As a teen, Jerry Lewis fought anti-Semitism with his fists

By Nate Bloom

On Jerry Lewis

JERRY LEWIS, age 91, died Sunday, Aug. 20. Here are a few “Jewish Jerry things” not in the many obits found online or elsewhere.  

A 1982 Washington Post profile and interview says: “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 [punch him],” 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!” 

 In the office, the principal first called Lewis a wiseguy. Then the principal said, “Why is it only the Jews?” That remark prompted the punch. In Lewis’s words: 

“Pow! 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 schmuck. 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  singer Patti Palmer, then 23, who was Catholic. Lewis biographer SHAWN LEVY, 56, wrote that Palmer (born Esther Calonico) made some gestures toward converting to Judaism when they got engaged, and the couple was wed by a rabbi n 1945 (when she was six months pregnant).  However, by 1952, Palmer had returned to her Catholic faith and eventually their six sons were confirmed in the church. She sought the comfort of Catholicism in response to Lewis’ increasing emotional distance, some verbal abuse and his many extramarital affairs. 

In 1982, Palmer consented to a divorce because it was clear that Lewis, then 56, was set on marrying SANDEE PITNICK, 31, a dancer he met in Las Vegas. The couple had a traditional Jewish wedding in 1983 and, after two miscarriages, adopted a daughter in 1992 whom 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. 

Streamin’, a movie, and the Brooks family

 The first season of “Disjointed” premiered on Netflix last Friday, Aug. 25. Basic plot: After decades of advocating for  the legal use of marijuana, Ruth Whitefeather Feldman (Kathy Bates) employs her newly graduated son and a team of young “bud tenders” 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.  

Advance reviews are mixed. 

“Leap!” — an animated film set in the late 19th century — opened Aug. 25. Félicie (voice of Elle Fanning) leaves an orphanage for Paris hoping to become a dancer. She’s joined by her best friend, Victor (NAT WOLFF, 22), an orphan who wants to be a famous inventor. Félicie has to pretend to come from a rich family to get into a top ballet school. She’s helped by a mysterious mentor. MEL BROOKS, 91, voices the head of the orphanage.  

On Aug. 15, TERRY GROSS, 66, the host of the NPR program “Fresh Air,” interviewed MAX BROOKS, Mel’s son. Max, 45, is most famous as the author of “The Zombie Survival Guide” and “World War Z.”  His new novel, “Minecraft: The Island,” revolves around a nameless person who wakes up in the world of the popular video game “Minecraft” and must learn how to survive there. 

Max and his wife, playwright MICHELLE KHOLOS, 49, have one child, HENRY BROOKS, now 11. He was born two months before the death of Anne Bancroft, Max’s mother and Mel’s wife of 31 years. 

Max related how his son’s birth “saved Mel” because he would come over every night to hold the baby and fall asleep with Henry in his lap. Max says that Mel still visits every day, to Henry’s delight. 

“They love each other,” Max said. “And my son is irreverent just like my father. And now my father has this protégé. So when my son was pretending to be FDR in his notable Americans class, he goes, hey, Dad, can I do FDR, a polio comedy? And I said, ‘No, no, you can’t do that.’ ”