Respect Jerry Lewis’ wishes — do not release The Day the Clown Cried until 2025
Jerry Lewis was many things: humanitarian, brilliant comedian, troubled soul, gifted artist. He was nominated for a Nobel Prize for his work with the MDA telethon, and the only Oscar he ever received was an honorary award in 2009, given for extraordinary service.
Nevertheless, all artists at one time or another do a piece that they regret for whatever reason, because all artists are human. Lewis’s turn at regret was in 1972 when he wrote, directed, and starred in a film about a world-weary clown who was forcibly enlisted by the Third Reich during the Second World War (after Gestapo agents caught him drunkenly berating Der Fuhrer) to entertain Jewish children in the camps — and ultimately lead them to the gas chamber.
The Day the Clown Cried was never released widely. The film itself saw a number of budgetary issues between Lewis and his producers when they were filming it in Sweden in the early 1970s, and for whatever reason, Lewis fought tooth-and-nail to make sure the film didn’t see the light of day until at least 2025 — donating one of the only known prints to the Library of Congress in 2015 with the stipulation that they wait at least a decade before releasing it.
The story of the film is embedded below:
Since then, speculation has run rampant on why Jerry Lewis was so vocal about refusing to talk about this film. Some say it’s because the film itself was that bad, others say it was regarding the film’s subject matter, despite the fact that the Oscar winning Life is Beautiful (1997) carries similar themes. Jerry Lewis said the following about the film to Entertainment Weekly in 2014, in a must-read interview:
“Who am I preserving it for? No one’s ever gonna see it… But the preservation that I believe is that, when I die, I’m in total control of the material now. Nobody can touch it. After I’m gone, who knows what’s going to happen? I think I have the legalese necessary to keep it where it is. So I’m pretty sure that it won’t be seen.”
Judge the reason for yourself by reading the leaked script of the film free here. Patton Oswalt staged a reading of the script since it leaked, and embedded below is the reading by YouTuber Uncle Spokurns:
So has anyone actually seen the film? Comedian Harry Shearer claimed to have seen a print of the film in 1979, and French film-critic Jean-Michel Frodon claiming to Vanity Fair that he had seen a cut of the film in the early 2000s, and having good things to say about it.
Either way, let us not remember Jerry Lewis for the film that has so much mystery around it. Let’s remember him instead for his great humanitarian work and for making us laugh and get a little levity with videos like this one of the King of Comedy mimicking the Count Basie Orchestra:
A great man like Jerry Lewis deserves better than to be remembered for what he himself considered an artistic blunder that he firmly tried to put behind him. Furthermore, he owns the work at least in a moral sense, as the main creative behind it, and thus his wishes should take center stage there. It is only right that all artists have that degree of determinism in their own work. Respect his wishes: do not release a cut of The Day the Clown Cried until 2025.
Wess A. Haubrich is the contributing editor of the film section of The Nu Romantics and London’s award-winning culture website The 405. He is also a “top writer in movies” on Medium.com. He can be reached on Twitter or via email: email@example.com as he is always looking for cutting edge cinema especially and innovative forms of all kinds of art to bring to his readers by probing the minds of their creators.