Monday, August 1, 2011

Fleeting memoir by Peter Rizzi

Helmut the Clown:
In 1972 Jerry Lewis (who I was compared to as a child, researched, and have been fond of ever since) made (starred) in a film called "The Day the Clown Cried".  Different versions of a summary on the film can be found on line, but here's what I gather:  The film is set during the Holocaust.  Jerry plays a clown (Helmut Doork) who, after being fired, gets drunk in a bar and makes fun of Hitler in the presence of Gestapo officers.  They throw him in prison, and ultimately find a use for him: he is made (as a clown) to lead the children into the gas chambers... sort of a pied piper forced into evil.  Apparently the film ends with Helmut breaking down into tears after he decides to remain inside the gas chamber with the children (thus, the name of the film).
 This film was never released, but If you do a google image search for "Helmut Doork" or "Helmut the Clown" you can find face shots of Jerry with the clown face paint on, looking morbidly distraught (which I intend to get tattooed on my ribs).
The reasons as to why the film was never released are somewhat of a mystery, though.  Some say it's because Joan O’Brien (the author of the book) still owns the rights and was too appalled by the film after watching it to allow it to be released.  Others say that Jerry owns the only full copy, but is too embarrassed to show it to the general public.
Whatever the case may be, the fact that it is fully finished, yet never released is very powerful to me.  Jerry intended for this to be his first serious role, and as a Jewish actor, I'm sure the role had a lot of relevance to him.  To work on something so hard and even have a finished copy that is ready for the public eye, but will never be seen in that capacity is almost infuriating to me (in this context).  As someone who generally likes to laugh at life, I know how much of a struggle it can be to be taken seriously.  This film, for Jerry, (i'm sure) acted as a way to achieve that through viable means.  He was able to be funny (as a clown) but also able to be serious due to the nature of the role.  The fact that this film has never been (and may never be) released means that the world will never see that part of him.  I think that's an idea most people can relate to.


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