The Last Behind-the-Scenes Footage From Jerry Lewis’ Notorious Holocaust Comedy

Slate's Culture Blog
Jan. 2 2014 4:19 PM

The Last Behind-the-Scenes Footage From Jerry Lewis’ Notorious Holocaust Comedy

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Jerry Lewis in behind-the-scenes footage from The Day the Clown Cried

YouTube

This past August, footage from Jerry Lewis’ notorious, little-seen, Holocaust-themed film, The Day the Clown Cried, surfaced on YouTube. The video, uploaded by YouTuber Uncle Sporkums, was taken from a 1972 Danish TV documentary and featured more than seven minutes of behind-the-scenes takes from the production. It was a film buff’s dream: The Day the Clown Cried is little-seen because Lewis, who co-wrote, directed, and starred in the movie, has insisted that it will never get a proper release. (He says that only one copy remains, locked in a safe.)

Most of us will probably never get to see the full movie, which features Lewis as a German circus clown imprisoned at a concentration camp during World War II. But there is at least a bit more behind-the-scenes footage to peruse, provided again by Uncle Sporkums. According to him, the two videos uploaded yesterday are the last of the footage from the documentary; one features more from the circus ring scene, while the other is an interview with Lewis, who talks about pre-production material from the film.

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The reasons for Lewis’ refusal to release the film are still, to some extent, unclear—his own opinion of its quality has vacillated over the years—but the latter video may offer a small clue. When asked by the interviewer how he came across the original script by Joan O’Brien and Charles Denton, Lewis explains:

“Ten years ago, I fell in love with this idea, and 10 years ago, I was not ready to make such a thing … I don’t think I could have handled it 10 years ago. It was the wrong time. I only do what I do when I believe it is time.”

Aisha Harris is a Slate staff writer.

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