|Intro||American singer and comedian|
|Was||Comedian Singer Actor Film actor|
|From||United States of America|
|Field||Film, TV, Stage & Radio Humor Music|
|Birth||12 January 1902, New York City, New York, USA|
|Death||4 June 1971, New York City, New York, USA (aged 69 years)|
Joe E. Lewis (January 12, 1902 – June 4, 1971), born Joseph Klewan in New York City, was an American comedian, actor and singer.
In Chicago in 1927, Lewis refused the request of Jack "Machine Gun" McGurn (an Al Capone lieutenant) to renew a contract that would have bound him to sing and perform at the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge, which was partly owned by Capone. After refusing, because he had been offered more money by a rival gang to appear at their own club, "The New Rendezvous", he was assaulted in his 10th floor Commonwealth Hotel room, in November 1927, by three enforcers sent by McGurn. The enforcers, who included Sam Giancana and Leonard "Needles" Gianola, mutilated Lewis (his throat and tongue were cut) and left him for dead. It took him several years to be able to speak again.
Capone, who was fond of Lewis, was displeased with the assault, but would not take action against one of his top lieutenants. He instead provided Lewis with $10,000 (equal to $147,184 today) to recover properly and eventually resume his career.
Lewis toured in the USO shows with Ray Bolger in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Joe appeared in the movies Too Many Husbands (the 1931 short comedy), Private Number (1936), The Holy Terror (1937), Private Buckaroo (1942), and (playing himself) Lady in Cement (1968). He appeared frequently on The Ed Sullivan Show, was the "Mystery Guest" three different times on What's My Line, and was interviewed on Person to Person in 1956. In 1946 he married actress Martha Stewart; they divorced in 1948. Random House published Lewis's biography, The Joker Is Wild, written by Art Cohn, in 1955.
Lewis and Frank Sinatra had a longtime friendship predating Sinatra's portrayal of the comedian in The Joker is Wild. In 1961 Sinatra signed Lewis to record for his label, Reprise Records. The result, It Is Now Post Time, is one of the first LPs released by Reprise, and one of the few recorded examples of Lewis at work as a stand-up comedian. The title references a well-known part of his act, holding up a drink on stage and saying “Post time!”. This is a horse racing term, meaning the race is about to start; its use here implies that the drinker is about to start on a long binge. On his live album Sinatra at the Sands (1966), Sinatra says that even though he recently celebrated his 50th birthday, he would have the body of a 22-year-old man, "if I hadn't spent all those years drinking with Joe E. Lewis."
Lewis died of a heart attack in 1971, aged 69, and was buried in Cedar Park Cemetery, Emerson, New Jersey.
Portrayal in film
- In the film The Joker Is Wild (1957), Lewis was portrayed by Frank Sinatra.
- The Big Show (1926) - Abie
- Private Number (1936) - Smiley Watson
- The Holy Terror (1937) - Pelican Beek
- Private Buckaroo (1942) - Lancelot Pringle McBiff
- Lady in Cement (1968) - Himself (uncredited, Final appearance)