Monday, March 31, 2014

Jerry Lewis on David Susskind's Open End (1965)

Back in 1965 Jerry Lewis sat down with producer and talk show host David Susskind. According to the packaging the interview occurred after both were suffering from some professional setbacks, Lewis’s TV show had failed and Susskind's brand of anthology shows weren't being watched. The interview occurred as part of Susskind’s legendary Open End program.

The David Susskind show was always considered one of the high point of TV interview programs. Susskind’s interview stayed away from fluff, except when he aimed for fluff, and always got to the heart of the matter being discussed or to the soul of the interviewer. Susskind always knew his subject and always knew the right questions to ask. If you went on Susskind’s show you were going to be asked thoughtful intelligent questions of a sort that no one is doing these days. Any interview done by Susskind was at least worth trying simply because you weren’t going to get the same old same old.

I am not a Jerry Lewis fan. I can admire much of what he does, but I don’t always like it. The silly stupidity of his humor wears thin quickly for me. On the other hand the stories of his battles with former partner Dean Martin and his trips through Hollywood have fascinated me. More simply put I find the man himself more interesting than his work.

The DVD of Susskind’s interview with Lewis is a two part affair running about 100 minutes. Not really a discussion of Lewis’s films the interview instead focuses in the man, his life, family, beliefs, and his working methods. It’s a look into the mind of a man who has unfairly become a kind of a joke.

For me the interview is a revelation. Lewis the wild man of comedy is found to be a deadly serious man who knows what he wants and what he believes. He lays out his life story and his feelings with a strangely cold precision that is both inviting and a bit off putting. It’s clear that there is a mind behind the madness. At the same time listening to Lewis talk about refusing to let anyone dance with his wife is kind of scary. I like that Lewis is aware of his foibles and can explain them. I also like that Lewis aware of his changing attitudes as revealed by his views on religion.

This is a super talk, it’s the exact opposite of pretty much every interview you’ll have seen in the last 20 years where people try to be up, flashy, light and engaging. Instead this is just two guys sitting in chairs and talking. They aren’t superficial, they really talk about things on a deeper level than anyone would dare to now. I mean would anyone openly talk about their prejudices today?

This is a great disc. While you may not wan to own it it is something that is worth renting or streaming.

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