Book Reviews Reviews

Book Review: Dean & Me (A Love Story)

Written by Omair Alavi

Celebrate the American crooner’s 105th birth anniversary by reading what his partner Jerry Lewis had to say about their relationship!

Celebrate the American crooner’s 105th birth anniversary by reading what his partner Jerry Lewis had to say about their relationship!

They had nothing in common when they first met – one was a handsome crooner, the other was a skinny monkey – but when an Italian and a Jew joined hands in the 1940s, it was love at first sight, for everyone. For ten consecutive years, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis ruled America like kings and succeeded in everything be it nightclubs, TV, or films. This book – Dean & Me – talks about their partnership that lasted ten years, and friendship that crossed fifty, and makes you realize that even success is short-lived, if not respected.

Written by Jerry Lewis with journalist James Kaplan, the book isn’t an autobiography of an individual but about a team and how the younger member of that team felt during that partnership. It is an eye-opener for those who in Jerry Lewis’ words had no clue that Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis used to be a team; an interesting book for those who always wanted to know what made the two end their partnership after ten glorious years and a document for those who wanted to know the origin of the two artists who rescued the United States from post-war depression.

Some say that Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis changed the way comedy was perceived in the country, and would have continued for years had they not disbanded. Jerry Lewis, who used to dress up as Carmen Miranda and mime records on stage before he met Dean Martin, elaborates on the reasons why they joined hands in the first place and why they chose to take a definite break in this book.

The way he explains how they met, how he fell in love with the older guy, and why they were such a huge hit in their decade-long association is enough to bring a smile to the readers’ faces. The narration is so ‘Jerry Lewis’ that you can imagine exactly what he is talking about. More than 75% of the book is dedicated to the good old days and the rest is about their life after they went their separate ways, but not once does he blame Dean entirely for the split. He even mentions an incident when someone bad-mouthed him in front of Dean Martin after they had split, and Dean being Dean, reprimanded the man for doing so.

They might have preceded Elvis or the Beatles in the United States, but they were as big as their successors during their ten years together. And the book begins in grand style as well, with Jerry narrating his feelings about the split on their last day together as Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. It is only after he takes the readers through that fateful day that he decides to go into flashback mode and make everything as interesting as a full-length feature film.

He describes his feelings as well as Dean’s during those glorious years when they were mobbed, patted on the back, and even kissed by the crowd that wanted to have more of them. From doing six to seven shows in a day to playing golf together (once!), the two shared everything and were labeled a national craze. But when they began, they were nobodies, living at minimum wage and wandering around for work, something that a lot of people were doing after the Second World War. How they managed to become popular, that’s what Jerry Lewis discusses in these pages.

All good things come to an end and Jerry Lewis talks about the many issues that led to their ‘separation’. He accepts that he was always making decisions without consulting Dean but that was because he knew that he would approve; he blames Dean for spending money lavishly when he had more mouths to feed; he also talks at length about the reviews their films got where Dean Martin was bashed for no reason, which might or might not have caused a rift between them.

And if that’s not all, he blames the trip to England that changed Dean Martin, and made him bitter for everyone around him, including Jerry Lewis. The only person he didn’t turn bitter to was Frank Sinatra, the one who rescued Dean Martin after the split, and who both of them respected a lot. It was to watch the same Frank Sinatra that the two had to use their clout to get tickets, and when he was among the audience one night at their nightclub, their confidence level was over the moon, says Jerry.

After the split, the two went on to forge triumphant individual careers but wouldn’t speak again for twenty years, according to Jerry Lewis. While Dean Martin became a movie and television star, and Jerry Lewis turned to moviemaking as a writer, producer, director, and actor, they didn’t lose track of each other and kept in touch, without speaking. Jerry Lewis disclosed that he was there when Dean Martin lost his son, and although he didn’t announce himself at the funeral, Dean was happy that his partner didn’t desert him when he needed him the most.

If you read the book from the first page to the last, you will also realize that not even Jerry Lewis knew why the team broke up in the first place. Yes, he recounts many incidents in this memoir that ‘might’ have caused the rift but not even he is sure about that. He discloses that he didn’t approve of Dean’s second marriage to Jeanne because it came too soon after his divorce, but then he was on good terms with his wives; he suspects that Dean’s acquaintances told him to stop playing second fiddle but is not even sure of that reason. No one knows what made Dean Martin skip two important events in their lives and that bugged Jerry Lewis until his death in 2017.

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Omair Alavi

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