic ocean swimming events.

Marilyn Jetty Swim founder Sarah Tinney, an American, said water conditions were perfect for the event.

‘It was easy, much easier than last year, the conditions weren’t so favourable but that’s a great metaphor for life,’ Ms Tinney said.

‘Sometimes you have smooth seas and sometimes you don’t.’

A lot of preparation goes into playing the part of the Hollywood icon, who was born Norma Jeane Mortensen in 1926.

‘Over the years I think we have perfected it. But the basic plan is women come with their foundation on,’ she said.

‘They do their own blush and we do the vintage flicks on the eyes … and we also do the beauty spots you cannot forget or you are not a Marilyn … and we have a lipstick bar.’

‘We try not to [get wet]. We’re Marilyns. We are here for the glamour and we are here for the fundraising.’

Ms Tinney said her mother died after an eight-month battle with cancer in 2007 and she made a promise to raise money to find a cure.

‘My husband actually used to call my mother Marilyn and my dad John Wayne because he’s Australian and they were sort of the only American icons he knew … so I thought that was pretty weird and I saw it as a sign ...'”

Party With Marilyn at the Formosa Cafe

1011389_10151653671861878_1115085617_nIf you’re in Los Angeles today, why not get into the Christmas spirit – and help a child in need? The Formosa Cafe on Santa Monica Boulevard (where Marilyn dined while filming Some Like it Hot) is hosting ‘Hollywood’s Hurrah for Hollygrove’, in aid of Hollygrove EMQ Familes First, a non-profit agency named after the Los Angeles Orphan’s Home, where Marilyn herself stayed as a child. Entry is $10, or else bring a new unwrapped toy for a Hollygrove child – more details here.

Multiple Marilyns to Strum for Charity

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A group of ukulele-playing Marilyn lookalikes from Adelaide, Australia will attempt to break the record for the World’s Largest Ukulele Ensemble in January 2016, reports Adelaide Now.

“The nimble fingered ensemble will be led by Mayor David O’Loughlin and the Marilyn Jetty Swim group, a group of Marilyn Monroe impersonators who raise money for Cancer Council SA.

‘I’ve had two ukulele lessons now,’ said Sarah Tinney (aka Marilyn), 36, from Brighton. ‘None of us have ever played the ukulele before but we’re all making great improvements every week so I’m very confident we’ll be able to accomplish it in time.'”

Beginners are welcome to sign up to learn the song ‘Daisy Bell (a Bicycle Built for Two)’ which will be played on the day.”

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Of course, Sugar Kane – Marilyn’s character in Some Like it Hot – played the ukulele as well as singing in an all-girl band, Sweet Sue’s Society Syncopators. Maybe the Marilyn Jetty Swim Group should copy her 1920s style for the event?

(And if you’re wondering what happened to Marilyn’s ukulele, according to The Guardian it is currently on display at the Santa Barbara Surfing Museum in California.)

Immortal Marilyn in June

Flowers were placed at Marilyn’s graveside by Immortal Marilyn’s Jackie Craig on June 1st, along with a card signed by members. A further $400 has been donated to New York’s Animal Haven charity.

This month’s updates to the Immortal Marilyn website include this lovely drawing by Bruno Doucin, of Marilyn clutching her award for Some Like it Hot at the 1960 Golden Globes; a review of Stacy Eubank’s Holding a Good Thought for Marilyn – The Hollywood Years, by Fraser Penney; ‘In Defense of Marilyn’, a 1955 article for Modern Screen by columnist Earl Wilson; and my own review of Lifetime’s mini-series, The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn’s ‘Bombshell’ Hits Broadway

playbillA much-heralded, one-off benefit performance of Bombshell (the Marilyn-inspired ‘show within a show’ from TV’s now-defunct Smash) was staged at New York’s Minskoff Theatre on June 8, reports Variety.

“The one-night-only event at the Broadway’s Minskoff Theater (home to The Lion King) was presented as a fundraiser benefitting the Actors Fund. Looking to defer costs of the event, the Actors Fund raised more than $300,000 on Kickstarter from Smash fans panting to make Bombshell happen — and the goal had only been $50,000. ‘This is the largest theater Kickstarter in history,’ noted Christian Borle, a cast member of the TV show (and one of the winners at the Tony Awards the previous night).

‘Maybe if NBC had used Kickstarter instead of sponsors, we’d still be on the air right now,’ cracked Debra Messing, Borle’s costar on the show.

Borle and Messing played the composer and book-writer/lyricist, respectively, of the fictional Marilyn Monroe bio-musical Bombshell. ‘You are about to hear the score for Bombshell that we wrote,’ she joked, referring to herself and Borle. ‘I’m still working on the book.’

Actually, the Hairspray duo Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman penned the songs, and there never really was a book written for the show-within-the-show. So the concert strung together the pre-existing tunes with biographical texts written by Marilyn and her friends and lovers, like Lee Strasberg and Arthur Miller.

It was all there, from the signature song ‘Let Me Be Your Star’ to a ‘Big Finish’ encore, with Megan Hilty and Katharine McPhee trading off in the role of Marilyn. Jeremy Jordan brought down the house with ‘Cut, Print… Moving On,’ and the suggestive choreography in ‘The National Pastime’ got a lot more risqué than broadcast television would ever allow. Brian d’Arcy James, Leslie Odom Jr., Ann Harada and Wesley Taylor also showed up to sing a song or two…

The full-length evening, which included several of Josh Bergasse’s fully choreographed dance sequences, closed with Shaiman and Wittman arriving onstage to take the mic. ‘What you saw tonight was the best part of Smash for us,’ Wittman said. ‘It was being in the room with all of these incredible people.'”

In a review for The New Yorker, Michael Schulman argues that despite lacking ‘a book’, Bombshell was the true highlight of Smash:

“But what about that Marilyn Monroe musical? What we saw of it, chopped up and sprinkled across the two TV seasons, was always the strongest part of the series—actually, stronger than the series, as if some superior, nonexistent work of art were struggling to break free from a fatally flawed one…When Smash premiered—before its narrative dysfunctions became apparent—it was suggested that some day, once the show caught on, the fake musical could become a real one, a cross-medium spin-off like none the world had ever seen.

I should back up: the first delightful surprise of the evening was that Bombshell has an overture, which was played by a sumptuous onstage orchestra. Then it was on to the song that has been stuck in my head since the pilot, ‘Let Me Be Your Star,’ sung by Megan Hilty and Katharine McPhee. In Smash land, they were the duelling divas Ivy and Karen, who fought over the role of Marilyn Monroe like matinee ladies squabbling over an armrest.

Finally, we could hear Shaiman and Wittman’s Bombshell without the surrounding silliness of Smash. As on the show, Hilty and McPhee seemed to echo Monroe’s split personality, with Hilty as brassy, sexy Marilyn and McPhee as whispery, semi-catatonic Marilyn. Hilty was especially strong on ‘They Just Keep Moving the Line,’ a bluesy ‘Maybe This Time’-esque anthem, which could just as well become a cabaret standard. Shaiman and Wittman’s lyrical wit shone through in ‘Second Hand White Baby Grand,’ a ballad of neglect about Monroe’s childhood piano. (Fun fact: it now belongs to Mariah Carey.) And the wordplay of ‘The National Pastime‘ (‘a baseball diamond is a girl’s best friend’) made as good a case as any for Bombshell as a real, live musical. In between, there were cameos from Smash supporting players…

So why isn’t Bombshell a real show? After the event, Wittman pointed out the obvious: it doesn’t have a book…To make up for the lack of connective scenes, the actors read excerpts of Monroe in her own words, bringing us glimmers of her isolation and thwarted attempts to love and be loved. Over the course of the evening, Marilyn became a kind of metaphor for Smash itself—eager to please the wrong people, breakable under pressure, and, in the end, just too beautiful to live.”

Immortal Marilyn in January

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After raising $405 for the Animal Haven charity with their ‘Flowers for Marilyn‘ Christmas appeal, Immortal Marilyn have started 2015 in style with updates to their website, including a 1956 article from Anything Goes magazine, about Marilyn’s calendar shoot with Tom Kelley; two new drawings from Bruno Doucin; and from me, an expanded profile of Pat Newcomb (which you can also read here.)