Jerry Lewis on why Hollywood's remaking all of his old films -- EXCLUSIVE
Image Credit: Bobby Bank/WireImage.com; Everett CollectionLast month, Jerry Lewis made news when he agreed to sell the remake rights to three of his classic ’60s Paramount comedies — 1960’s The Bellboy, 1960’s Cinderfella, and 1965’s The Family Jewels. It isn’t the first time that Hollywood has envisioned dollar signs in the 84-year-old legend’s vault. In 1996, Universal remade Lewis’ classic The Nutty Professor with Eddie Murphy, which ended up being a huge box-office hit, launching a Klumps franchise. Afterwards, Lewis expressed mixed feelings about the films’ fart jokes and cheap laughs. All of which makes his recent deal a bit surprising. But in an exclusive interview, the King of Comedy tells EW that he plans to have more control this time. Click the jump to hear what else Lewis had to say.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The last time we spoke was right before you accepted your honorary Oscar in 2009. How does it look on your bookshelf?
JERRY LEWIS: I’m looking at it right now. I’m still in awe. I look at it every day and it really does some good stuff for your emotional system.
How long has this remake deal been brewing?
We’ve been talking about it for a couple of years. Product is so scarce and companies are looking to invest in sure-fire properties rather than taking a chance. So I’m taking full advantage of those that are scared s—less! [laughs] And you can quote me! Now we’re negotiating for three more down the road.
Can you tell me which ones?
Well, let’s talk about the three we know about — The Bellboy, Cinderfella, and The Family Jewels. Why those?
Because they’re such good, basic, simple, clean comedy. My intention as an actor and a director was to make family work. And I was very fortunate that it was received the way it was. I’m getting fan mail today from 11- and 12-year-olds who are discovering my work. They’re timeless films, that’s what I’m finding out. And I’ve got a lot of them to pour out there! My situation is unlike any other actor’s in the film business because I own the negatives.
How did that happen exactly?
On my 40th birthday, I had the entire Paramount executive force at my home in L.A. And for my birthday, Barney Balaban, the president of Paramount, said, “We didn’t know what to get you. Can you tell me what we can give you that you would like?” And I said, “Yeah, I’ve got an idea. What about after 30 years the negatives revert back to my company?” And he said, “You’ve got it!”
That seems pretty stupid on their part…
Hardly. At that time, I’d already brought Paramount $800 million in film rentals. So what they were doing was thanking me for that. It was a gesture of love and affection and friendship. It had nothing to do with business. I gave them almost every ounce of my body and blood. I’m still a Paramount man. I grew up there, I learned with them. And I never had a paper contract, just a handshake. I’m very proud of that. That gesture showed they had moral fiber because it certainly didn’t come under the heading of how to make a profit!
Would it make you happy if these new remakes wound up being released by Paramount?
Sure. They have a shot at bidding for them. I was an usher at the Paramount Theatre in New York when I was 16 years old. I was getting $11.55 a week. And when I made my big deal with Paramount where they paid me $40 million over a period of time, they found one of my old checks and framed it with a check for $40,000,011.55!
How involved will you be with the remakes of The Bellboy, Cinderfella, and The Family Jewels?
They cannot have my product unless they take me! That’s part of the deal. I will executive produce and write. The teams we put together will be people working for me. I’ve got the chance to groom young writing talent.
So you not only have script approval, but you’ll be writing as well?
Without question! They’re my babies! You don’t just hand over a baby! And I don’t care how much f—ing money’s involved, it’s still my baby! I spent seven months in an editing room going frame by frame over everything I ever did and I consider it incredibly hard work that paid off for me. Class doesn’t go out of style and neither does comic awareness. When you’re a comedian coming from my background… you can’t buy that today! How many people have that experience? Not a lot. So a lot of the young writers are going to be just thrilled to death that we get together and we do some good stuff.
The biggest problem seems like it will be finding someone to play your characters…
Well, that’s always the problem. But I’ve got a couple of young people that I’ve seen that I think are just incredible. And I’ll tell you about them in another talk.
Well, you’ve mentioned before that one person you could envision and that you admired was Sean Hayes from Will & Grace…
Sean wanted very much to do Cinderfella. But he’s in bed with Universal. And I’m not thrilled to death about them and I don’t want to give them my product. It’s that simple. He’s connected to them by contract and that’s tough s—! [Laughs]
What did you learn about allowing your films to be remade from The Nutty Professor experience?
Well, that’s heavy stuff. I don’t want to get into that. [To read what Lewis told EW about Murphy’s Nutty Professor remake in 2009, click here]
Finally, will you have a role in these remakes? Can we expect a cameo?
Oh, you can bet your ass! You’ll see me! I don’t know where, but I’m going to make Hitchcock look like an amateur!