DEAN & ME (A LOVE STORY) is a no-holds-barred, painfully honest look at one of the most successful partnerships in the history of show business: Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Dean Martin was a street-wise young Italian from milltown Steubenville, Ohio. Jerry Lewis was a gangly teenager from Newark, New Jersey when they met. Both were struggling to make themselves known; Jerry as a lip-synching comic and Dean as a singer. Who knew then that their unlikely pairing in July 1946 would take the entertainment world by storm?
Dean and Jerry played off each other. Dean was the straight man for Jerry's brash and goofy antics. The two men rarely rehearsed --- they simply didn't need to. They had a sense of timing and a chemistry that their audiences saw and loved. In no time at all they went from playing to a handful of people in rather nondescript clubs in Atlantic City to the big time. Jerry always opened the act and warmed up the crowd with his jokes. Then Dean came onstage and sang a few songs. The rest of their act usually consisted of hijinks, singing, dancing and mayhem.
Soon they were playing to packed audiences in famous nightclubs. If anything, their rise to fame was meteoric. Dean and Jerry made a series of comedic films and did radio and television spots. Their favorite venue was always nightclubs. People loved their fresh, somewhat wacky humor interspersed with a few romantic ballads sung by Dean.
Along with fame came money. Lots of money. More money than they knew what to do with at first, though they quickly learned to enjoy the good life. Jerry handled the business end of things, and Dean was happy with that arrangement; it left him time to play golf. Their celebrity status opened many doors for them and gave them connections to such luminaries as Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. Because of their work in nightclubs, they also became acquainted with a few Mob members. Dean loved to gamble and occasionally Jerry had to extricate his partner from rather sticky situations.
Fame and fortune often have a downside, and Dean and Jerry had their share of difficulties. Dean's marriage ended in divorce. Jerry always got much better press than Dean did. The press credited Jerry as the brains behind the act, and Dean was considered "the pretty boy and lightweight." Both men had big egos. Dean became jealous of Jerry and tension built up between the two. Jerry thought of Dean as his big brother and was crushed when Dean became distant with him. Before long the press got wind of the partners' tension, which grew daily.
Eventually Jerry insisted upon dissolving the partnership, no easy task since the men had legal contracts and years' worth of obligations. Many folks besides Dean and Jerry had a huge financial stake in the partnership, and ending it was very difficult. The last Martin and Lewis performance was on July 24, 1956 at the Copacabana. They had come a long way from their first appearance in Atlantic City exactly ten years previously to the day.
Both men forged successful careers on their own. Dean had several hit songs and appeared in movies and on television. Along with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and others, he performed regularly in a group called the Rat Pack. Jerry became a very popular director-comedian, especially in Europe. He created and starred in several comedies, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his tireless fundraising work for neuromuscular diseases.
Jerry's book details all the years that he and Dean knew each other --- not just their ten-year partnership. There was a twenty-year period when the men did not speak, and there times when they acknowledged each other's presence. Jerry writes about their eventual reconciliation. There probably never was in the history of show business a partnership as unique as that of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.
Reviewed by Carole Turner on December 29, 2010