WEIRDLAND: Rat Pack Confidential, First Date with Jerry Lewis

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Rat Pack Confidential, First Date with Jerry Lewis

How America Lost Its Mind: the ’60s permanently reordered American society and culture and there have been unreckoned costs. The 1960s was the Beginning of the End of Reason. America was created by hucksters and passionate dreamers, which made America successful—but also by a people uniquely susceptible to fantasy, from Hollywood to conspiracy theories. In other words: Mix show business with everything else; then run it through the anything-goes ’60s. The result is the America we inhabit today, with reality and fantasy weirdly and dangerously blurred and commingled. If the 1960s amounted to a national nervous breakdown, we are probably mistaken to consider ourselves over it. Source: www.theatlantic.com

There was the time when Frank Sinatra, riding high on the early reviews for From Here to Eternity, visited his hero in search of approval. “I saw your picture,” said Bogart. “What did you think?” Frank asked him. Bogart simply shook his head 'no'.  Frank Sinatra saw in Humphrey Bogart all the things he always wanted to be: aloof, profound, world-weary, slightly drunk, slightly sentimental, romantic, tender, tough, loyal, and proud. He could take his hero worship too far. Once, when a date of Frank declared, in Bogart’s presence, “You sound like Bogie sometimes,” the actor laughed and said, “Don’t remind him, sweetheart, the poor bastard’s trying to kick it!” In fact, Bogart was one of the few people who were willing to tell Frank Sinatra exactly what they thought of some of the things he did. 

In 1948, Sinatra applauded the Martin & Lewis duo, although he considered its forte was really Jerry Lewis. Dean, the tall, handsome, crooning straight man, was more or less along for the ride. And when the ride ended, when Martin and Lewis devolved into an ugly spitting contest and finally broke apart, Lewis went on to solo success, just as everyone predicted, while “the dago” (Martin) initially floundered. It wasn’t that Dean Martin didn’t have the chops. He had a charming voice in the Bing Crosby mood—a stylish singer, if never a real artist. He cut a great figure in a tux, golf clothes: real movie star looks. And he was funny, with a gift for whimsical one-liners and a canny, low-key delivery. But he seemingly didn’t have the drive to go it alone. He was ten years older than Lewis and struggling under an absurd burden of debt when the two had met. Martin took the edges off of Jerry Lewis’s hysteria. By 1954, they weren’t such good pals anymore. Jerry was styling himself a creator of artful comic narratives in a variety of media.

"The unbridled sweep of the all-American ego at its most infantile and traumatized has always been an object of awe and fascination for the French; think of their celebrations of Poe and Faulkner, H.P. Lovecraft and Orson Welles. Call Jerry Lewis “America” and you have a recognizable psychosexual object that signifies something more than slapstick. The childhood sections which predictably dominate depict not only the lonely New Jersey misfit I expected, but also the street-smart chutzpah of a semi-abandoned tough guy who dreamt of murdering his grandfather, killed his cat in a rage when he was five, and hated his small-time show-biz parents." —Jonathan Rosenbaum

Everyone in show business knew that Jerry would do great, but most predicted a dire future for Dean. And when he debuted as a single, it was disastrous. His first picture, Ten Thousand Bedrooms, was numbered for years among the great movie turkeys of all time. Cynics were predicting he’d be out of the business altogether within months. Like Frank with From Here to Eternity, Dean was rescued by fate in the form of a new singing persona and a World War II movie (Some Came Running). Within two years of splitting with Jerry, he found himself teamed, unofficially but semipermanently, with Frank, starting with a trip to some sleepy town in the Midwest. Frank knew that Dean would be a perfect choice for the role of Bama Dillert, a honey-drippin’ card shark in the upcoming film Some Came Running. A gambler, roué, souse with a southern accent just like the one Dean sported as a shtick, he was capable of being played right by no other actor in the world. If it took till mid-’58 for Frank to offer Dean the role, the likely reason is that he was waiting to see how The Young Lions turned out.

Frank was cool in the sense of remote. Zarathustran drama and intoxicating romance: That was Frank’s bag. Dean was warm in the sense of comfortable. Alone, Frank couldn’t relax: He was insistent, a perfectionist, a lionizer of himself and his art. His audience adored him and feared him and envied him and lived through him, but they didn’t exactly like him—and as a singer he never particularly cared if they did. If anyone grew nostalgic for The Rat Pack, if it ever seemed like a more innocent time, that was because it was the last moment of cultural unanimity. For the first sixty years of the century, save a couple dozen months after Elvis made the scene, everybody in every house in America found pleasure in the same type of comedy, music, movies. The Rat Pack bunched it altogether at an unprecedented height and pitch—and for the last time. And nobody seemed to agree about anything ever again after they were toppled from their golden aerie.

Dean Martin: "I want to be remembered as a damn good entertainer, nothing spectacular. A good entertainer who made people enjoy themselves and made them laugh a little. I want them to think 'He was a nice guy'." Dean Martin on The Rat Pack: "The whole world is drunk and we're just the cocktail of the moment. Someday soon, the world will wake up, down two aspirins with a glass of tomato juice, and wonder what the hell all the fuss was all about."

“Both Jerry and Dean are always yelling and falling all over the place when they see me,” Marilyn said with a giggle, “and I love them for it. Other people have criticized me for the way I dress and the way I walk, but Dean and Jerry never do.” So was Sammy Davis Jr., another affectionate prankster who treated her with that brotherly mix of teasing and protectiveness. Back in LA there’d been a rumor she and Sammy had slept together, a rumor they both found hilarious. To the Rat Pack guys she was just Marilyn—no starlet and certainly no piece of studio meat. Marilyn certainly wasn’t dressed like a fashion plate, but that was the whole point. In fact, it was her lack of interest in fashion that gave her such a wonderful sense of style—a style she solidified in New York City. She wore black pullovers and toreador pants to dive bars with Frank Sinatra, flung minks over slips for midnight walks in Central Park. Her style remained unchanged from 1955 to her death, in 1962—a time when fashions and fads moved at warp speed.

Yet she never looked dated. She still doesn’t—a shot of her in pigtails, jeans, and cowboy boots on the set of The Misfits could have been taken yesterday. In New York, Marilyn dined at Gino’s with Frank Sinatra, then swilled cheap scotch at the Subway Inn down the street. She stretched out in her bathrobe on the floor of the Waldorf-Astoria, scrawling poems on crisp hotel stationery. Back in LA, Marilyn really had looked up to Shelley Winters as a big sister: In 1951, they had shared men, minks, swimsuits, and Sinatra records. Milton Greene had long been exasperated with Marilyn’s wardrobe, which ricocheted from skintight to slovenly with little in between. “That looks like a schmatta,” he’d moan whenever she’d show him a dress. He begged her to stop passing out in her makeup and cajoled her into using the gold-plated hairbrush Frank Sinatra had given her on her birthday. 

Like Las Vegas, Miami had a strip of fabulous hotels—the Eden Roc, the Diplomat, and, especially, the Fontainebleau, the gaudy Moderne pipe dream of architect Morris Lapidus, the most expensive, expansive, and exciting jewel of the city’s glittering string. The Fontainebleau catered to the biggest shots and had the biggest stars under contract, the Sands of Collins Avenue. Miami specialized—even more than Vegas—in spoiling guests. It was also a celebrity magnet, its clubs and hotels offering high fees and, like Vegas, a place for entertainers to relax and watch one another work. In January I960, for instance, just as Dean Martin was making a resort movie at the Sands with Frank Sinatra and the rest of them, Jerry Lewis directed himself in a film at the Fontainebleau, The Bellboy. In the 1960s Rock ‘n’ Roll had happened—rock’s early performers had opened something that no one before them had dared, a kind of bald rebellion that entertainers of the Rat Pack never dreamed of expressing. What seemed like high-spirited fun in the winter of 1960 came to look like debauchery by the summer of 1964; the high hopes of one generation were replaced with the simple adolescent cheeriness (Rock 'n' Roll) of the next one. —"Rat Pack Confidential: Frank, Dean, Sammy, Peter, Joey and the Last Great Show Biz Party" (ekindle, 2014) by Shawn Levy

Rat Pack Mysteries: I went down to the lobby of The Sands, walking through the fabled casino. As I took a detour to the crowded Copa Room nightclub, the lights went down, which meant that Frank Sinatra would be soon coming out. The room was smoky and dark and a big band was playing on stage. The patrons were dressed to the nines and chain-smoking cigarettes. The Copa Room's showgirls were known as "The Copa Girls." The showroom had taken its name from the former Copacabana in New York City. “Hey, doll, bring me that drink,” the gangster-like man said abruptly, without breaking his mile-long stare. He was pointing to a young waitress fresh from San Gabriel Valley carrying a heavy tray of champagne glasses, her uniform pulled too tight across her farm-girl hips. The crowd went wild when Sinatra walked out and started to sing a rousing rendition of Luck be a Lady. 

While the Dom Perignon flowed freely, Johnny Rosselli chatted about Marilyn Monroe. He had known her since 1948 when Harry Cohn had signed her first contract for Columbia. Cohn had used Mob money to enhance the Columbia Studio’s potential. Usually Johnny laughed at Sam Giancana’s antics, the way he had fallen head over heels with Judith Campbell and Phyllis McGuire, whom had been placed on his pedestal. Any man foolhardy enough to approach Phyllis with romantic overtures would meet a violent end or at the very least a brutal beating ordered by Giancana. But when it came to Marilyn, Johnny didn’t like the way Giancana had wiretapped her Brentwood home by Hollywood private detective Fred Otash. Sam Giancana knew he could use Marilyn’s affair with Jack Kennedy to destroy him politically.

Jerry Lewis simply shrugged when he was left behind the party, sitting in one of the background booths, self-consciously lighting a Kool cigarette. Why wasn't Lewis surrounded by a coterie of starlets like his partner Dean Martin or the Rat Pack allies? Maybe the high-life perks that used to intrigue his mind had lost its gleamy allure for him. He probably was reminiscing about his first girl, Lonnie Brown, harking back to his first serious date with her. He just could see her now placing a hand gently on his arm and talkingto him as softly as she could amid the din of the coffehouse. Jerry had wanted to know what kind of kid she thought he was, and Lonnie had said he was cute, a bit silly, vulnerable, and easily hurt. She had seen right through his soul. Then she pulled a small lipstick—like a secret play toy—from her dress pocket and applied a reddish coat that made Jerry's heart beat real fast. Finally, his lips wiped out entirely all the waxy traces of lipstick on her mouth with a spontaneous, urgent kiss. Years later, Jerry would date a few glamourous starlets in Hollywood. But as he suspected tonight, a lot of memories, like old buildings and casinos, would collapse in his time, but not that unforgettable moment with Lonnie. Source: medium.com

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