Martin and Lewis.
May 8, 2009 9:16 PM   Subscribe

Martin and Lewis Just, wow. I had no idea.

I see Jim Carrey starring as Jerry Lewis in a French-funded, Hollywood-produced, Sundance premiered blockbuster posthumorous biographical comedy of the year, A Sad Clown's Life: The Jerry Lewis Story.
posted by five fresh fish (81 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
I had no idea the pre-fail Jerry Lewis was actually funny, in the Family Guy/Southpark/Puppets Who Kill style. I had no idea Dean Martin was so daring. Didn't know the two were complete goofs who pranked each other continuously.

I've read and re-read this before posting it. I'm hoping I didn't fuck it up. The link is really worth seeing. [whimpers]
posted by five fresh fish at 9:17 PM on May 8, 2009


It's an interesting take. But it seems that the pranking was just that: over-the-top playing-queer-for-laughs. It worked back then because having Lewis mince around like a stereotypical faggot and kiss Martin was a cheap and easy sure-fire way to get the chuckles. It was pretty endemic in movies 50 years ago to have the sashaying sissy for comic relief.

Bromance (god, what a horrible neologism) themes nowadays seem to go for the more subtle undercurrent. Or the accidental homoeroticism that leads to hetero panic. I think of the classic scene in "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" in which John Candy nestles his hand "between two pillows" and the resulting hilarity.
posted by darkstar at 9:43 PM on May 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


The movie Where The Truth Lies is a fictionalized account of a Martin & Lewis style comedy duo, which also plays up the homoerotic aspects of the Martin/Lewis relationship. What's even more bizarre is that it's based on a mystery novel written by Rupert Holmes, the exact same guy who did the Piña Colada song.
posted by jonp72 at 9:43 PM on May 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, and "Him".
posted by Nabubrush at 10:03 PM on May 8, 2009


My take on Jerry Lewis was that only the French liked him but your youtube videos are pretty interesting.
posted by christhelongtimelurker at 10:03 PM on May 8, 2009


Don't Ask, Don't Tell?! Again, I had no idea the US Air Force was so… gay.

There was some pretty astonishing messaging going on in the late 1950s early 1960s. Wowsers.

I keep wondering if my grandparents were cool back in their day. I wonder if they'd have laughed their asses off at Meet the Feebles
posted by five fresh fish at 10:17 PM on May 8, 2009


I dunno. I'm actually skeptical that this read as "gay" or even exceptionally "queer" to a contemporary audience. Certainly there is some feminization in the submissive and demonstrative Lewis character, but it was still possible for men to dance with men in that era.

I tend more toward darkstar's interpretation, but with the sissy as just one type of comic foil, not necessarily gay.

Anyway, I can only view this through the lens of Notes On "Camp" (esp. points 9 and 51). Even if Sontag doesn't mention Jerry Lewis.
posted by dhartung at 10:49 PM on May 8, 2009


Again, I had no idea the US Air Force was so… gay.

That was gay? That just strikes me as the entertainment for that time period. Am I just missing the messages that are being sent? Really, the song doesn't strike me as gay. The dancing and singing doesn't strike me as gay. Is my gaydar just not in tune?

Oh yeah, your grandparents were probably cool. Then they grew up to be parents and grandparents. That's just the natural order of things I think. Most of us will probably be there one day.
posted by robtf3 at 11:04 PM on May 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


They're singing that girls are too much trouble, so they're gonna dump them all and fly off for adventures over the sea. I should think that was siren song for gay men at the time: bugger off out of repressed American society, and join the force that loves to fly and sing and dance all day.

Maybe not. It amused me, either way.

I didn't get a gay vibe off the Martin and Lewis stuff. I felt they were trying to crack each other up, and were friends enough that they could get away with outrageous behaviour. Daring each other to go further than the other.

There are several contemporary actors/comics that have blatantly stolen schtick from Jerry Lewis. I wonder if Jerry was wholly original, or if he copied predecessors.

Maybe my great-great grandmother was also hip.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:33 PM on May 8, 2009


My take on Jerry Lewis was that only the French liked him but your youtube videos are pretty interesting.

My take on this is that the French New Wave guys considered him an auteur, up there with John Ford, etc. I could be wrong about it, but that's the impression I have about the origins of the "French love Jerry Lewis" cliche.
posted by brundlefly at 11:35 PM on May 8, 2009


Oooooh so that's what Bert and Ernie were about!
posted by grobstein at 11:56 PM on May 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


The next time I hear or read the term 'bromance', I'm gonna shoot Paul Rudd in the fucking face.
posted by item at 12:03 AM on May 9, 2009 [7 favorites]


There is a plethora of material here for modern and postmodern critics to mine w/r/t the layers of societal repression that allowed for open, nay, blatant homoeroticism in 50s entertainment, vs. our current abundant lack of repression that pushes even vague indications of homosocial behavior in popular culture over the hands of the queer theorists. One could posit that OMG LOOK IT'S BOB FOSSE!! IN "NEVER BEEN KISSED"--HE'S THE SECOND ONE FROM THE LEFT! IN THE VERTICAL STRIPE JACKET! omg you can totally tell he choreographed this--look at that one splayed knees/jazz hands/head-popping-over-the-shoulder move! And like, he's the only one whose body really seems to get what the dance is asking for, you know? OMG IT'S TOTALLY BOB FOSSE!

Sorry, what were we talking about?
posted by tzikeh at 12:18 AM on May 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


jonp72 and nabubrush - Rupert Holmes is famous for The Piña Colada song (and wtf is that "Him" thing!), but he also wrote the music, the lyrics, and the script (by adapting Charles Dickens's unfinished novel) for the Tony-Award-Winning Best Musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood. He personally won two of the five Tonys show received (best book, best score). More recently, he wrote the book for Curtains, a musical mystery-comedy that starred David Hyde-Pierce on Broadway. He also created, wrote, and produced Remember WENN, which ran for four seasons on American Movie Classics (I'm a huge Mad Men fan, but it was not the first original drama on AMC, darn it!).

Good lord, I'm off topic. My point is that Holmes is far more accomplished than most people know, and has been long involved in writing mysteries and so forth. This is what happens when someone mentions Rupert Holmes, I'm anywhere in the vicinity, and I haven't slept for thirty-eight hours.
posted by tzikeh at 12:38 AM on May 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


They're singing that girls are too much trouble, so they're gonna dump them all and fly off for adventures over the sea. I should think that was siren song for gay men at the time: bugger off out of repressed American society, and join the force that loves to fly and sing and dance all day.

Or:
  • The sexual availability of women in that buttoned-down era is low, which is frustrating: so "let's go have a club they can't join anyway, nah nah nah!"
  • Women are not allowed to do this: this emphasises how manly and special it is: young men, this is an opportunity to show your specialness and strength: young male primates, this is a way to show your fitness and make many females wish to mate with you.
  • Women are less prone to the sublimation of desire to the group, and have a higher regard for their own self-preservation than testosterone-laden men. So, yes, girls will stop you flying off for adventures and having fun with your mates.
  • Women represent domesticity, entanglement and an end to the self as an individual. Escape them all!

    Plenty of non-homosexual possibilities. I wonder if we just have a far more highly sexualized society, so we see "sex" where before we might have seen "play".

  • posted by alasdair at 2:16 AM on May 9, 2009 [7 favorites]


    I suspect that those of us that pretty much grew up watching Martin and Lewis are going with the not-so-gay opinion...This was what humor was about...

    Also, a lot of good comments above about the nature of slapstick humor and the role of the "sissy" (which, in that day wasn't considered a gay character).

    Martin and Lewis made their mark by making us like them...and they did a good job of it.
    posted by HuronBob at 3:51 AM on May 9, 2009


    First of all, what human with a pulse wouldn't have kissed Dean Martin constantly in those days, given the opportunity? As the poet said, "Jesus, he was a handsome man."

    Also, Dean and Jerry ain't got nothin' on the hot army-boy-on-boy action of Stalag 17.
    posted by FelliniBlank at 4:08 AM on May 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


    ..the role of the "sissy" (which, in that day wasn't considered a gay character).

    Cite? Seriously, I'm not so sure about that... I think plenty of "sissy" characters in American pop culture (since further back than this Martin/Lewis thing) have been sly acknowledgements of homosexuality.
    posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:23 AM on May 9, 2009


    A Sad Clown's Life: The Jerry Lewis Story.

    I thought that had already been done by Martin Scorsese, with Lewis playing himself?
    posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:24 AM on May 9, 2009


    five fresh fish (and others) might want to read The Celluloid Closet by Vito Russo if they haven't already, which is the classic book about such sissies and how gay they were read as.
    posted by Casuistry at 4:32 AM on May 9, 2009



    Back in the 50's a Marine Corps buddy of mine was the biggest (I wasn't familiar with the word then) homophobe I have since met. He never once made the connection inferred by this. Have to go with alasdair & HuronBob on this one.
    posted by notreally at 4:34 AM on May 9, 2009


    Also, I always thought that the sissy figure was considered a gay character, but was held up as an object of ridicule rather than some kind of sly positive acknowledgement. Julian and Sandy might have been a sly acknowledgement, but Lewis and Martin were just taking the piss.
    posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:46 AM on May 9, 2009


    I've long been a Martin & Lewis fan for this very reason, with a heart broken by the way Jerry Lewis became (or revealed himself to be) a total dick in his later years (and his insipid tendency to mock the signifiers of disability). All the "har har har, hurf durf the French love Jurry Lewis" clatter of the last comedy-free decades of stand-up really doesn't stick when you see them properly in their element and in a historical context.

    I'm of what I increasingly believe to be the last generation of man-humpin' men to have grown up with the necessity of finding analogues and veiled examples of genuine intimacy between men instead of having a broad(ish) spectrum of literal homo-ness in print, music, and film, and I've had a sadly-frequent argument with people who just don't get why it's okay to let a subtext be what it is. Friends with kids roll their eyes at the suggestion that Ernie and Bert might have been lovers, parroting this sickening capitulation of CTW when they defended their puppets against the idiots of the right by saying that puppets don't have lower regions, or lives beyond being puppets. Hell, Grover had a mother, muppets are married on Sesame Street, but it's just crazy to see Ernie and Bert as role models when you're a little kid who's awkwardly crushin' on your best friend, right? Sigh.

    I've loved 'em all, every faggy-ass duo down the pike, from Laurel & Hardy to Abbott & Costello to Jack & Rochester to Gilligan & the Skipper to Ernie & Bert and so on, and I think they're all miles apart from the self-conscious "meta" bullshit of "bromance," which relies on a constant cycle of intimacy-awareness-homopanic-distancing-et cetera to cope with the absurd sexual stratification imposed on us by several generations of falsely-authoritative homo-lib-orthodoxy. Before we all had to separate into neat little distinct categories of us or them (because bisexuals are just soooo covering for their internalized homophobia and all), I think there was a lot more freedom to just be intimate with other males, even in the ugly, repressive age of American fiftiesism, and the wink and the ambiguity played into something we all knew back then, even if we did our damnedest to Freudalize it out of the public consciousness.

    People these days tend to wag a finger and accuse people like me of ruining the delicate tapestry of preposterous proclaimed "innocence" of such things, as if there was truly something dirty and evil about intimacy between men and the possibility that it's more than just superficial intimacy. Martin & Lewis almost certainly did not fuck around, but that's immaterial to me. At their best, they worked as a couple, shared the dynamic of a couple, and demonstrated the joyous interplay that is, without doubt, a signifier of a deep, loving relationship. If I want to entertain the possibility of a sexual aspect to that, or a physical bond, to be more precise, it's my context to recontextualize—the author's dead. Why can't a little kid back in '77, watching old movies on UHF on a black and white TV, see two guys being intimate as two guys and identify with them as someone who'd find that kind of relationship fulfilling?

    I think it's great that people can look at these sorts of duos, comic and otherwise, flawed as they are, and, for a moment, be a little more ambiguous in how they see things. That we need to invent an idiot word like "bromance" to describe something that was documented in one of the oldest works of literature in the history of our species really speaks to the emotional dullness of our present culture. Guys like other guys, and girls like other girls. Sometimes they fuck around. Sometimes they don't. Sometimes, they're hilarious when they're liking each other, and sometimes, they're not. We can claim "innocence" of this earlier age all we want, but those guys (and gals) knew exactly what cues they were playing—they just had to play it out in nuance, which is why some of it holds up so long after the culture that produced it has moved on.

    Maybe "bromance" will advance beyond the increasing tedium of the Apatow formula, and catch up to where my sixteen year-old niece's little queer friends are, where sex and intimacy and love and all that junk just sort of flow and find their own places of comfort without such clear stratification of roles. I'll just become another avuncular old guy, pointing out the wry brilliance of Laurel & Hardy and their joyous, argumentative love and why the first dance at my homowedding will necessarily be a pitch-perfect rendition of that famous dance they did in Way Out West, all those years ago, while the kiddies eyes roll.

    Now I just need to find a Laurel who'll put up with my pompous ass.
    posted by sonascope at 4:56 AM on May 9, 2009 [62 favorites]


    That we need to invent an idiot word like "bromance" to describe something that was documented in one of the oldest works of literature in the history of our species really speaks to the emotional dullness of our present culture.

    I have just read Gilgamesh again and I'm not able to see bromance in the story. I see the development of friendship, love and respect from initial competitiveness in the relation between Enkidu and Gilgamesh, the same feelings and relationships I have seen develop many times in growing boys.

    And (oh horror) I always liked Jerry Lewis: the actors that dubbed Jerry and Dean in italian were great actors, with fantastic voices.
    posted by francesca too at 5:38 AM on May 9, 2009


    What makes this post epic is the appearance, at 1:21 in the first clip, of a button beanie atop Martin's head. Yes, the very same deformed-fedora, crown-shaped button beanie made famous by Jughead and referenced in this recent Mefi post.

    The circle is complete.
    posted by Gordion Knott at 5:43 AM on May 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Friends with kids roll their eyes at the suggestion that Ernie and Bert might have been lovers, parroting this sickening capitulation of CTW when they defended their puppets against the idiots of the right by saying that puppets don't have lower regions, or lives beyond being puppets. Hell, Grover had a mother, muppets are married on Sesame Street, but it's just crazy to see Ernie and Bert as role models when you're a little kid who's awkwardly crushin' on your best friend, right? Sigh.

    Bert was originally planned as Ernie's uncle. They changed this when they decided that they did not want to provide an example of undermining familial authority on their show. I'm all for more representation of gay couples on TV, but Bert and Ernie just aren't it. They're friends and roomies, and that's it.
    posted by explosion at 5:44 AM on May 9, 2009


    Friends with kids roll their eyes at the suggestion that Ernie and Bert might have been lovers, parroting this sickening capitulation of CTW when they defended their puppets against the idiots of the right by saying that puppets don't have lower regions, or lives beyond being puppets. Hell, Grover had a mother, muppets are married on Sesame Street, but it's just crazy to see Ernie and Bert as role models when you're a little kid who's awkwardly crushin' on your best friend, right? Sigh.

    For the record, sonascope, I think the CTW response was a response to the accusation that they intentionally meant for Bert and Ernie to be gay -- that the creators of the show intentionally sat down and said "oh, let's have a couple of male puppets as 'roommates' to support the cause of gay rights." It was more of a, "if you see Bert and Ernie as gay, that came from your own interpretation, not ours" statement, as opposed to any kind of value judgement about that statement. Remember, they thing that prompted CTW to say that was the "Moral Majority" accusing them of "promoting unnatural role models to children on purpose" or however the hell they phrased that ridiculous canard they trot out all the time. Back then it was Bert and Ernie, next it was the purple Teletubbie.

    CTW's entire concept for Bert and Ernie was "showing two friends who have disagreements time to time so we can show people that even friends have disagreements and can work them out and still be friends." The exact nature of the relationship or gender of the participants wasn't as important as "you can still be friends after one of you steals the others' pencil, you just have to work things out."

    As for the idea that "girls are too much trouble, so let's join the Air Force and see the world" -- what about the joke about having "a girl in every port"? I think in that case "girls" is shorthand for "steady relationships". Although, in more adult media, there may indeed have been a bit of occasional intentional subtext; there may be a bit read more into things than actually was there, though, I'd wager.
    posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:52 AM on May 9, 2009


    Friends with kids roll their eyes at the suggestion that Ernie and Bert might have been lovers,

    Bert was originally planned as Ernie's uncle.


    I cannot find the reference right now (durn internets!), but I know I have read statements from "those involved" who say that Bert and Ernie are brothers sharing a bedroom. Not friends, not roommates, not lovers, not uncles / nephew... brothers.

    I mean, I'm as queer as the next faggot, but I never EVER saw them as lovers, not once. BROTHERS.
    posted by hippybear at 6:21 AM on May 9, 2009


    I mean, I'm as queer as the next faggot, but I never EVER saw [Bert and Ernie] as lovers.

    Oh come on. Next you're going to tell me that "cookies in bed" wasn't a metaphor for sleeping on the wet spot.

    Pffft. Some people.
    posted by rokusan at 6:54 AM on May 9, 2009


    Don't forget how sexually repressed that period was. Everything was scrutinized to see if it was remotely sexual. Men of either sexual orientation were searching for a hint of eroticism in the most innocent circumstances. Although certainly practiced no less than today, masturbation was frowned upon and a cause for considerable guilt. Guys were definitely hornier then from all those cold showers. I shed a tear for the lost bliss of the wet dream.
    posted by digsrus at 7:09 AM on May 9, 2009


    BROTHERS.

    I don't know how the rest of you are with your siblings, but I would never share my peanut butter and jelly with them.
    posted by crataegus at 7:20 AM on May 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


    brundlefly: "My take on Jerry Lewis was that only the French liked him but your youtube videos are pretty interesting.

    My take on this is that the French New Wave guys considered him an auteur, up there with John Ford, etc. I could be wrong about it, but that's the impression I have about the origins of the "French love Jerry Lewis" cliche.
    "

    A few days ago, I've re discovered old homework notebook of mine in my late grandfather's house. I was 8 years old and had been asked to write an essay about the things I loved best in life. I laughed heartily when I spotted Jerry Lewis's movies among others things. I really liked it a lot when I was a kid. I think everybody liked it very much (I mean in France). We didn't have as many programs as you did at the same time and such funny movies were but a few. I remember Dr Jerry and Mr Love. I must have seen it half a dozen times.
    posted by nicolin at 7:29 AM on May 9, 2009


    Seriously, I'm not so sure about that... I think plenty of "sissy" characters in American pop culture (since further back than this Martin/Lewis thing) have been sly acknowledgements of homosexuality.

    I asked my mom once about the widespread crush young girls of her generation had on Liberace (cf. the line in "Mr. Sandman" -- "and lots of wavy hair like Liberace") and if he had never struck bobbysoxers as maybe a little bit... fancy. She, not the least worldly person, averred that it simply never occurred to anyone that there was such a thing as teh ghey. Sure, maybe convicts or sailors at sea for months at a time, but Liberace is obviously rich and famous and is not wanting for female company. Therefore he must not be interested in men.
    posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:03 AM on May 9, 2009


    I grew up gay and watching things like this on UHF on an old TV too and didn't have the same reaction as sonascope. Maybe I just didn't possess enough imagination. Maybe (not inconceivable) I was so repressed as a kid that the possibility of those sorts of subtexts existing didn't even occur to me; the idea would never have seemed remotely imaginable. This was at a time when Paul Lynde and Charles Nelson Reilly were the standard of gay representations on TV -- that was what you were "supposed" to see when you saw gay. Times have changed (though not nearly enough; gays are still okay as BFFs on TV sitcoms, for instance, but not as lead actors).

    To me, saying this series of clips is "queer punk rock before rock and roll was even invented" is stretching it. The antics are not all that much different from any of the other goofing around and slapstick that you would have seen at the time (or in a 25-30-year window prior) in any number of old comedy shorts, vaudeville routines, and early TV kinescopes, some of it borderline homoerotic, some of it jaw-droppingly homophobic. Others, including Martin Duberman, have brought up the "sexually hysterical comedies of the 1950s with subliminal homoeroticism" trope, so maybe it's there and I'm not "getting" it. I'm fine with letting a subtext be what it is, and I like hunting for subtexts in popular culture just as much as any gay man who grew up in that time, but I'm not convinced that this was intended as "queer punk rock," nor that it was received as such in that culture.

    Mark Simpson refers to Jerry Lewis's telethons not having made it to the UK. I have a feeling that Lewis himself would have quite a different take on the "queer punk rock" angle, given his occasional outbursts on similar subjects.
    posted by blucevalo at 8:10 AM on May 9, 2009


    All gay subtext aside, the song in that video was every conceivable kind of awesome. If that was Dean Martin singing, I am a brand-new fan. Great track.
    posted by Lipstick Thespian at 8:25 AM on May 9, 2009


    I think if you actually catch the Cahiers du Cinema take on Martin & Lewis you will find that the "French" critical affinity is very closely related to the admiration for the legendary cartoon-cum-auteur Frank Tashlin.

    Cahiers du Cinema top ten lists: (Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? AND The Girl Can't Help It in the SAME YEAR!)

    as for Lewis and his "fag" jokes, well... screw that arrogant vulgar so-and-so.
    posted by Hammond Rye at 8:31 AM on May 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Lewis playing "fag" in that context [and his recent controversial comment during the telethon establishes that this was was exactly what it was to him] was no different than Amos and Andy playing "nigger" in theirs. The minority being caricatured for the amusement of the dominant class was still securely far away from being able to effect any kind of retaliation for their debasement.

    When I was assigned Faulkner in college, I understood that as a liberal arts student, I was supposed to make the effort to understand the author's context - one in which his fevered obsession with race in the South could make sense. But I found both the context and the obsession so distasteful that I couldn't muster that effort.

    In short: Fuck Faulkner and fuck Lewis.
    posted by Joe Beese at 8:51 AM on May 9, 2009


    In that first video, Martin is wearing a Jughead cap in one scene.
    posted by Chuffy at 9:04 AM on May 9, 2009


    five fresh fish (and others) might want to read The Celluloid Closet by Vito Russo if they haven't already, which is the classic book about such sissies and how gay they were read as.

    Or you could give us the Cole's Notes version, saving us a week of reading. I don't think this thread will be alive long enough for all of us to get around to doing as you suggest and then discussing what we learned.

    To me, saying this series of clips is "queer punk rock before rock and roll was even invented" is stretching it.

    I agree. One of the licks the other's face. That's not gay: that's "Let's see if I can get my comic foil to break character." They were competing with one another, challenging each other to think fast on their feet and be funny. If there's any homosexual subtext, it's buried way deep below a whole bunch of other things far more important to their act.

    Anyhoo, I didn't post this for its potential as a homosexual topic. I posted it because it was so damn funny, contrary to all the Lewis-hating I've been taught over the years.

    I still can't stand the older Jerry Lewis. But when he and Dean Martin were young, they were teh funnies. Whodathunk!
    posted by five fresh fish at 9:04 AM on May 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


    My take on this is that the French New Wave guys considered him an auteur, up there with John Ford, etc. I could be wrong about it, but that's the impression I have about the origins of the "French love Jerry Lewis" cliche.

    Jean-Luc Godard listed the Martin & Lewis movie, Hollywood or Bust, as the 4th best movie of 1957 on his Top Ten list for that year. However, if you look closely, his 3rd choice is Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? Like Hollywood or Bust, the movie Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? was also directed by Frank Tashlin. Godard really admired Frank Tashlin, who directed a lot of Jerry Lewis movies, but he admired a lot of Tashlin's films without Jerry Lewis too.

    The critic Jonathan Rosenbaum has also written about "the French love Jerry Lewis" meme, but he dismissed it as an excuse for Francophobic Americans to dismiss French films. He said it completely ignores the evidence that the Martin & Lewis films were huge box-office hits in the 1950s and that most contemporary French filmgoers prefer Woody Allen over Jerry Lewis anyhow.

    The Straight Dope also addressed it in a column, Do the French really love Jerry Lewis?
    posted by jonp72 at 9:06 AM on May 9, 2009


    Cahiers du Cinema top ten lists:

    By the way, check out the more recent lists. Those French sure do love their M. Night Shyamalan.
    posted by jonp72 at 9:11 AM on May 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Jerry Lewis tenderness with men --> Milton Berle in drag --> Don Rickles calling out "fags." --> Rat Pack nastiness
    Frank Sinatra: (as Dean's mixing a drink): "Dean, how do you make a fruit cordial?"
    Dean: "Be nice to him."
    Supposedly that joke stayed in the act for thirty years. Sinatra loved those fag jokes.
    posted by Hammond Rye at 9:17 AM on May 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Oh, hey, I should probably tell the story of how I came to post this:

    Someone on MeFi posted it. I had opened the link in a background window and by the time I made it to that page I'd completely forgotten that I'd gotten the link from MeFi.

    So I came here and did my very best to write up an FPP in which I expressed no personal opinion, because I get my pee-pee whacked every time I do that and it all ends in tears. Only to find out the link was already live.

    I went to the original post and exclaimed my delight at discovering those old farts really did have the haha back in the day. And then the thread was deleted before I could post. Poop.

    I don't know who originally posted it and I'm too lazy to hunt up the deleted-links service. But, hey, thanks, guy. This was a great find.
    posted by five fresh fish at 9:23 AM on May 9, 2009


    The deleted post in question, found on DeletedThread.Blogspot.com.

    Yes, there was a lot of spoofing each-other, trying to get the other character to break, and Lewis as the eternal goof/ imbecile, but some of those moments appeared to be mostly without jest or attempt at a joke, unless the joke was about homosexuality in general. They, to my child-of-the-80s eyes, looked like they were honestly a couple.

    The author is dead, and let each have their own take on the past, so long as it doesn't impact others. Lewis of present might be a dick, but that doesn't mean he hasn't changed, or he played that part well.
    posted by filthy light thief at 9:35 AM on May 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Rupert Holmes is famous for The Piña Colada song

    i prefer timothy
    posted by pyramid termite at 9:38 AM on May 9, 2009


    Sinatra loved those fag jokes.


    Ava Gardner when Sinatra married Mia Farrow "I always knew Frank would end up with a boy."
    posted by The Whelk at 9:40 AM on May 9, 2009 [7 favorites]


    Or you could give us the Cole's Notes version, saving us a week of reading.

    Alternatively, you could watch the documentary HBO made from the book on YouTube. It really is worth the watch.
    posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:58 AM on May 9, 2009


    "Is that alright, you cocksucker?"
    posted by Hammond Rye at 10:07 AM on May 9, 2009


    A: The author intended it like this.
    B: You're wrong! I chose to interpret it like this.
    A: Lies! The author intended it like this!
    B: Bullshit! I chose to interpret it like this!

    I don't see any real disagreement here, just a lot of talking past each other. No, Martin and Lewis didn't set out to be gay role models. Yes, some people took 'em that way anyway — and other people didn't. What's the problem?
    posted by nebulawindphone at 10:17 AM on May 9, 2009


    Seconding PMD's recommendation--I don't say this often, but The Celluloid Closet is a better movie than it is a book.
    posted by box at 10:20 AM on May 9, 2009


    explosion: I'm all for more representation of gay couples on TV, but Bert and Ernie just aren't it. They're friends and roomies, and that's it.

    You don't get to define what they are for anyone but yourself, and that's it.

    Lipstick Thespian: If that was Dean Martin singing, I am a brand-new fan.

    I do not mean this as an insult, but are you, perchance, young? *g* Dino is up there with Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and Mel Tormé as one of the very best singers of the 40's and 50's.

    Dean Martin: That's Amore.
    Dean Maritn: Christmas Blues.
    Dean Martin: One For My Baby...

    etc., etc., etc.
    posted by tzikeh at 11:19 AM on May 9, 2009


    I'm a bit late in responding, since it's the day of our Main Street Festival in my town and I was therefore compelled to get moderately sunburned while milling around my neighborhood eating as broad a variety of food on a stick as I could find until I induced a mild state of joyous nausea.

    The responses to my suggestion about Bert and Ernie hit the nail on the head of the kind of odd overreaction I get specifically from that example. Sure, I'd agree that, way back in 1969, Jim Henson and Frank Oz almost certainly didn't have a discussion along the lines of, "hell, Frank, it's Manhattan in the swingin' sixties—why don't we make a couple of homosexual puppets to satisfy the microscopic cross-section of homosexual parents out there?"

    Thing is—that doesn't make a damn bit of difference to me, and that's part of why art, music, theater, and literature can be so rich, amazing, and worthy of repeated exploration. For me, on the matter of Bert and Ernie, it's all down to Occam's Razor—no matter what you want to point out about origins, intentions, or official corporate positions, that relationship so closely mirrors the intimate relationships I've had with other men that it makes far more sense to simply equate it with my actual relationships than to come up with some convoluted explanation for why two unrelated men would share an apartment and a bedroom with matched, monogrammed beds. Why is it so threatening to allow that layer of interpretation to coexist with the official position from CTW?

    For clarification, too, the official press release from CTW was not an open "your own interpretation, not ours" statement, it was this:

    Bert and Ernie, who've been on Sesame Street for 25 years, do not portray a gay couple, and there are no plans for them to do so in the future. They are puppets, not humans. Like all the Muppets created for Sesame Street, they were designed to help educate preschoolers. Bert and Ernie are characters who help demonstrate to children that despite their differences, they can be good friends.

    That's not a friendly, "well, you're takin' it all diff'rent than we meant it, but to each their own," response—it was a wretched, gutless surrender to the then rampant forces of right wing nincompoopery of 1993, and it made me feel very sad that my perception as a kid, enjoying Ernie and Bert, was considered false. Didn't matter—Ernie & Bert are still a couple to me, because I know that couple. I've been in that couple, and that level of familiarity, because it is subjective, is essentially inarguable. I know what I see because I've been me, and I've seen me in them. End of story, press releases notwithstanding.

    If you don't agree, it's down to the old dictum—your mileage may vary. I just think it's odd how many people seem so bothered by a subtext that is at least obvious enough to be widely understood, even by people who don't necessarily see it that way themselves. It's a far more easily defended conclusion than my long-held contention that Ernest Goes To Jail is queerly sexier than Oz. I just don't bother fighting the freakier battles for lack of time, energy, and the restraint not to giggle at my own occasionally extreme conclusions.

    As a homo of a certain age, as I said before, there's a particular in-built sensitivity to subtext and real-time interpretation that exists as a result of suppression, and it's a gift, really. I don't have to sing a warped version of the lyrics to "She Came in Through The Bathroom Window" to force it to my gender, or be overly conscious of the fact that the Ben MJ is singing to is a rat. I can even adore "Ode to Billie Joe" without gender contortions, because a good, genuine voice singing about an ambiguous relationship is a good, genuine voice—who's to say that me and Billie Joe weren't throwing a bag of old Black Inches magazines with the pages all stuck together off the Tallahatchie Bridge?

    Hell, I thought Hendrix was singing "'scuse my while I kiss this guy," all along, and that's clearly not what he sang, but that's okay. I hear the song both ways now, and that adds to what it means to me, not the reverse. Does it ruin "Purple Rain" for you to hear that I'd had it wrong and that I still sing it wrong? It's not like we're not arguing about a chemistry textbook or a mathematical theorem here.

    For what it's worth, I forgave CTW and the muppeteers when I watched Muppets From Space and realized that the language of Gonzo's discovery of his true nature was, in fact, almost identical to the classical "coming out" narrative. You can pshaw if you like, but in a crew that included Richard Hunt and more than a few other homos of a certain age, I think it's pretty unlikely that that's a subtext that went completely unnoticed by the writers and performers in the film. Watch it with that in mind and tell me I'm talking out of my hat.
    posted by sonascope at 11:47 AM on May 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


    sonascope: "I thought Hendrix was singing "'scuse my while I kiss this guy," all along, and that's clearly not what he sang, but that's okay. I hear the song both ways now, and that adds to what it means to me, not the reverse. Does it ruin "Purple Rain" for you to hear that I'd had it wrong and that I still sing it wrong?"

    No, "Purple Rain" is fine. But thank you for asking.
    posted by Joe Beese at 11:54 AM on May 9, 2009


    Dino is up there with Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and Mel Tormé as one of the very best singers of the 40's and 50's.

    You're goddamn right -- and one of the great TV presences of the 60s and 70s. I grew up on the Dean Martin Show and treasure my audio boot of the 1967 Martin Sinatra Christmas special. Dean's celebrity roasts are the very essence of classy entertainment.
    posted by FelliniBlank at 11:58 AM on May 9, 2009


    Strangely, I watched a Dick Cavett Show DVD last week and one of the shows had an interview with Lewis. (god, what a pompous bastard)

    He used the word 'divorced' a couple of times, and made it all sound...gay.


    I'm sure there's a clip out there somewhere, it's worth a look.
    posted by merelyglib at 11:59 AM on May 9, 2009


    MetaFilter: a constant cycle of intimacy-awareness-homopanic-distancing-et cetera to cope with the absurd sexual stratification imposed on us by several generations of falsely-authoritative homo-lib-orthodoxy.
    posted by The Tensor at 12:49 PM on May 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Does it ruin "Purple Rain" for you to hear that I'd had it wrong and that I still sing it wrong?

    I only wanted to see you, underneath my Purple Vein?
    posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:52 PM on May 9, 2009


    Ugh, meant to say "Purple Haze," not "Purple Rain."

    See what moderate sunburn and and a mild state of joyous nausea get you? It's hard to bluster properly when you're in front of a fan, going "ow, ow, ow" and craving ginger ale.
    posted by sonascope at 1:05 PM on May 9, 2009


    I just never found the man funny. The mugging, the pratfalls, the crossed eyes, the "funny" voices... Ugh. Annoying.
    posted by longsleeves at 1:20 PM on May 9, 2009


    Like Jim Carrey, Jerry Lewis is best taken in very small doses.
    posted by five fresh fish at 1:36 PM on May 9, 2009


    ...why two unrelated men would share an apartment and a bedroom with matched, monogrammed beds....Didn't matter—Ernie & Bert are still a couple to me, because I know that couple. I've been in that couple, and that level of familiarity, because it is subjective, is essentially inarguable. I know what I see because I've been me, and I've seen me in them. End of story, press releases notwithstanding.
    posted by sonascope at 11:47 AM on May 9


    Is it really that common for gay couples to sleep in separate beds?
    posted by 445supermag at 2:25 PM on May 9, 2009


    Well, the truth is, Jerry Lewis desperately loved Dean Martin. I'm not saying that as an interpretation of their behavior -- I am quoting the man directly. In every interview on the success of Lewis and Martin, Lewis credits it to the fact that the films captured two men who were deeply in love with each other.

    I know Lewis didn't mean this homoerotically. I think the past half century, particularly in the period post Stonewall, has been one of American men carefully policing their behavior for unintended homoeroticism, and, as a result, once common expressions of male affection -- particularly physical expressions -- have been weeded out. I think this is an example of how homophobia, like every form of hate, warps and damages the hater to an extent. Homophobia has caused straight men to deny themselves almost any opportunity for physical or emotional intimacy in heterosexual friendship, for fear that these will be seen as being gay.

    If you look at men from pre-Stonewall cultures of masculinity, especially people who are immigrants or the sons of immigrants from cultures that had expansive expressions of male-on-male intimacy, you see a lot more touching, hugging and kissing. Go into an Italian restaurant where there are photos of the founders from the 1920s and you'll see image after image of men in suits with their arms wrapped around each other, posing for a camera in a way that seems to modern eyes like romantic embraces. My Jewish relatives of a certain age kiss their male friends on the mouth, and I have seen Mel Brooks kiss Carl Reiner on the mouth, and seen many other Jewish men do likewise. All this is almost completely gone.

    It's funny, because male love was once idealized, particularly by academics, who borrowed from the Greek idealization of male love, which was then viewed as platonic.

    Perhaps it's for the best, because the truth is, the Greeks weren't platonic, and all male affection and physical contact does have a homoerotic subtext, even if it isn't intended that way. The emergence of a vibrant, out gay culture brought this subtext to the surface, and straight men (and, I assume, closeted gay men) responded by shuttering their intimacy with other men. I think once we become a lot more comfortable with out homosexuality, we'll, in general, tend to be less concerned about whether we might come off as gay or not, and not really care about the homoerotic component -- we'll merely be aware of it, and fine with it. These transitions take time, but the loss of heterosexual male intimacy and affection is a historical aberration, and I'd be surprised if it lasts long. We need those tools for communicating with our male friends, I really think we do.

    I think Lewis was right. I think these little kisses and neck licks weren't some sort of unexpected naughty thrill, but, instead an exaggerated expression of a pretty normal behavior then for a second generation European Jew and a second generation Italian-American. It is rather touching to watch these old movies, because Lewis literally swans over Martin like a teenager with a crush, and Martin has a chummy and very open affection for Lewis, and an almost big brotherly protectiveness over him. Their relationship was vital to the success of the act, because Lewis was, quite simply, an unbelievable spaz, and exaggerated version of a social awkward and hyperactive child. On his own, his adenoidal voice and gooshy emotionalism would have been hard to bear, but with the debonair and lazily charming Martin on hand, responding to Lewis's antics with such unfeigned pleasure and affection, it made it okay for us to enjoy Lewis, who was, in his prime, astonishingly funny. It's what a straight man does -- he tells the audience how to react to the comic -- and Lewis always said Martin was the best he ever knew.
    posted by Astro Zombie at 3:00 PM on May 9, 2009 [14 favorites]


    When I was a child, I used to love the campy comedy of Paul Lynde and Charles Nelson Reilly. It never occurred to me, as an 8-year-old, that they might be gay. I'm not sure I even knew what "gay" was, at that time of my life. So entrenched had those two actors become in my childhood psyche as wacky, campy comic actors that it wasn't until, holy cow, I was in my 30s (!) that it dawned on me that the campiness I so dearly loved was a manifestation of their sexual orientation.

    I kind of suspect some of what we're talking about is like that. As has been mentioned upthread, pre-Stonewall, gay consciousness among straights was more limited (and in some cases nonexistent). So folks could watch a movie that may have had clear gay cues and still not have gotten the message. There have been a few links posted on how some of this was intentional by the movie makers (see also, Ben Hur).

    But of course, that works both ways. While straight people see gay contrivances in media and filter it out because it doesn't fit their preconceptions, so can gay people see straightforward platonic male bonding and interpret a deeper gay context. Confirmation bias, I guess.

    I read Gilgamesh as a youngster and didn't find it at all gay. Then I read it in my 20s, when I was crushing heavily on my (straight) best friend - the first time I'd really ever fallen in love - and I saw all kinds of potential gay themes in the story. My friend, one day, served me up the sweetest wound I think I'd been dealt at that point in my life when when one day we were discussing the epic.

    "I was thinking about us last night," He said.

    No kidding? I thought about the two of us most nights.

    "And it occurred to me..." he said, innocently, "you're my Enkidu."
    posted by darkstar at 3:52 PM on May 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


    The emergence of a vibrant, out gay culture brought this subtext to the surface, and straight men (and, I assume, closeted gay men) responded by shuttering their intimacy with other men.

    Some. I hug my father and friends, and even some acquaintances. It's a conscious decision to not give a flying toot what onlooking strangers might think: I value my friends more than strangers.
    posted by five fresh fish at 4:11 PM on May 9, 2009


    Astro Zombie, you're bringing up the really important points and you're awesome!

    The male love thing.

    Man, I lived in southern Italy during my high school years, and experienced some (seemingly) really gay stuff. Holding hands or kissing were definitely not considered "gay" in that culture, but were pretty common. I learned early on that it's OK to love your buddies, and it's NOT bromance OR gay. And that's not to say that being gay is bad, but they are different things.

    Great Post!
    posted by snsranch at 4:16 PM on May 9, 2009


    The next time I hear or read the term 'bromance', I'm gonna shoot Paul Rudd in the fucking face.

    Bromance.
    posted by moss at 4:59 PM on May 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


    The next time I hear or read the term 'bromance', I'm gonna shoot Paul Rudd in the fucking face.

    Bromance.



    *leaps in the line of fire*

    NOOOOOOOOOO NOT THE FAAAAACE!

    I don't give a shit whether Martin and Lewis actually swung both ways, caught as well as pitched, played for both teams or whatever pseudo-macho sports metaphor you might like to grab. These performances clearly show me that homosociality used to be more acceptable to perform, whether it was used to mask a deeper, more hateful homophobia than we have now or not. I tend to assume everybody's bisexual to some extent, so this weird game of evidence-hunting is uneccessary and more importantly, unsexy! Let it go unspoken, enjoy the subtext if you see it, flirting and making someone laugh are often one and the same thing anyway. I've heard enough rumor and legend about Hollywood performers' sexuality in this era (and before) to just take it for granted that the sexual truth might well have been stranger than fiction.

    Watching these two talented creatures interact that way is generally arousing, and completely unaccidentally so.
    posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 5:48 PM on May 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


    Jesus, have you people not seen The Bellboy. Lewis was a comic genius in every sense of the word.
    posted by cazoo at 6:09 PM on May 9, 2009


    These transitions take time, but the loss of heterosexual male intimacy and affection is a historical aberration, and I'd be surprised if it lasts long. We need those tools for communicating with our male friends, I really think we do.

    I hope it's sooner rather than later. Male friends showing physical affection; hugging, kissing, what have you, is really touching and sweet. I'm tired of men being so afraid that they will be percieved as gay that they won't even touch each other, except to shake hands or fight. Some of them won't even sit next to each other.

    It's OK to love your friends, fellas. Hugging is good. Everyone does need a hug. For real.
    posted by louche mustachio at 6:22 PM on May 9, 2009


    When I had it pointed out to me that Bert and Ernie could be seen as a gay couple, I thought "Oh, yeah, that works". But I'd already long thought of them as the personification of Chaos vs Order. The reason they were created, to show how to forgive and make compromises instead of trying to win, ties in with that quite nicely.
    posted by harriet vane at 6:30 PM on May 9, 2009


    Here, let me balls on the line.

    My reaction to this performance is solidly "meh." I can't say I found it particularly amusing. Little bits of genius were in there, for sure. But overall, it didn't do it for me.

    Which I should think reveals a ton of shit about the way I perceive racial stereotypes, homosexual stereotypes, bully stereotypes, military stereotypes, absurdist humour, prankfalls, and Improv Theatre hijinks.

    It's interesting. I think I can understand how some of that was considered hiliarious back in the day. I think many of the same things are used as "props" in edgy humour today. I have at times been outright offended by some of the comedy I've watched and yet at the same time, found it hilarious. Shock comedy.

    In this video, it doesn't work for me. Maybe the difference is that in this day and age, the concepts and stereotypes used in this Martin Lewis sketch woud have lasted less than five seconds on the screen before we moved to the next joke. Badum-bing bum, ha-ha, next joke. Lewis just drrrrraaaaaggggsssss it out. Ugh.
    posted by five fresh fish at 7:52 PM on May 9, 2009


    c/me/me put my/
    posted by five fresh fish at 7:52 PM on May 9, 2009


    The Lewis stereotyping Asian Torturer sketch pushes my buttons. 'cause the stereotyping and dunderheadedness of it really is offensive if you give it the least thought.

    I like a lot of the commercial edgy sketch comedy, Southpark and early Family Guy and so on. I understand why some people dislike (and some people strongly dislike) comedy in the style of these modern envelope-pushing commercial productions. I don't really understand why some people would like that style of humour enough to put up with it for long minutes on end. It gets old, fast, in my opinion.

    I don't know if this makes me more or less racist than my grandparents. I'm pretty sure they were pretty racist bastards in the end: it was endemic to society. The 1950s were pure racist suck. Yet that same kernel of comedic value that made them laugh then (but for far too long) is the same one that makes me laugh when a modern cartoon shocks me into a laugh.

    It is ugly humour. Is there a line? Where is it crossed?

    Or maybe it's a plate of beans.
    posted by five fresh fish at 8:19 PM on May 9, 2009


    Ain't that a kick in the head?

    Greatest karaoke song ever.
    posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:31 PM on May 9, 2009


    Funny.

    Plate of beans, I've decided. It's just that I can't stand Lewis for more than a couple minutes. There's way less of him in this one.
    posted by five fresh fish at 8:35 PM on May 9, 2009


    I'm glad I work with a bunch of bunch straight guys I can give a rousing hug once in a while.


    Working with a bunch of huge dorks may help.
    posted by The Whelk at 8:44 PM on May 9, 2009


    With Joan Davis! OMG. It is the funny.
    posted by five fresh fish at 8:56 PM on May 9, 2009


    Very interesting thread indeed. sonascope and Astro Zombie: I don't know that I agree with all that you are saying here, but you express what you have to say so well, and bring so much food for thought to the table, that I have to step back and say simply, "Wow." Thank you.
    posted by blucevalo at 9:39 PM on May 9, 2009


    Or you could give us the Cole's Notes version, saving us a week of reading. I don't think this thread will be alive long enough for all of us to get around to doing as you suggest and then discussing what we learned.

    Oh. It's a history of gay (or "gay") characters and imagery in the movies, from the dawn of movies to, oh, about 1980 in the first edition, about 1987 in the second (though actually I don't think the second edition's addition chapter is nearly as insightful or thematically coherent -- it was the beginning of a transitional period -- so I don't recommend it as much). There isn't much else to summarize -- if you want to read the touchstone book about depictions of gays in the movies, there it is. If you don't care enough to read a book on it, then don't. It's well written and I think it's only about 200 pages, so a pretty swift read. I was just throwing it out there as a "oh, this is totally a book you might want to read if you want to read more about it from someone whose career involved thinking about this", but not really saying "you must shut up and read this before you dare say any more" or anything like that. And it's been over a decade since I read it last, so I don't remember exactly what it says about Lewis, and my copy is a few thousand miles away, etc.
    posted by Casuistry at 9:44 PM on May 9, 2009


    Well, the truth is, Jerry Lewis desperately loved Dean Martin...

    "You can talk about love all you want, but to me you are nothing but a fucking dollar sign."
    -- Dean Martin (Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams)
    posted by mazola at 9:58 PM on May 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Cool. Thax, Casuistry, I'll put that on my library list.
    posted by five fresh fish at 8:48 AM on May 10, 2009


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