Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Grandpa We Hardly Knew You

It seems that there's considerable controversy about exactly how much of the biography of Al Lewis is true. Virtually everyone believed that Al Lewis, who played Grandpa on The Munsters (and no it wasn't Grandpa Munster - he was Lily's father not Herman's - but Grandpa Sam Dracula) was born in 1910, was active in the efforts to free Sacco & Vanzetti, was a circus clown, got a PhD in Child Psychology in 1941, ran for Governor of New York at age 88. Now it appears as if it may all have been a house of cards.

Media outlets are updating their obituaries of Lewis when Lewis's son Ted stated that his father was born in 1923, not 1910. This throws a considerable amount of the "Al Lewis Legend" into disarray. Did he get a degree in Child Psychology? If so then he was highly precocious since he would only have been 18 at the time. Of course that's to be expected from a youth who had been an activist for Sacco and Vanzetti at age 4. He would have been a youth of 75 when he ran for governor and forget working in the circus or as a medicine show performer - if he was going to get that PhD at 18 he'd have to be glued to the books 24/7.

I'm not calling Ted Lewis a liar however this whole thing stinks like one of Al's cigars. I tend to distrust memoirs from family members. All too often a family member has an axe to grind - if you don't believe I cite Gary Crosby (son of Bing and author of Going My Own Way), Christina Crawford (daughter of Joan and author of Mommy Dearest), B.D. Hyman (daughter of Bette Davis and author of My Mother's Keeper), and Maria Riva (daughter of Marlene Dietrcih and author of Marlene Dietrich). I'm not asking for a lot but taking either Al Lewis or Ted Lewis entirely at their words has now at the very least become difficult. I need documentation.

Of course none of this takes away from the fact that Al Lewis was a very funny and fascinating man or that Sam Dracula was a great comic creation. In fact sifting the truth and the fiction to reveal the real Al Lewis might make him more interesting. Or it might be a case where, when given the choice between the truth and the legend it is better to - as the newspaper man in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance said "Print the legend."

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