This Thursday, early in the AM, Cinemax is running a rarely-seen Jerry Lewis movie called Don't Give Up The Ship which holds a
great many memories for me. Please forgive the rambling nature of what follows and the fact that my recollections of the film itself are a bit fuzzy,
but there's a fine reason for that. The last time I saw it, I was seven years old.
I think it was the first movie I ever saw, at least in a theater. My parents took me to the Paradise, which was located on Sepulveda
Boulevard less than a half-mile north of Los Angeles International Airport. This would have been in 1959. The second time I set foot in that theater
was in 1974 to see the animated Disney Robin Hood. A week later, the Paradise closed down "temporarily," never to reopen. The structure is
still there but it was refashioned into the Paradise Office Building a few years later. Soon after, the other movie theater in that area — the
Loyola — was turned into the Loyola Office Building, though they left its free-standing box office out front, almost to taunt us as we drove to
But back to Don't Give Up The Ship and what I recall of it: The Paradise had a "crying room" — a little private booth in
the back where the parents of bawling babies could sit and watch the films with their noisy offspring and not disturb others. There were no crying
kids in the place that afternoon — not even me — so my parents sat us in there. That was in case I didn't behave (I did) and so that they
could explain things to me, if necessary. It wasn't necessary. I enjoyed the film, and I recall laughing myself silly at one scene where Jerry played
a baby taking a bath and someone stuffed a sponge in his mouth. The storyline — and again, this is from memory and going back 44 years —
had Jerry as some sort of Navy official who was in trouble with highers-up because he had misplaced a battleship. He scurried around for the whole
movie trying to find it until it turned out that one of those highers-up had ordered the ship used for target practice. Throughout the film, my
father kept going out and returning with popcorn, sodas and ice cream bon-bons.
That's about all I recall, but that isn't bad for 44 years ago. There was another movie on the bill but I was too restless at that age
to sit through two, plus I was full of bon-bons, so we left after the one. A few days later, my father bought me the Dell comic book adaptation of
Don't Give Up The Ship. That may be part of the reason I remember the plot. The comic was a lovely souvenir, expertly drawn by a superb artist
named Dan Spiegle. Thirteen years later, I would begin a long, pleasurable association with Mr. Spiegle, writing comics for him to draw.
At age seven, I was often taken to the pediatrician for shots and to treat a wide array of stomach aches. My pediatrician was a lovely
man named Dr. Arthur Grossman who kept getting written up in local newspapers because he was also an accomplished musician, and because his medical
practice welcomed a lot of stars' kids. About three weeks after I saw my first movie — or at least, my first Jerry Lewis movie — I was
sitting in his waiting room talking with a kid around my age who was clearly sick with something. I happened to mention that I had
recently seen the movie, Don't Give Up The Ship, and the kid — like it was the most natural thing in the world, said, "Oh, yeah, my dad did
that one." Just as I was wondering if I should believe him, Jerry Lewis walked into the office. Thinking it would please him, I quickly told Jerry
that I had just seen his new movie. Jerry's reply was along the lines of, "Who the hell cares?" and "Leave me alone." For some reason, this did not
bother me or cause me to stop going to Jerry Lewis movies. I guess I just figured I had said the wrong thing and that Mr. Lewis was grumpy because
his kid was sick.
Twenty-three years later, I was writing a TV show on which Jerry Lewis was guesting. Attempting to strike up the kind of immediate
friendship you need in such situations, I told him how much I'd enjoyed many of his movies. He asked me which ones I'd liked. I mentioned The
Bellboy, which pleased him since I hadn't said The Nutty Professor. Apparently, though the latter was the one he thought was best, it was
also the one that people who didn't know much about his career always named. The show's producer, Marty Krofft, was listening to all this and, trying
to get Jerry to show a smidgen of confidence in our writing staff, said, "Mark here knows every microscopic detail of your life and career" — a
slight exaggeration. I instantly found myself challenged to tell Jerry something unbelievably obscure about himself. Racking my brain, I told him
he'd taken his kids to a pediatrician named Dr. Arthur Grossman who had offices on Wilshire Boulevard, just east of Robertson.
Mr. Lewis did a double-take greater than anything he ever did in front of a camera and you could tell he was very impressed. He asked
me how the hell I knew that, and I told him about meeting Gary in the waiting room. But since I never know when to shut up, I went on to tell Jerry
the story of him being rude to me, which led to him apologizing profusely. I apologized back for mentioning it and told him how much I'd enjoyed
Don't Give Up The Ship. To prove this, I explained that I remembered its basic plot even though I hadn't seen it in (then) twenty-three years,
and I gave the summary that I gave above. Jerry grinned and said, "That's about how long it's been since I've seen it...and you remember more about
that movie than I do."
I've set my TiVo to record the movie on Thursday. If anyone reading this is in touch with Jerry, please let him know it's on. I'm
curious as to whether either of us will like it now.