Atlantis Alumni

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Jerry Lewis - Class Act

In his memoir "Dean And Me (A Love Story)" about his career with one time show business partner Dean Martin, comic and humanitarian Jerry Lewis writes about meeting Martin's "Rat Pack" crony Frank Sinatra one day. Sinatra, who Lewis considered a buddy, asked Lewis "Hey Jew, how's it going?" - or something to that effect. Lewis writes sentimentally: "Jew. He always called me that." "Jew" was sort of a term of endearment that Sinatra used with Lewis, a term that Lewis didn't seem to mind. When I read this I wondered how I would feel if somebody I liked or respected called me by the name "Fag." "Hey Fag, how's it going?" I think I would have to have a serious talk with anyone who chose to address me in that manner, even playfully. I wonder if Sinatra had a pet name for Sammy Davis? The "Rat Pack" 1960s rough and tumble bad boy fraternity mentality was responsible for the "Jew" moniker that Sinatra used with Lewis, and that's probably why Jerry didn't take it as an insult.

Fast forward to last weekend and the annual Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy telethon. The 81 year old Lewis, clowning around in hour 18 of the marathon TV fund raiser, made a joke using the word "fag," or "faggot," (the video is a little garbled.) He caught himself immediately, and said "No, No," but the damage was done and he probably knew it immediately. As you can imagine, the clip made it to the internet within hours, and gay rights groups including GLAAD demanded an apology. With a lot of entertainers or politicians, you might have expected either that they would ignore criticism of such a gaff, or to try to explain it away somehow. However, Lewis issued the following statement the day after:

"I obviously made a bad choice of words. Everyone who knows me understands
that I hold no prejudices in this regard. The success of the (telethon) and all
the good that will come from it shouldn't be lost because of one unfortunate
word. I accept responsibility for what I said. There are no excuses. I am

Isn't it refreshing to see someone simply acknowledge that they made a mistake and issue an unconditional apology? I think it is.

The clip is one of my favorite vignettes from one of Lewis's movies, "The Errand Boy." I'm glad I can still enjoy it knowing that Mr. Lewis is a man of integrity, big enough to admit a mistake and apologize.


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