Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy
Perhaps no popular film artist in history inspired quite so many conflicting opinions and emotions as actor/comedian Jerry Lewis. Often reviled in his native United States but worshipped as a genius throughout much of Europe and especially France, Lewis took slapstick comedy to new realms of absurdity and outrageousness, his anarchic vision dividing audiences who found him infantile and witless from those who applauded the ambitions of his sight gags, his subversions of standard comedic patterns, and his films' acute criticisms of American values. Regardless of opinion, he was not only one of the biggest stars of the postwar era but also one of the most powerful, and as the writer, director, and producer of many of his features, he qualified as a comic auteur firmly in the tradition of Chaplin and Keaton.
Born Joseph Levitch in Newark, NJ, on March 16, 1926, he was the son of borscht-belt comics, spending the majority of his childhood living with relatives but joining his parents each summer as they performed in the Catskills. From the age of five on, Lewis occasionally performed in his parents' act, and later quit high school in order to travel with his own comedy routine, which consisted primarily of mocking famous entertainers while their records were played off-stage. His early years as a performer were lean, and he often resorted to work as a soda jerk, a theater usher, an office clerk, or any one of a number of short-lived jobs. During the summers, he too made the rounds of the Catskills' borscht circuit, but otherwise enjoyed little success.