Jerry Lewis 'Plays the Devil' As Gleeful Mischief-Maker
Mid-tour for 'Damn Yankees' and still loving it
As the revival of the 1955 Broadway musical ''Damn Yankees'' tours America during the next three years, you may head to the theater to see its star, Jerry Lewis. But he's determined to make you believe he's the ''devil,'' a.k.a. Mr. Applegate, from whom you can purchase a baseball win for the mere price of your soul.
It's not easy for a celebrity to shed his persona on stage, but the critics agree with Mr. Lewis that, in the case of his first Broadway role, the character is a natural fit. After all, Lewis exclaimed at a press conference before opening night in Boston, ''I've been playing the devil for 64 years!''
Lewis has made his mark not only as a comedian and actor, but as a director, filmmaker, producer, professor (sometimes nutty), and even a Nobel Peace Prize nominee. But ''you haven't got it yet,'' his father would say after each achievement. When he took his first bow for ''Damn Yankees,'' Lewis says he finally understood: Nothing compares to the thrill of performing on Broadway. He says of that night, ''I heard my father's voice saying, 'Now you've got it.' ''
But there's one other role Lewis has become known and loved for, one he wouldn't give up even for Broadway. Although it took some unprecedented negotiations, ''Damn Yankees'' will be suspended for a month each year in deference to Lewis's Labor Day telethon. He stays in touch with the staff, who ensure that this priority project ''is constantly nurtured.''
After touring the United States, ''Damn Yankees'' will widen its outfield with stops in London, Berlin, and Paris (French fans adored Lewis so much that movie theaters simply displayed the word ''JERRY'' on their marquees to draw people to his latest film). And the devil might just make them do Japan, Australia, and New Zealand as well.
Standing next to a promotional poster that pictures him sporting small curved horns and a mischievous grin, he explained why he's not concerned about getting worn out by the tour. ''At 8 o'clock every night, I feel like I'm nine years old.... I don't know how I could have cut it off after [the New York run].'' And eight performances a week is a breeze compared with the 56 club shows Lewis and his then-partner, the late Dean Martin, used to cram into the same time period. In fact, he'd be happy to do more shows, but one of his fellow cast members warns, ''Some of us need the rest.''
The other company on tour (an outlet for Lewis's extra energy) consists of his wife, SanDee, and their four-year-old daughter, Danielle Sara, who, after seeing the show, told him everything she liked about it but managed to leave him off the list. ''You're just Daddy,'' she explained.
Lewis also takes full advantage of the family atmosphere among the cast. ''The kids,'' as he calls them, come to him with their dreams, their problems. ''I have an open-door policy,'' he says.
''The secret to comedy,'' Lewis offers, ''is a man in trouble.'' Now that his lifelong dream of appearing on Broadway has been fulfilled, it appears Lewis will have to rely on his characters for that ingredient.