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Hey, Laydeeee!

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If you can get past the endless teases in and out of commercials, the E! True Hollywood Story shows are sometimes interesting. And sometimes not. The "nots" are when the subject is of little importance and/or access to the subject is from afar. The folks of little importance are generally selected because their stories have a lot of celebrity embarrassment and tragedy attached to them. The episodes about superstars are more watchable but often, neither the star nor anyone close to them agrees to participate, so you get a lot of commentary from witnesses whose connection to the subject is questionable.

Neither of these is the case with the E! True Hollywood Story of Jerry Lewis, which I TiVoed the other day and just watched. Jerry not only gave it his full cooperation but he sat for what obviously amounted to hours of interviews…to the point where, though there's the usual E! announcer doing play-by-play, you have Jer providing color commentary.

Some of the details presented of Jerry's career are skipped over. If there was a mention of the legendary The Day the Clown Cried, I missed it. Some accounts of key moments in Jerry's life were, to put it nicely, at odds with what others have said. I'm not saying he's wrong and they're right because certainly, Jerry's occasional lapses of public ego have almost invited others to come forth and spin his life as a negative, perhaps distorting the truth a bit. He also sometimes tells stories that are impossible to believe. One that he recounts in the documentary and has said on other occasions is that he knew his main career as a Hollywood filmmaker was over, and that he didn't even want it to continue, when one day he drove by a theater "in the Valley" (meaning Los Angeles). There on the marquee, he claims, he saw his latest movie — Which Way to the Front? — double-billed with Deep Throat.

I don't believe that pairing ever existed. First off, Which Way to the Front? was released in July of 1970 and Deep Throat didn't come out until 1972. The latter played exclusively for years at the Pussycat Theater on Santa Monica Boulevard which is not in the Valley and which did not even double-bill another sex film, let alone a Jerry Lewis movie, for something like ten years. I can't even imagine a theater anywhere throwing together a pairing of that sort; of a movie that could only be shown to horny adults and another that couldn't possibly interest that crowd. (By the way, as one of those parenthetical notes of trivia for which this site is justly famous, one of the main producers of Deep Throat was a man named Lou Perry. Many years earlier, when Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis first teamed up, Lou Perry was Dean's manager, and ever after claimed to have been responsible for pairing the two men, only to get cheated out of representation. He also, legend has it, got cheated out of the millions and millions of dollars that Deep Throat brought in.)

All of that aside, the E! documentary — which runs again on Thursday (4 AM), Sunday (5 AM) and next Monday the ninth (10 AM) — is a very rich portrait of Lewis and, because of his frequent comments, almost a video autobiography. The show is sparse on clips of actual Jerry Lewis movies. (Like most TV documentaries, they grab scenes from public domain trailers, rather than pay for footage.) And Jerry's godhood overseas and tireless work for Muscular Dystrophy are oversold, plus I'm not sure I wanted to know quite that much about Jerry's medical problems. Still, there's a lot of insight and info, plus they ran the clip of Dean Martin walking out onto the telethon in 1976 and apparently surprising the hell out of his former partner. That alone is worth sitting through the two hours. There's also a rerun of a different profile of Lewis next week on the Biography Channel but, if I'm remembering it correctly, it didn't have nearly the access or data that E! did.