David Susskind & Jerry Lewis

on “Open End”

 

Jerry Lewis on David Susskind’s “Open End”

Produced by Jean Kennedy

Directed by Ed Cooperstein

1965

 

Featuring:

David Susskind

Jerry Lewis

 

Studio:

Television: Pamandia

Video: S’more Entertainment

 

Video:

Aspect Ratio: 1.29:1

Codec: MPEG-2

Disc Size: DVD-9

Bit Rate: Moderate (ca. 6 Mbps)

Runtime: 101 min.

Region: 1 / NTSC

 

Audio

English Dolby Digital 2.0

 

Subtitles: None

 

Extras: None

 

Presentation:

DVD clamshell case:

Release Date: November 22, 2011


 

Introduction:

I was there – I think – the night that Open End first was first broadcast by WNTA-TV in New York.  I was very much in my adolescence and identified myself with the eggheads of my high school.  So after my evening’s dose of Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel, Maverick and Playhouse 90, I would stay up for as late as Open End would permit – for that was its unique trademark: the show was over when it was over.  And while it honored the necessity of commercial breaks, Open End did not end on or just before the hour but when its moderator, TV producer (later 4 time Emmy award winner) David Susskind, felt his guests had mined the subject at hand sufficiently to call it a night.

 

Unlike every other talk show on television until then, and most since, there was no studio audience – just Susskind, his guests and the technicians who remained silent and unobserving.  If it weren’t for the occasional change of camera angle off a basic 2-camera set-up, we in the TV audience might have no idea that we were anything more than the proverbial flies on the wall.


           

 

Imagine: no laugh track, no sidekicks, no monologue, no orchestra (only a familiar theme that I can’t quite place at the moment comes up behind the opening and closing credits.)  His guests would sit around a table and smoke and drink coffee and speak their piece.  And did I mention Open End was televised in Black & White?

 

In the beginning, Susskind featured a panel of 4 or 5 guests that weighed in on whatever subject he wanted to explore.  Imagine NPR’s Fresh Air, but with a visible Terry and respectful guests whose points of view were not all that often in sync.  It was an object lesson civil discourse on subjects that ranged from the political, social, cultural and religious issues of the day.

 

It was only later that David began to interview single guests.  Not as interesting, I thought, but there was still Susskind, the Dick Cavett, David Frost and Charlie Rose of his day. Susskind lacked Cavett’s wit, Frost’s persistence or Rose’s ease, but he spoke his mind and eventually got into the tough questions, often from the point of view of what he imagined his TV audience wanted to hear about.


           

 

The Interview: 8

Curiously, S.more, the studio that offers this curious and fascinating piece of history on DVD, does not say anywhere – neither on the disc nor the cover – when this interview between David and Jerry took place exactly, except to offer this from Stephen Battaglio, author of “David Susskind: A Televised Life”: Their talk of nearly two hours aired on Susskind’s “Open End” in the fall of 1965.  Wikipedia says that “Open End” officially became “The David Susskind Show” in 1961 when the format was confined to two hours.

 

The DVD contains two 50 minute segments. Apparently these were recorded in one sitting and offered to stations (the show was syndicated then) as hour-long shows, because Susskind ends the first 50 minutes by saying "we'll see you next time". The first segment concentrates on Lewis' childhood and home life and his interfaith marriage.. In the second he discusses his movies and how he "controls them". Throughout the complete show, Lewis chain-smokes cigarettes. (Susskind smokes too... but not as much!)


           

 

The DVD jacket, by the way, carelessly indicates that the DVD is in color – it isn’t – and that the content is 90 minutes – it’s more like 100.  So what happened to the other hour of this interview to which Battaglio refers?  Not that we are aware of any threads of the conversation that may have snipped, but we might feel short changed in regards any discussion about Lewis’s career, especially re his association with Dean Martin and how he came to break out on his own and become a respected figure behind the camera.

 

According to Battaglio Susskind and Lewis had a difficult history prior to 1965, but there is little evidence of this in the interview.  Lewis, then 39, whose last film with Dean Martin was nine years behind him, and who had already directed himself in such films as “The Bellboy” and “The Nutty Professor”, appears calm, confident, considered, careful, canny and conceited.  His conceit is a big part of who Jerry Lewis is and how that quality is dodged and danced with by Susskind is what makes this interview so lively.  Among other things, I found it fascinating Jerry taped the audio portion of the interview.


           

 

Perhaps the most intriguing and, in its way, refreshing thing about Lewis is how politically incorrect he is when he discusses at some length,  for example, his feelings and practices in regards marriage and family.  He married young, and by 1965 he already had had five boys with another on the way.  They all lived together in Louis B Mayer’s 3-acre 31-room “estate” which Lewis is quick to point out is a home where all the rooms are lived in and where guests are welcomed, not made to feel at a disadvantage.  When Susskind asks him what he paid for the place - and Lewis paid in cash - be prepared to fall out of your chair.  I won’t spoil the moment for you.

 

Susskind begins his interview at the beginning and dwells on Lewis’ roots for some while: his having been “born in a trunk”, his being held back in school (Lewis’ description of this is surprisingly throat catching), and “rented” out to the care of various aunts when his parents were working.  He talks about his need to “show off” and be the center of attention; about his optimistic philosophy of life:”there is always some good in all of the bad;” his philanthropy; of what is like to have a “mixed marriage” – not so common back in 1944 (it lasted 35 years!), and the effects this had on his children and each others’ in-laws.  In the second interview (taped on the same day) David asks Jerry to comment on his critics and how he criticizes his own work, not least his admitted failure with his 2-hour TV Special.  Last, but not least, Jerry is quite candid about who was responsible for the breakup of Martin & Lewis.


           

 

Image: 5/4

Not nearly as problematic as transfers of old kinescopes nor as clean and vibrant as recent DVDs we’ve seen from The Jackie Gleason Show (10 years earlier), the image quality is very watchable and not at all trying despite the instability at the end of the show and occasional missing row of pixels. The aspect ratio is a bit odd (1.29:1) but no one is distorted in any way. For some reason, the lighting/contrast, which is quite flat for the first 50 minutes, picks up for the second part of the interview.

 

Audio & Music: 6/7

Except for the music for the opening and closing credits, which feels suspiciously like David Raksin’s score for The Bad and the Beautiful, there is just talk, always clear – which is a good thing, since there are no subtitles here.


           

 

Extras: 2

S’more offers no Bonus Features as such on the disc, but the 370 word piece by Stephen Battaglio quoted on the disc cover lends important historical context.

 

A quick note on Operations: The DVD contains two 50-minute segments for the purposes of syndication. If you hit the Play button from the opening menu page, the program will play the second 50-minute interview right after the first one closes. Or you could choose to play each segment separately from the second menu page.

 

Recommendation: 8

S’more offers this fascinating time capsule, not only about one of the most popular comedic entertainers of his time as well as arguably the first of the great television interviewers, but about the entertainment business in general and cultural mores in particular.  Recommended.


           

 


Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

December 5, 2011



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