Pondering the Pavement

October 4, 2018

A Clowning Achievement

“You see, this is my life! It always will be! Nothing else! Just us, and the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark!”

– Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), ‘Sunset Boulevard’

 

MOVIES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN MY SOLACE. I’ve retreated deeply into them for nearly as far back as I can remember. I could get sucked into those celluloid worlds projected on the screen effortlessly. All that surrounded me would be forgotten, at least temporarily, with an inaudible sigh of gratitude. The images flickering before my adolescent eyes were the equivalent of a crocheted sampler testifying to the sugary goodness of home.

Comedic Romps, live action and animated, were my favorites. No shock there. My grandmother introduced me to Laurel & Hardy before I started kindergarten. My mother opened my eyes to even more when she dragged me to see ‘Funny Girl’ at the local cinema one Saturday afternoon. I was only 7 so I wanted to stay home so I could play with my best (and only) friend at the time. Nope. She said I had to go. I was NOT happy. This was a movie about a girl…AND, if that wasn’t bad enough, the girl would be singing! Ick. If Godzilla or The Boys weren’t in the movie then I was NOT interested. A dinosaur destroying a city or two grown children donning matching bowlers were all it took to make me happy. Much to my own shock, I was totally enamored within the first 20 minutes of the movie. As Babs uttered her first words on screen, “Hello, Gorgeous!”, I was expressing the exact same sentiment to REAL film. My mother, without knowing it, had just created a monster.

Honestly, the only time Mom & I really got along was during a movie. An afternoon at the Eastland Theater was our Treaty of Versailles. To this day the wafting aroma of popcorn gives me the urge to scan the sky for a white flag fluttering in the breeze.

One of my absolute favorite distractions was Jerry Lewis. Of course, like many of my Jurassic era, my first introduction to his zany trademark of humor was through the brilliant teaming of Lewis with his partner in comedic crime, Dean Martin. I was enthralled by their physical antics paraded before my impressionable mind. As I aged, rapidly depreciating like a Yugo driven off a car lot, the bantering of Martin & Lewis captivated me as well. Of course, the duo split 5 years before my appearance this time around. But, thanks to TV syndication, I was able to catch up with all that I missed in a relatively short amount of time.

I took part in three neighborhood backyard carnivals for Muscular Dystrophy. The summers of 1974 through 1976 were pretty much devoted to pulling together the events. My friend, Jerry Neel, was the “Ringmaster” and I was the devoted Carny. I created all of the posters—duh—that were put in various shop windows around town. Jerry and I would walk to each and every store on Adams Street (the main thoroughfare through downtown) asking for donations of items to use as prizes for the carnivals. We were rarely refused. A different time, a different place, ya know? We incorporated many of the kids in the neighborhood to participate in any way possible. Our mom’s would make cupcakes for us to sell. It was quite the big to-do! And, at the end of it all, we’d receive official certificates acknowledging what we’d done. The certificate was emblazoned with a photo of both Jerry Lewis and our own local children’s show sponsor, Paul Shannon (from WTAE-4 in Pittsburgh). Their pre-printed signatures were even on it so you KNEW it was completely official! Our names would be TYPED on each individual’s certificate. Of course, MY last name was ALWAYS misspelled: FILLUS. Good God. So my mother would take the certificate to work and correct it on her typewriter. The problem was that the original misspelled name was in all CAPS and Mom would make the correction (to the last name) in an initial CAP followed by lowercase letters. So it read “CHARLES Filius.” Oh, yea, my OCD was SOOOOO cool with that…ahem. Either way, I was extremely proud of those little pieces of paper. And, yes, I still have them!

I diligently watched the 24-hour MDA telethons for many, MANY years. I not only found it “cool” to stay up into the wee-hours of the morning, but I was enraptured in the solitude it provided. Everyone else would eventually go to bed and just leave me the hell alone. I was in bliss. Of course, the single greatest memory I have of those all-nighters was in 1976 when Dean Martin stepped out on stage, surprising his former partner after a 20-year separation. I’ve always been a sucker for emotional reunion scenarios—it’s that whole adoptee thing—and this event has always been the one I dog-eared in my well-worn book of life’s experiences.

I’m sure you’re wondering by now just WHY I was such a fan (See? I really AM psychic!). My adoration of the genius of Jerry Lewis was sealed when I was about 8 or 9 years old. This was the time when I saw ‘The Family Jewels’ for the very first time. This movie tackled my life like a fat kid diving after the last piece of pizza on grandma’s Formica kitchen table. The film only takes up 108 minutes of linear time. However, it has played on a continuous loop in my heart & soul from day one. And it will continue to do so until there’s no more pizza left for me to covet.

WARNING! Mega spoilers are looming ahead. So, either stop reading right now, rent the movie and then return to the prose before you OR toss caution aside, like a plate of kale, and continue reading. Like a Nevada brothel, I like to offer a wide array of choices.

Here’s the rundown… A young heiress (the late Donna Butterworth in her debut screen performance) has just lost her parents in a tragic accident. Her father has left a provision in his will that she is, in the event of their deaths, to be raised by one of her uncles, all portrayed by Lewis. She is to spend some time with each uncle and then decide with whom she wishes to be raised. Who can’t relate to THAT situation? Her only companion throughout this massive undertaking is the family chauffeur, Willard (also played by Jerry Lewis). Each uncle is quite unique. They all possess eccentric personalities as well as outlandish outfits and make up to fully solidify the comedic enhancements of each. Willard, on the other hand, is about as normal as you can get. He is a bit clumsy and he tends to wear his shoes on the wrong feet. Other than that, he’s just a regular sweet guy. He clearly cares for Donna and vice-versa.

Her Uncle Eddie is a pilot. Uncle John is a sea captain. There’s also Uncle Bugs, a bungling 30’s-type gangster. Uncle Everett is a circus clown while Uncle Skylock is a world renowned private-eye. Rounding up this mob of misfits is Uncle Julius, a famous fashion photographer (Lewis uses his Nutty Professor character in this particular role). The only uncle she doesn’t interact with is the circus clown. As she is approaching his tent, her suitcase clutched in her orphaned hand (I suppose a handkerchief at the end of a stick wasn’t the best choice for an heiress), she overhears him talking to some of his fellow clowns. He tells them that he’s been stashing his paychecks into Swiss banks for years so he could one day leave the circus as well as the country. He makes a point to mention, a number of times, how he won’t be missing “those screaming brats” in the audience. Young Donna hears this and, while crestfallen, immediately realizes he certainly isn’t the father she wants or needs.

Wrapping up a slowly unraveling ribbon of words, the final scene takes place in the offices of her late father’s attorney. All of the uncles have come together (with the exception of Everett, the clown) to hear Donna’s final decision. She announces while she enjoyed meeting all of six of her uncles, she wants Willard to be her father. No shock there. A blindfolded man in a power grid outage could see that one barreling down the pike. The attorney slammed the brakes on her choice, of course, stating that The Will clearly dictates that it must be one of the uncles. Unhappy with this situation, she simply announces she’ll just run away (a tactic I use to this very day, especially when I’m stuck in line at the DMV). As she bolts toward the door, in an attempt to flee, it opens and Uncle Everett enters. He’s wearing dark slacks, a tan over coat and he’s wearing his full facial clown makeup. With a lit cigarette casually dangling in his right hand, he kind of resembles Emmett Kelly with a wise guy attitude. He says, “What’s your hurry, Sweetheart? You must be Donna. Aren’t you going to consider your dear Uncle Everett. I’d make a good father. C’mon, I’m in a hurry. I gotta make it back and do another show. Those little brats are waiting.” Donna looks him up and down for a quick second, grins and then announces that she has chosen her Uncle Everett to be her father. Of course, it’s Willard donning the pancake makeup. Donna knew it was Willard when she saw that he had his shoes, as always, on the wrong feet. And they lived happily ever after…

The reason this movie hit me so hard was the realization that a child found someone to take care of her, to love her and, more than anything, keep her from harm. I remember watching this on my grandparent’s RCA Color TV and fighting back tears. It was as if my heart was screaming to be released from its confinement in my rib cage. I grew up in a very dark home. Not the house, but the home. My mother was simply one of the meanest people I’ve ever had the misfortune of knowing. She danced back & forth over the line of cruelty with such frequency that she should have held dual citizenship in both heaven & hell. The constant berating, emotionally and physically, was the only constant I had growing up. I never knew when or why she’d strike but, I assure you, it would eventually get there. Sometimes I’d see it brewing off in the distance, like watching a thunderstorm slowly approaching across the plains of Indiana. Other times it would swing in with great force like Poe’s pendulum. It might not cut you on the first swing-by, but in the end, it will deeply wound. And all I could do was lay there, tied to the stone pedestal, watching it come closer and closer with rhythmic certainty. I did my best to ensure the eyes in the back of my head were as close to 20/20 as possible. My layers of survival relied on it. I was very adept at ducking on instinct. I guess you could say it was the initial training ground of my intuitive abilities.

I received a great gift as I sat basking in the warm glow of both the television and the movie: hope. For the first time in my life. For the first time I had hope that there was someone, somewhere, who would not want to hurt me. Someone who would want to love me, to care for me. The hope that my life would get better. This film, and the message wrapped within it, truly changed my life. I held a death grip on that hope every day, like an alcoholic clutching the bottle cap from the last beer they ever drank.

Is it any wonder I’m far more comfortable with the dead than the living?

I did not see that movie again until some 40 years later. Something was nagging me to see it again. If I’ve learned anything as a medium, it’s to do your best to address the nagging. Some call it “inspiration from Spirit.” I prefer to call it what it is: disembodied dead guys booting me in the head. I rented the film through Netflix and had a long overdue visit with an old cinematic friend. This time, however, it had an even greater impact on me. As a child, of course, the name of the “uncle” she chose meant nothing to me. But this time around it really shook me to my core. Everett was the name of my biological father. He was a man whose face had been hidden from me, as if covered in clown makeup, for the first 33 years of my life. He was loving and understanding and, like a true clown, one of THE funniest people I’ve ever known. He even died ON April Fool’s Day. You just have to admire his dedication to a great gag. So, at age 55, I sat once again in front of another RCA television (a flat screen this go-around) and cried my eyes out.

Yea. I’m a walking batch of Hallmark movies bundled together.

I decided I really needed to find a way to reach out to Jerry Lewis and share this story with him. I’d probably leave the whole “medium” thing out of it. Why amp up a communication from someone who may initially be regarded as a crazy fan at the onset, right? I wanted to simply thank him for helping a frightened young boy get through a time-old situation. I diligently searched the internet until I found what seemed like a valid address for his representation. I really decided to push the envelope and send him a piece of memorabilia for him to sign (return postage would be included, of course…I may be enthusiastic but I am also cost conscious!). I have an original lobby card for ‘The Family Jewels’ in my oddly grouped collection of odd-n-ends. I knew, on some level, that if the letter AND item actually reached him, there was a good chance I would not get a reply. Honestly, I didn’t really care. All I really wanted was for him to know he made an immeasurable difference in my life. I sent the intent and was hoping for the best.

20181003_202352Of course, this delightful plan of mine was thwarted when, on August 20, 2017, Jerry Lewis passed away. I know what you’re thinking: “Hey! It’ll be really easy to talk to him now!” Har-dee-har-har. You’re so funny. Sure, I can talk to him, but how can I get the autograph of a dead guy? I don’t think automatic writing would be valid, but I digress. What makes this particularly whimsical is that I heard of his passing on the car radio. Kelsey, my frequent cohort in varied ventures, and I had just parked the car in LA where we were going to see medium George Anderson. And, yes, I received my second earth-moving reading from him that day (no, Jerry Lewis did not come through). Interesting timing, don’cha think?

Hey, I tried, right? Since I could not thank him personally (or through the mail), I thanked him profusely through the ethers. As a medium I know, beyond any doubt, that he could hear me. And I’m totally good with that.

Flash forward to August 17, 2018, three days shy of the first anniversary of his passing. I received an email from the Hollywood Show store. They send out announcements of upcoming shows, festivals, even sales of memorabilia of old Hollywood. Yes, I’m THAT big of a nerd. But you should know that already. They had 300 previously owned autographed celebrity photos up for sale. They’d been accumulated from estate sales, other collectors, etc. I decided to browse through the items offered because it involved one of my favorite pastimes: sitting. For the highly sought ‘hoots & giggles’, I searched the collection for any photos already endorsed to ‘Charles’. How easy is that? Get a semi-personalized photo from a movie star without the hassle of prompting a restraining order. God, but I love the convenience of the internet! Out of 300 photos there was only ONE that had been inscribed to a ‘Charles’.

Yup. Jerry Lewis.JerryLewis

You don’t have to be psychic to know I purchased it immediately. So, yea, he heard me. The intent in my gratitude was received and noted. How’s THAT for hope realized?

If you take anything away from this missive, my friends, it’s this simple fact: your loved ones in Spirit hear you. While I always feel it’s best to say what needs to be said while they’re with us on this side of the veil, it is never too late to reach out. Take a moment and send out an ‘I love you’, ‘I miss you’ or even a genuine ‘thank you.’ It WILL be heard.

I hope this helps…

 

“I am probably the most selfish man you will ever meet in your life.
No one gets the satisfaction or the joy that I get
out of seeing kids realize there is hope.”

– Jerry Lewis

 

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3 Comments »

  1. I cried! Amazing piece Charles! These events you just can’t make up! ♥️

    Comment by Darlene — October 4, 2018 @ 1:13 pm | Reply

  2. Hi Charles
    Thank you for your blog. This Jerry Lewis tribute, so touching, reminded me that Spirit can use even humble events such as movies for “harbors of solace”.
    Many happy days and blessings to you Charles.

    Comment by NANCY KOZIARA-CLARK — October 4, 2018 @ 3:28 pm | Reply

  3. I love this one, Charles. You just might want to reconsider the walking Hallmark movie look when you’re out in public. 😉 – Marty

    Comment by snakesinthegrass2014 — October 4, 2018 @ 7:41 pm | Reply


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