18 August 2018

Groucho Marx's advice to Jerry Lewis

The highly successful, decade-long partnership between Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis came to an end in 1956. The comedy duo starred together in 16 films, numerous nightclub shows, radio and television shows. But in July 1956 it all ended, with Martin and Lewis going their separate ways and quickly finding success on their own.

The break-up of Martin and Lewis, who were also friends, had been initiated by Martin who was tired of playing second fiddle to his partner. Martin was fed up with the films in which he played the dull romantic lead who sang a few songs, while Lewis got all the best scenes playing the funny guy. The final straw for Martin came in 1954 during the promotion of the film Living it Up, when Look magazine gave the duo a cover photo but cropped Martin out of it. Legally bound by contracts, the duo stayed together for two more years before finally splitting up. For the next 20 years, Martin and Lewis didn't speak to each other until their mutual friend Frank Sinatra arranged a surprise television reunion in 1976 (watch here). However, it wasn't until the death of Martin's son Dean Paul Jr. in 1987 that the two men made up. They continued to speak on and off until Martin's death in 1995.

Photo above: the only photo I could find of Groucho Marx and Jerry Lewis together-- here they are pictured with Judy Garland and Tony Martin (I don't know what the occasion was).

On 5 April 1954, after reading reports that Martin and Lewis were having problems and might even split up, a concerned Groucho Marx wrote the following letter to Jerry Lewis. Being part of a team himself and having experienced similar problems with his brothers, Groucho urged Lewis to sit down with Martin and talk things out. (Incidentally, Groucho's letter is surprisingly serious with none of the typical Groucho jokes.) Three weeks later, Lewis sent his reply assuring Groucho he would follow his advice. As mentioned above, it would take two more years before Martin and Lewis finally split up.

April 5, 1954
Dear Jerry:
I've been reading in columns that there is ill feeling between you boys and that there's even a likelihood that you might go your separate ways. I hope this isn't true for you are awfully good together, and show business needs you. I don't mean to imply that either of you couldn't make a living on his own. I am sure you could. But you do complement each other and that's one of the reasons you click so successfully. 
I am sure you have had disagreements and arguments, just as all teams, trios and quartets have had since the beginning of the theater. In the heat of working together there's inevitably a nervous tension and frequently it's during these moments that two high-strung temperaments will flare up and slash at each other. 
There may be nothing to the rumors of your separation. However, if there is any ill feeling or bitterness between you, it will eventually affect your work. If that feeling does exist, sit down calmly together, alone --when I say alone, I mean no agents, no family, no one but you two-- sit down alone, and talk it out.

April 28, 1954
Dear Groucho:
I want you to know how very thrilled I was to receive your very nice note. It is most gratifying and heartwarming to know that a guy as busy as yourself cares enough about my problem to take the time to sit down and write. Believe me, I deeply appreciate your interest along with realizing the sagacity of your words, and have every intention of following your advice. I want to assure you that I will do the right thing in this matter.
Please convey to your family my warmest personal regards and again my many thanks for your letter. I hope some day soon I will see you so I can thank you in person. Until then, I will close with "the secret word-- is thanks." 

On  23 January 1962, Groucho wrote Jerry another letter referring to the advice he had given eight years earlier:
Do you remember some years ago when I wrote you and Dino a joint letter pleading with you not to go your separate ways? I said the separation would mean disaster for both of you. Since then you have made $18,000,000 (net) and Dino, I imagine, has made about the same. Therefore I will abstain from giving you any more advice.


  1. I love Groucho, and it's so rare to see him all serious like this. I find his concern adorable and terribly nice.

    P.S.: I recently read a post where you mentioned the Filmoteca de Catalunya, and although having been born and raised here in Barcelona I had never heard of it (blasphemy!) but now I will certainly go see some of the movies shown for Rita Hayworth's centenary, so thank you very much!

    1. I'm glad that you've discovered the Filmoteca through my blog!!It's such a great venue and I'm really looking forward to Rita Hayworth's centenary. Maybe see ya there ;)

    2. That would be so cool! I've literally devoured almost all of your posts this past month. I love your blog, I'm glad I found it!

  2. Well Groucho either changed his mind or thought Dean would fail without Jerry because years later he asked Richard Pryor if he wanted to have a career he could be proud of,or did he want to be "a spitting wad like Jerry Lewis."