Jerry Lewis' autobio, Dean & Me (or the Playboy and the Pierrot)

Comedian Jerry Lewis pours out his brotherly love for crooner Dean Martin in a 352-paged letter. Lewis' memoir Dean and Me follows  the comic duo's first meeting; how they teamed up; advanced through stage, radio, film and television; broke up; and reunited (sort of).

I'm late to the party since this book was published six years ago, but what an exciting read! The tone of it is alternately wistful, belligerent, cocksure, and regretful.
“Whatever we do, I‘m the kid and you‘re the big brother. I‘m the busboy, you‘re the captain. You‘re the organ-grinder, I‘m the monkey. You‘re the playboy, I‘m the putz. Follow?” 
That’s Lewis planning with Martin for their first official nightclub act together in the mid-1940s. The big brother-kid brother formula  is what lifted these two performers to prominence in show business. Lewis makes it clear that their relationship off-stage  had this same dynamic.

An only child, with showbiz parents who were rarely in his daily life,  lonely Lewis, basically "adopted"  an older sibling when he lied to his mob-connected employer - who was looking for a song and comedy act at Atlantic City's 500 CafĂ© - that he and Martin could perform a spot to please the customers. Martin was not in on this arrangement; he merely thought he'd been hired to sing as always. Once he found out the actual arrangement, he went along with it. The two had that same relationship from then on - Jerry initiating a deal for the two of them, and a sanguine Martin going along for the ride.

After a decade of this agreement, Martin finally had enough of not controlling his own life. Lewis  blames the new life in Hollywood, not being around each other as frequently as they had in the nightclub circuit. Lewis also blames a new batch of friends for instigating Martin’s famous strike for independence. Perhaps so. Or perhaps Martin was just ready to do something else and didn't know how to say it except in loud, hurtful tones (telling Lewis near the end of their professional partnership that the little guy was nothing but a dollar sign to him).

The memoir runs back and forth through the timeline [the 1940s through to Martin’s death in the 1990s], sharing  poignant and hilarious anecdotes -   how Lewis admired the man nine years his senior to the point of wearing Martin’s brand of aftershave (with hilarious results); how Jerry and Dean almost missed a  nightclub show because they couldn't refuse playing golf with notorious mobster Willie Moretti; how they were routinely (and happily) mobbed by fans; how disgusted they were with each other during filming of their last movie together, Pardners. Lewis also includes a couple of brief and completely gratuitous stories about Marylin Monroe.

Yet with all the detail, there's much held back.  Martin's upbringing is a murky remembrance of generics about strict Italian parents in a small factory town in Ohio who taught their children never to be vulnerable or trust anyone. This would explain the dark-haired singer's penchant for rarely showing his feelings.  Because Martin was so tight-lipped, Lewis can in some spots produce only his assumptions.

Lewis’ own parents make an appearance in the book about twice - once to explain why they were not around during his childhood (they traveled the vaudeville circuits) and once when Lewis the elder screamed into his son’s oxygen tent at the hospital about how Jerry’s incapacitated state is hurting Jerry’s mother.

Martin's and Lewis’ respective wives remain shadowy figures as well, mere outlines. This is a shame because you want to know how these ladies met and chose two very quirky and talented guys (the book begins after they are both married with children). It's also rather repugnant that the wives are pushed in the background of the book while their famous husbands boast of their very public infidelities with a practiced shrug. Of all of Lewis' faults, this was not one that I expected, certainly not one I thought he'd brag about having. Thankfully he doesn't go into much detail on this score, and only lists the names of two (very famous) liaison partners.

Jerry Lewis ( and co-author James Kaplan) tells his side of the Martin and Lewis story with great sincerity and vulnerability. Just when you think, " He's just playing up his Pierrot routine again to get  the reader's sympathy," he sucker punches you with another story of longing, regret, lost opportunities, and lost friendship and you feel like a heel for doubting him. Although Lewis has played the sad clown all of his adult life, this time it is not a gimmick, it’s real.  


  1. Java, I never was a fan of Martin and Lewis. Lewis always irritated me rather than make me laugh. But I have read and heard several of the things you mention, and also saw a TV biopic of their relationship. It's really quite a sad story. You have intrigued me with your review of this book.

    Lewis seems to have truly loved Martin, and Martin just didn't return even much friendship. Martin seemed like a completely withdrawn man who just wasn't capable of love. I can see that a man like that would get really sick of Lewis' adoration, but he was so mean about it. It really makes you remember that an actor's work does not reflect his real-life personality.

    I didn't know about, and am as shocked as you to find out about Lewis being such a lady's man while married. Besides that, I sure don't understand the ladies, unless Lewis was completely different in real life. But, like Martin, he probably was.

  2. I loved Lewis' slapstick as a kid. After that I appreciated his film innovations.

    Martin's Love-'Em-and-Leave-'Em public persona always disgusted me, so to discover he could easily discard his wife and Lewis' friendship was not a big shock.

    Lewis is a passive-aggressive controller, so that kind of hold on you would get old eventually.

    As for Lewis' infidelities, he was away from his wife a great deal during the beginning of his career; Lewis wanted to emulate Martin in every way possible; eventually there were lots of groupies and starlets who wanted a piece of fame.

    Martin and Lewis dated June Allyson and Gloria DeHaven, despite the fact that all of them were married to someone else. It was a somewhat public thing, but they relied on managers, et. al. to keep it out of the papers. I was stunned.

    June Allyson - the sweetheart of MGM - was stepping out on Dick Powell! I had no idea. So those rumors that she flirted with Peter Lawford in their films together are not implausible!

    My childhood is ruined. :)

    -- Java

  3. Oh how true -- the less I know about my favorite actors' private lives, the better...

  4. I recently read this book and adored it. I love Jerry though - I'm a huge fan of his whether he's acting like a clown or acting like a controlling egomaniac. I love him all the same.

    I thought this was such a lovely tribute to his partner. It was so honest and he never tried to pin the blame on Dean for what happened. He was so diplomatic and respectful.

    As for the infidelities? It's not that surprising.

    Everyone in Hollywood was messing around - especially actors. Back then they just knew how to keep it quiet. These days if you saw or found out that someone was cheating, you'd sell it to the paper in a heartbreak. Back then, it was all kept very hush-hush to retain that perfect image.

  5. Ceri,

    I'm so glad you enjoyed the book. So did I! It was one of those great autobios that you just cannot put down, even if you want to look away sometimes.

    Jerry Lewis is poignant, funny and respectful to Dean, which is refreshing in a dog-eat-dog business.

    Thanks for dropping in.

    - Java


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