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The history of Hollywood is filled with great comedy teams, some of whom loved each other dearly (Laurel & Hardy), others who seemed to genuinely despise each other (we’re talking to you, Abbott & Costello) and still others that began from a place of mutual admiration, grew to love one another and ultimately fell into acrimony. Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis — collectively known as Martin & Lewis — fall into that category.
Today when people think of their legacy, there are likely two things that come to mind: The fact that they reportedly went so many years without speaking to each other in any kind of meaningful way, and the 17 films they made together between 1949’s My Friend Irma and 1956’s Hollywood or Bust . But for Michael J. Hayde, author of the book Side by Side: Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis on TV and Radio , it was in those mediums that the comedy duo truly got the opportunity to shine and be their most creatively free, despite the fact that relatively few people are even aware of it.
“When I was a teenager, my mother used to tell me about seeing them on The Colgate Comedy Hour on TV,” Michael explains, “and from that I had a feeling that there was something unique there that the rest of us were never going to get to see. And that was certainly true for a number of years, but suddenly the videos came out and it was evident that my mother knew exactly what she was talking about.”
“They were a unique team, very spontaneous with a combination of slapstick and charm that was just amazing to me,” he continues. “And that’s why I decided to write about them on radio and television, because at the time the biographies of them, jointly or separately, pretty much paid lip service to that work, but didn’t spend a whole of time examining it in detail.”
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The other thing that surprised him — which maybe shouldn’t have — was the fact that their shows at different times essentially reflected their working relationship at particular periods. “The early shows are a lot of fun and it’s clear that they’re having a great deal of fun together,” he says. “Later, when their personal relationship began to fray, it shows up to the point that on the very last Colgate Comedy Hour that they did in November of 1955, it’s almost painful to watch, because the two are just not relating to each other at all and don’t even seem to like each other other very much.”