Inside Jerry Lewis and also Dean Martin’s jaw-dropping televised reunion, 40 year after America watched it happen.

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Jerry Lewis hates surprises—and top top September 5, 1976, the best one the his climate more-than-30-year job was wait in the wing at ras Vegas’s Sahara Hotel. Lewis’s annual M.D.A. Telethon, constantly an event, was, top top this night, currently the tantamount of a “Very one-of-a-kind Episode”: candid Sinatra to be performing live instead of remote for the very first time because 1953.

Frank walk his set and presented Jerry v a pair of donations, consisting of one because that $5,000 on instead of of his grandchildren. “Listen,” the told Jerry, “I have a friend who loves what you execute every year, and who just wanted come come out. Could you send my friend out, please?”

At the exact same time in brand-new York, Dean Martin’s six-year-old nephew heard his mommy scream. “What’s the matter, Mom?” he asked. Pointing at the TV screen, she said, “It’s her grandfather.”


Deana Martin had actually been the town hall the telethon, a family tradition that withstood even ~ the breakup two decades earlier the America’s many successful comedy team, Martin and Lewis. “Uncle Frank’s” friend was in the shadows when he very first emerged; Deana couldn’t view his face. “I knew his walk,” she told Vanity Fair in a phone call interview. “I gained chills. My jaw dropped. I referred to as my sister. She said, ‘I can’t believe this.’”


But over there they were, Dean Martin and also Jerry Lewis, re-united, embracing, and also joking onstage because that the very first time in 20 years, favor it was old times. “Here they are, folks,” beamed Sinatra, mic in his right hand, his left eight draped on jerry shoulder. The was standing ovation lasted much more than a minute.


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In john Ford’s standard The guy Who shoot Liberty Valance, a newspaperman ultimately defines to Jimmy Stewart, “This is the West, sir; when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” Well, this is Vegas, baby, and also the facts are legend.


Martin, the suave crooner, and Lewis, the frantic tummler, an initial teamed up in 1946. Follow to Lewis’s memoir, Dean and Me: A Love Story, once they met, Lewis—nine years Martin’s junior—brashly inquiry his future partner, “You workin’?”


They had actually a phenomenal 10-year run. They to be boffo top top radio, television, and also in movies and nightclubs. However an insurmountable abyss gradually grew between them—and top top July 24, 1956, 10 year to the day of their very first appearance as a team, they gave their critical nightclub power at new York’s famous Copacabana (the hottest spot . . . Well, girlfriend know).

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Dean’s surprise appearance in ~ the telethon recorded Jerry completely off guard. “You son of a bitch,” he deserve to be heard saying, sotto voce, to Frank in the clip, prior to joking, “Shoulda been a Jew the did it.” and also then candid bows out, and it’s just Jerry and also Dean. “So, exactly how ya been?” Jerry begins. “You know, the seems choose we haven’t seen each various other for 20 years,” martin replies. Lewis’s response: “Well, girlfriend know, over there was every those rumors about our breaking up—and then once I started the show and you weren’t here, I thought it.”


Gary Lewis, jerry son, and the front male of the 1960s A.M.-radio hitmakers Gary Lewis and the Playboys, recalls questioning his dad what he was thinking once Dean came out onstage. “He said me his mind was going a million miles an hour,” he claimed in a call interview. Lewis request himself, “How am i going to take care of this? Am ns going to joke v him? Am i going to talk normal?”

What Jerry eventually came up v was a pitch-perfect in-joke, a touching callback come their an initial meeting. Come his previous partner, he asked, “So, friend workin’?”

“They loved every other,” Deana boy name said. “There to be something amazing about Dad. He was nice and sweet and kind come everyone, and also he would certainly let points go. But when he had it up to here, he’d had it approximately here. There was no fight or any type of yelling. He would just be done.”

And so it was as much as Frank Sinatra to phase a reconciliation. “He’s the only human who could have accomplished something prefer that,” declared Mark Rozzano, Jerry Lewis’s manager, in a call interview. Nobody in the Sinatra or Martin households was aware of his plan. “ was together surprised as everybody else,” Nancy Sinatra said in an e-mail. “My dad yes, really knew how to store a secret.”

Deana, who has performed on the telethon, uncovered out years later on from telethon co-host Ed McMahon the Frank had secreted Dean into Ed’s dressing room. She imagines a scene the end of Goodfellas, à la Henry Hill start the Copa v the kitchen: “I’m certain Dad remained in his tuxedo. They picked him up, take it him up v the earlier way, underneath v parking lots—all those exciting, not-so-glamorous ways to acquire into a showroom.”


Adding to the intrigue, Gary, then age 30, and likewise in the dark about the unavoidable reunion, to be at the telethon the night help his father, gaining him sodas, pass him manufacturing papers. On one such errand, he i found it a dressing room door ajar, and also spotted Dean. “I thought, ‘what the heck is going on?,’ . . . However I no say something to mine dad just to be safe,” that said. “He always told me he no surprises, so ns wasn’t going to provide him this one.”

Why walk Frank execute it? manager Peter Bogdanovich remained in Vegas on that night, an invited guest (along through Cybill Shepherd) of Sinatra’s to see him execute at caesars Palace. Bogdanovich, who had profiled Lewis in 1962 for Esquire magazine, to be “amazed” and also “touched” through the reunion, i beg your pardon he and also Shepherd had watched on television in their hotel suite. “After Frank’s present ns told him, ‘That was rather a moment,’” Bogdanovich recalled in a phone call interview, “and he stated the exact same thing come me that he said on the air, the he thought it was about time.”

Anything beyond this is speculation, says James Kaplan, author of Frank: The Chairman, the 2nd volume in his definitive biography the Sinatra. Kaplan additionally collaborated with Lewis ~ above Dean and Me.