Celebrity Jews

Jerry Lewis, age 91, died on Sunday, Aug. 20. You can, of course, view detailed obituaries/tributes online or elsewhere. Here are a few “Jewish Jerry” things not in those bios.

A 1982 Washington Post profile and interview relates this story: “At the age of 15½, Joseph Levitch, 5 feet 8 inches tall, 115 pounds, was called to the office of the principal of his high school in Irvington, N.J., for disrupting a chemistry lab. In the office, he punched the principal in the mouth.

“‘I did,’” Lewis told the Post. “‘And was expelled for it. It wasn’t meant to be that violent, but it really did some damage. And it was wonderful!’”

Lewis related what led up to the punch. The principal called him a wise guy. Then the principal said: “‘Why is it only the Jews?’” At that, Lewis told the Post: “‘POW! [I hit him]. Mr. Herter was his name. Sweet Pea, we called him. If I’d been a white Aryan Protestant everything would have been OK. But I was the gutsiest little shmuck. I took on anybody. I was knocked on my a– more times than you had hair on your head. But I kept coming.’”

Lewis was only 17 in 1944 when he met Italian American Catholic singer Patti Palmer, then 23, at the Downtown Theater in Detroit. Palmer (born Esther Calonica) grew up in the Detroit area. She made some gestures toward converting to Judaism when they got engaged, and the couple were wed by a rabbi in 1945 (she was six months pregnant). However, a few years into the marriage, Jerry grew more distant, was often unfaithful and somewhat verbally abusive. All this led Patti to return to the comfort of her Catholic faith. Eventually all their children (six sons) came to identify as Catholics.

In 1982, Patti consented to a divorce because it was clear that Jerry, then 56, was set on marrying SanDee Pitnick, then 31, a dancer he met in Las Vegas. The couple had a traditional Jewish wedding in 1983 and following two miscarriages, adopted a daughter in 1992 who they named Danielle. Lewis has been quoted as saying, “I adore my daughter.” Last year, he tearfully told Inside Edition that the worst thing about dying would be leaving his wife and daughter.

If you don’t already subscribe to Amazon Prime, perhaps next month is the time to start enjoying your “trial” free month and stay with the service a bit longer. Amazon’s biggest hit, Transparent, featuring a Jewish family (and co-starring award-winning Jeffrey Tambor, 73), returns on Sept. 22 and the just-released trailer has the family traveling to Israel. Binge-watch the previous three seasons before the new season begins.

The first season of Disjointed premiered on Netflix on Aug. 25. Basic plot: After decades of advocating for legalized marijuana usage, Ruth Whitefeather Feldman (Kathy Bates) employs her newly graduated son and a team of young “budtenders” to help run her legal marijuana dispensary. The series was co-created by Chuck Lorre, 64 (The Big Bang Theory) and David Javerbaum, 46, former head writer of The Daily Show, starring Jon Stewart.


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