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‘Side by Side: Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis on TV and Radio’ (review)

By Michael J. Hayde
Published by BearManor Media
ISBN-13: 978-1629333526

 

Growing up in the ‘60s, as I was learning the names of actors and actresses, whenever anyone asked who my favorite movie star was, I unhesitatingly replied that it was Jerry Lewis.

That’s not a popular position these days but I’d be willing to bet that at that time Jerry was the favorite of an awful lot of folks my age. He was handsome and looked good in a suit but watch him for just five minutes and you knew he was as much a kid as you were—just a little bit bigger.

Dean Martin wasn’t someone I paid much attention to at all. He was an okay singer of grown-up style music who had his own TV show that my parents watched. A nice smile and he could be funny but he wasn’t meant for me.

I thought he was really good as an actor in the movie, Airport, though.

Never once having seen them in the same place at the same time, I found it hard to believe when I finally learned—around age 14—that Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin had ever been a team.

And not just A team, but the single most popular and successful comedy team of all time. Even the Jerry Lewis comic book that I loved had originally been a Dean and Jerry comic!

Having been a comedy movie junkie all my life, I was, of course, familiar with Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, Hope and Crosby, the Ritz Brothers, the Marx Brothers, and even the Wiere Brothers (thanks to Elvis)!

But Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis? An actual team?

Within a year or so, one of our local stations had bought a new movie package and was suddenly showing Martin and Lewis movies. Groucho Marx’s son Arthur came out with a gossipy book about the pair that I wouldn’t read for another decade or so but I caught him on TV talking about them. In 1976, they even reunited briefly on Jerry’s telethon!

In time, I became, as did pretty much everyone who encountered them in their heyday, a major fan. Eventually, I caught all the movies and through the miracle of the Web worked my way through nearly all of the manic episodes of their 1950s radio and TV series.

After Dean’s passing, Jerry was quick to praise his partner at every turn, going so far as to write his own paean to his late partner.

It’s only now, though, with Michael Hayde’s new book, Side by Side: Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis on TV and Radio, that a detailed, unbiased study of the team appears.

Hayde is the author of previous books on Superman and Dragnet, both highly acclaimed.

He’s part of the new generation of authors who have no personal connection to their aging pop culture subjects beyond obsession and fascination. This tends to lead, as it does here, to a distinctly open mind and an ability to step back and look at things a little differently than earlier writers.

While a large portion of Side by Side’s 500+ pages is taken up with episode descriptions and reviews, the real meat of the book comes from the biographical sections, particularly the analysis of the continually building feud up to and beyond the team’s break-up and various reunions.

Hayde’s distance is able to present fresh insight into the inevitability of the break-up. From the day they got together as a team, one can actually sense the break-up coming. They weren’t just ANY team. Their popularity, in retrospect, was stunning—on the level of Sinatra circa 1940, Elvis in the late ‘50s, and the Beatles in 1964-66. They are shown to be utterly beloved and they are also shown, warts and all, to be petty, egotistical, and selfish, to each other and sometimes to everyone around them.

Rather than add another 300 pages, Hayde chooses to note the pair’s movies only in passing, as by most accounts they are actually the least Martin & Lewis-like of Martin & Lewis’s output.

The radio and TV episodes, however, nearly all available at one location or another online, are annotated to the point where the reader can watch and listen and follow along with the compelling story of the rise and fall of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.

Booksteve Recommends.

 

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