As legendary comedy duos go, few are celebrated in higher esteem than Martin and Lewis. The team, comprised of the zany Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin as the straight man, got a big push in 1946 after producer Hal Wallis saw them perform at the Copacabana and at Slapsie Maxie’s in Hollywood, according to Variety.
“He saw the potential for a new Bob Hope and Bing Crosby and signed them to a Paramount Pictures contract.”
The duo spent a full decade performing together, including appearances in 17 feature films. Over the course of these performances, Lewis garnered increasingly more attention than Martin. Outside pressures led to a strained working relationship and eventual split in 1976.
“We were finally divided by outside factions. Someone said to Dean, ‘You don’t need him. Why don’t you just sing and do films yourself.’ And I was getting poisoned as well. ‘What do you need him for?’ … I hated him for allowing the split to happen. He hated me for allowing the split to happen.”
Both Lewis and Martin went on to successful solo careers and made occasional public appearances together for five years after their split but were not seen in each other’s company after 1961.
Fifteen years later, mutual friend and showbiz legend Frank Sinatra set things in motion as part of his appearance at the 1976 Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon.
“Listen,” Sinatra told Lewis, “I have a friend who loves what you do every year and who just wanted to come out. Will you send my friend out please?”
The audience on-hand cheered raucously when Lewis’s long-time partner stepped out from backstage and then Martin and Lewis shared a hug as part of an emotional reconciliation.
“I think it’s about time, don’t you?” Sinatra asked, after jokingly breaking up the duo’s reunion.
The reunion has gone down in television history as one of the greatest moments from the Muscular Dystrophy telethon.