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Lewis & Martin’s 50’s Love Makes Today’s Bromance Look Like Bromide


This month’s Outfeatures a column by yours truly, called ‘In Defense of Jerry Lewis‘, explaining how my childhood love for early Lewis made me the man I am today — and why his anarchic comedy partnership with Dean Martin in the ‘repressed’ 1950s was a kind of queer punk rock before even rock and roll had been invented:

‘Their heads were so close together in those tiny ’50s cathode-ray tubes — gazing into each other’s eyes, rubbing noses, occasionally stealing kisses or licking each other’s neck to shrieks of scandalized pleasure from the audience. They were a prime-time study in same-sex love. And they were adored for it — literally chased down the street by crowds of screaming women and not a few men…’.      (‘In Defense of Jerry Lewis’)

Though these clips below probably explain it all rather better.

They also show how compared to Martin and Lewis, today’s much vaunted ‘bromance’ comedies are more akin to bromide. Lesbian bed death without the honeymoon. Instead of going out of their way to purge their stage romance of any hint of passion or anything physical in the way that annoyingly self-conscious, college-educated 21st Century buddy comedies do (the word ‘bromance’ itself suggests that any hint of erotics would be akin to incest), Martin and Lewis’ blue-collar, mid-century love-affair constantly injects it. Flags it up. And slaps your face with it. Theirs is literally a much more ticklish affair. And a shitload funnier for it.

What’s more, it looks very convincing.

(Oh, and yes, it may be that I still feel fond of Jerry Lewis because his telethons never made it to the UK….)

An exploision of D&J kisses in this cheeky and charming clip painstaking compiled by a YouTube fan.

‘It’s physical attraction.’

The noise made by the audience when Dean falls on top of Jerry in the bath wouldn’t be heard again until Elvis shook his pelvis.

Jerry gets some big pricks in the Navy and then sprays everywhere.

Dean and Jerry join the Army as paratroopers. Watch Dean’s eyes during the blanket scene.

‘I was loinesome.’

Spot a (very tiny-looking) James Dean giving a boxer a rub-down while scoping the competition.

A slightly fictionlised account of how our boys met, complete with closet clinch climax.

Never been kissed… Yeah, right.

Special thanks to the Canadian playwright Elise Moore and Hannah for re-kindling my unhealthy Lewisian love-affair, offering insightful observation – and sending me some really great YouTube Martin & Lewis love.

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26 thoughts on “Lewis & Martin’s 50’s Love Makes Today’s Bromance Look Like Bromide”

  1. Personally to me the chemistry that they showed on screen was NO big brother/fatherly love it was greater then that, it was the “romantically” type that in some cases it screamed s*xual tension!!! See for your self by reading the book “Dean and me: a Love Story” which was written by Jerry Lewis, watch a bunch of clips on you tube (just watch their body language) and…. read this file that the FBI released a few years ago…
    I also don’t seem to see what the big deal was if they were gay and as the old saying goes one does not truly choose who they fall in love with. Oh by the way seance they slept and were attracted to women that would make them BIS*XUAL!!!!

  2. Paul, it’s funny. Lighten-up!

    T’was a time when one of a gay man’s most endearing traits was his ability to laugh at himself. Self-irony seems to have been banished as soon as ‘Out’ started publishing banns.

    I suppose you don’t like Elmer Fudd because the character makes fun of speech impediments.

    Scwewy wabbit!

  3. Couple of points. We’ve talked at some length about how confining (suffocating?) ‘gay’ can be. You could get away with a lot more in that pre-Stonewall period, because it wasn’t ‘so gay’. Martin and Lewis came out right on the heals of ‘Sex and the American Male’ so it wasn’t as if their audience was completely benighted. They’re working-class so the rules of polite society don’t apply. Their relation calls to mind he condign homosexual relationships between late 19th and early 20th century working-class blokes before they saved up enough to marry a bird. I think you wrote a piece about that at one point.

    Staying on point: I just remembered Doris’ 1964 (or 5 BS) comedy ‘The Glass-Bottom Boat’, directed by Frank Tashlin, who also directed the Martin-Lewis movies (as well as several Bugs Bunny cartoons). Co-starring Paul Lynde and Dom Deluise. At the end i seem to recall one of them ending up in bed with a general — amore! Need to re-watch.

    Bugs — now there was a first-class queen: ‘my stars, look at those nails!’

  4. Oh my, what lovely articles. Yes, it seems to me that those ppl who claim Jerry and Milton and Bob to be homophobic are missing the entire point, and clearly havent seen any of those old movies 😛 Cuz omg, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby were totally on screen bfs too, and they, like Dean and Jerry, sadly broke up as well…

    Ravynne, who found this article and shared it with me, actually is the one who shared Dean and Jerry with me a couple years ago, before which I had barely even heard of them. Following that introduction we studied them religiously for four months straight, hardly doing anything else.

    Dean and Jerry’s love still continues to hold our interest, the boys are very dear. Thank you for writing these articles, it’s great to see that awareness is picking up about these two. And for using my mv ^-^ It made our Halloween.

  5. Well, he did have the balls, George. Which of course then brings into doubt the rest of your logical, well reasoned and rigourously supported claims….

  6. You will not have the balls to print this but we all know that MS is a messed up bigot reeking of self loathing. A birdbrain sellout and fraud.

  7. But what if one suffers from the sickness of being aroused by the wholesomeness of LGBTQ normality?

    I read AfterElton every day and get a ripe ol’ hardon for their homo-sanctity.

  8. Shame on you! You have no self-respect! You’re giving us all a bad name! You should be watching Milk instead. No chance of being aroused by that wholesome movie….

  9. Can I state for the record that I am having quite satisfying sexual fantasies about the young Jerry Lewis in these clips…. and I am ashamed that I could be attracted to a male who is so clearly homophobic as to lick another man, kiss him, be serenaded by him, to fall into bed with him, or to drag him into a bath.

  10. Sarah, YOU need to check your facts before writing. I am not going to go into a detail that space does not allow to educate you but Milton Berle sued when anyone said he was gay and Bob Hope had to be taken to task many times by gay groups for his vicious ¨Fag¨jokes. Not that it would matter to you. Love the homophobe not the victims seems to be the motto here. You can live in the 1950´s with your idols of clay. Excuse any mistakes as I am writing from a keyboard in Nicaragua not geared to English.

  11. I agree- Jerry is so post-gender- so great- really a genius IQ also. Think about Don Rickles- just politically incorrect but no one is bothered by it-the same with Jerry -that stuff is just made up by the press!

    If you ever get a chance- check out a Colgate Comedy show that was cut from the movie You’re never too young. Jerry is a handsome insanely French barber and Dean his unwilling customer- they sing Relax-a-voo-and madness ensues. Check out all their singing/dancing youtube ideos-you will love them! True talent!

  12. Wow, I can’t believe these post…I don’t know where some of you get your facts, but Milton
    Berle was in an episode of Roseanne in the 90’s where two men got married, seriously, how can
    you be homophobic? And as for Bob Hope, he was best friends with The Village People, and stood
    up for them when the navy banned their song “In the Navy” when they found out they were gay,
    hmmm, does that really sound homophobic? And Jerry? Yeah, right, he was best friends
    with Sammy Davis Jr. who was Bisexual…so,yeah…Anyways, this is a great article Mark,
    I really don’t know what the problem is with these comments. And My friend Magpie made
    that wonderful first video, “Oh, Boy”!

  13. Well, Mark. It tis Mark, eh? Guess there are two types: those who support gay rights/equality/liberation and those who love those who oppose it and make excuses for them. It seems much of your venom in your writings aims at the former. That really speaks loud and clear. It has nothing at all to do with butch/fem or any other issues.

  14. A course in Gay Rights? Perhaps, Paul, you could educate me – this is the Gay Movement (TM) which says that monogamy and marriage is good? That camp and any behaviour that is not “straight acting” / heterosexual mimicry is bad? That gay and lesbian society has now “matured” from our turbulent adolescence, and thus drag queens and gender transgressives and sluts and ho’s and anyone who dare be “different” dare not attend a Pride March for fear of giving the Gay Community (TM) a Bad Name?

    Have we become so humourless that we can’t look at these Lewis and Martin clips and see them in anything but the strict, positive-promoting orthodoxy that passes for gay culture these days? Or is it that in claiming Lewis as queer, and given the current standing that Lewis has in the Gay and Lesbian Community, Mark Simpson has betrayed us all? Is it the message or the messenger?

    So because Lewis was caught saying one comment to one person, he is a homophobe from now and forever? No recognising him as being raised in a society that had a different view of same-sex attracted people, no thought to the context of the comment? Meanwhile, people who are gay and who have been closeted since the 50s can come out today and be automatically accepted (with open arms) by the Gay Community as role models?

    At least Jerry Lewis (a heterosexual) was being different, was pushing boundaries whilst many others (homosexual) were hiding in the closet and mimicing their straight friends. Give me Jerry any day – both transgressively queer and funny.

  15. Nice work, Mark. Whether one views Lewis as an Enemy Homophobe or a misunderstood, elder states-punk of American comedy (guess which camp I’m in), to ignore his early career with Martin is to ignore a huge part of the history of comedy and pop culture sexuality in the US.

    tzikeh, I love your Fosse-spotting.
    Fosse and Mary Ann Niles were on the Colgate Comedy Hour with Martin and Lewis in 1951- check it out:

    The moves Fosse does around the neighborhood of 3:15-3:20 clearly made an impression on Lewis…
    He starts imitating them at around :09 in this clip which I believe is from later in the same season (although I’m not sure.)

    In the first clip, Lewis does a neat bit of work presenting himself and Martin as a couple who go to see shows together all the time. (Or perhaps not all the time. As some of the busiest people in show business at the time, they probably had to schedule a weekly date night or something.)

  16. Lewis is a homophobe and not because of his acting here. Heterosexual males playing their perception of Gay on 1950’s US telly (such as Milton Berle and Bob Hope) were anti-Gay in real life and were ridiculing homosexuals on TV. It was thought to be hilarious that a man would hug another. A “fag joke” and not funny. It is pathetic that posters like Sisu need a course in Gay Rights to understand why we do not want to promote homophobes. And really pathetic that Mark Simpson is so dazed by pop culture (1950’s yet!) that he holds a “fag joke” to be the model for Gay relationships. Laugh at Lewis and Marin if you have nothing else to tickle you but they are no models for me.

  17. While probably not as instantly recognizable as James Dean, Bob Fosse is the second “goil” from the left (“Audrey”) in “Never Been Kissed.” It took me a moment to be 100% certain, but on that first close-up (“the boys always whistle when she passes by”), Fosse’s unmistakable face is just over Lewis’s left shoulder. More telling is when the quartet do their splay-kneed, jazz-hands, head-snap reaction to “Whaaaat? Yes!” Though he may not have been “Bob Fosse” at that point, he clearly choreographed the number.

  18. Homophobia? It’s PHYSICAL comedy. It’s silly, it made me smile, and would be funny no matter which genders were participating. Jeez.

  19. Can I be a homophobe too?

    I like the way that a person can be automatically discounted as worthless should they dare to cross the Community in any way, shape or form. Whether it be poor vacuous Miss California or Jerry Lewis, they are clearly Not a Friend to the Gay Community and thus have passed up any excuse to be a human being. Or even to be a subject of one of Mark’s columns.

    Anyhoo, the article, Babs, is not on whether Jerry Lewis is homophobic, homophilic or homo-overit, but on whether his partnership with Dean Martin pushed any “boundaries” (of decency? of good taste? of 50’s repressed gender roles? of queerdom?) – especially in light of today’s bromances which push nothing in particular.

    But sign me up for being self-hating and homophobic – I giggled over many of the clips.

  20. Who wouldn’t be a homophobe after all that cavorting? I mean if those clips were sex acts – he’d be a one-man bath-house….

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