I was delighted when the special guest announcements began to roll in for TCM Classic Film Festival 2014. Each name made me think of movies I had loved. Kim Novak, Margaret O'Brien and Maureen O'Hara were all a part of many happy memories.
The announcement that Jerry Lewis was to be a guest of honor at the festival didn't have that effect on me. I remembered liking The Nutty Professor (1963) and cracking up at a couple of scenes from The Bellboy (1960), but other than that, I didn't know his work well. I didn't like what I'd seen well enough to go any further.
I know that Jerry Lewis is one of the most successful entertainers in the world though, and that and the TCM announcement were enough to inspire me to see more of his films. They had a weird effect on me. Parts of them were soul-cringingly bad, other times I'd be choking with laughter. Dick Cavett once said something to the effect that you enjoy Lewis in spite of yourself. You're sitting there thinking how corny and stupid it all is, and suddenly you're cracking up without fully realizing why.
My mixed feelings kept me working my way through Lewis' filmography. I've seen twenty of his movies so far. I have a lot to say about what I've seen, which I will share in a later post, but in watching Lewis onscreen my dominant thought has always been: what is the deal with those rings he wears?
No matter what character he played, it appears Jerry Lewis almost always wore two rings. One looks like a large gold wedding ring, which is weird, because he tended to play single characters:
The other is a pinky ring with an enormous sapphire, which can be seen in the photo at the top.
These rings almost never fit with Lewis' characters, who tend to be not only single, but not wealthy enough to afford such fancy jewelry. So you've got his Fella character in Cinderfella (1960), who has no money of his own, working like a dog for his stepmother and stepbrothers, but he's got the rings:
In Who's Minding the Store? (1963) he's struggling to make a living working at a department store, but there they are again:
I thought they were most bizarre on his Professor Julius Kelp character in The Nutty Professor. I can't picture this guy caring about jewelry:
However, they work perfectly when he becomes Buddy Love in the same movie, which is funny, because when I see Jerry Lewis in interviews, he sometimes reminds me a bit of this guy:
I'm not sure when the sapphire ring first showed up. But Lewis wore the wedding ring as early as The Stooge (1952), one of his first flicks with Dean Martin:
In fact, I don't know for sure why he had to wear either of those rings, regardless of the character he played. I can't think of any actor more determined to keep a personal piece of himself in every performance like that (He even wore them in his notoriously unavailable The Day the Clown Cried (1972), as can be seen in this footage).
I've found very little to explain the rings, though the wedding ring was acknowledged on this page and in this review of Lewis' memoir about his partnership with Dean Martin, the author claims Lewis said the pinky ring was just his way of flaunting his wealth. Is it really that simple?