Comedian and entertainer Jerry Lewis brought audacious humor to the masses — as well as hope to those with muscular dystrophy. But away from the spotlight of celebrity, Lewis collected guns — lots of guns. Don’t believe that? Let’s rewind a bit first before checking out the Jerry Lewis gun collection.
Jerry Lewis was born Joseph Levitch on March 16, 1926, into a family of entertainers. He was only five years old when he was introduced to what was then known as New York’s Borscht Belt in the Catskill Mountains, which often featured vaudeville-type song-and-dance acts.
Lewis continued to hone his act through his teenage years, and in 1946, at the age of 19, he began to work with Dean Martin. Together, they developed a wildly popular comedy act. He was the incorrigible man-child, the monkey, to Martin’s suave sophisticate. The pair enjoyed a rocket ride to fame. During this period, Lewis said, “I get paid for what most kids get punished for.” He enjoyed “great success being a total idiot” while honing act.
When their partnership ended, Martin joined up with the Rat Pack as a lounge act featuring Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. while Lewis continued to act in and direct movies. Lewis also delved into screenwriting, directing and producing on top of acting. Jerry Lewis Productions took off.
Lewis became particularly popular in Europe, winning awards for best director eight times — three times in France, and then in Italy, Belgium, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands. The marquee on the Théâtre des Champs Elysées in Paris read simply “LEWIS” when his film Hardly Working opened there. French director Jean-Luc Godard called Lewis “the only American director who has made progressive films. He is much better than Chaplin and Keaton.”
Lewis was a worldwide phenomenon with a red, white and blue streak. On top of starring and directing in 1963’s The Nutty Professor, probably his best-known work, he also played Herbert H. Heebert in 1961’s The Ladies Man and James Langford in Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy alongside Robert De Niro and Sandra Bernhard in 1982. He has 72 acting credits alone.
Yet he was an accessible celebrity known for being friendly to the public and generally revered as a lovable goof. He became well known for hosting telethons to raise funds for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) from 1966 all the way until 2011. His mantra was linked to his belief in humanity: “I shall pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again!”
Somewhere between his dual personas in The Nutty Professor and his more pragmatic role in The King of Comedy, audiences began to appreciate Lewis’ humor and more subtle acting chops when it came to realistic characters — not just being a slapstick foil or clown. He was a mensch who did so much for adults and kids with muscular dystrophy throughout his lifetime, raising billions through his annual telethons.
In 2017, Lewis died at the age of 91. He was beloved for his humor, often playing the fool in movies or during appearances. But in his personal life, Lewis surprisingly owned quite a large collection of guns. Guns and comedy might seem mutually exclusive, as slapstick is the stuff of silly, puerile gags — Three Stooges humor — while guns are serious business. That’s why it was such a surprise to see such a king of comedy’s guns go up for sale last June.
Jerry Lewis Gun Collection
When it came to collecting guns, Lewis was nondenominational — he didn’t play favorites or focus on one style. If it had a firing pin and a trigger, he owned it. Because of his Hollywood stature and the associated affluence that comes with box office success, you might be thinking, “Oh, sure, he must have had bespoke double guns or hoity-toity collectibles like that.” He did own some of those, but also many guns considered quotidian or down to earth, like pump shotguns and revolvers, semi-auto handguns and revolvers, and rifles and black guns. In other words, guns that are fun to shoot.
The guns auctioned off in June of 2018 at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas by Julien’s Auctions — CNN referred to the Jerry Lewis gun collection as an “arsenal” — ranged from simple Mossberg pump shotguns and Beretta semi-autos to scoped Weatherby rifles, .22-caliber Astras and Sterlings, plus Glocks, Rugers, Brownings and Smith & Wessons. One special item was a coveted John Rigby London Best side-by-side 12-gauge shotgun. Some of the guns were inscribed to Lewis, clearly gifts from other celebrities. Others were typically engraved or inscribed by Lewis himself. Clearly, they meant a lot to him.
Darren Julien, the CEO of Julien’s Auctions, wrote, “Jerry Lewis epitomized the very definition of a Hollywood icon who blazed a path like no other. With a career that included being part of one of the most successful comedy duos of all time, to his memorable roles as the Nutty Professor and the King of Comedy, to his extraordinary humanitarianism, we are honored to present this once-in-a-lifetime auction event celebrating his comedic genius and legacy as one of Hollywood’s greatest stars.”
And perhaps this identity as a pioneering American is what fueled Lewis’s passion for guns, in the same way that his pride as an American led him to train with Major League baseball teams in the 1950s and 1960s, including the Los Angeles Dodgers. His popularity around the world clearly filled Lewis with national pride and a zest for Americana. And it’s great knowing that the Nutty Professor was also a gun nut.
This article is from the April/May 2019 issue of Ballistic Magazine. Get physical copies and digital subscriptions at OutdoorGroupStore.com.