Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were the last of the great legendary comedy teams. They’d been a success in night clubs prior to landing their own radio show over NBC in 1949.
There were two Martin and Lewis shows, though collectors and CD makers group them into one long run. The first ran in 1949 until January 1950. The second, The New Martin and Lewis Show ran from 1951-53. Both programs had different formats.
The 1949 series started off with a comedy variety-style program with Bob Hope but reverted to a situational format. Martin and Lewis played themselves in the radio program, which was about them making the radio program. It also had an ongoing plot arc about starting a nightclub. Martin would still manage at least one song an episode, sometimes with a hilarious plot justification for him singing. The series featured Sheldon Leonard as a shady conman named Soapy Leonard who served to get our heroes into trouble. Flo Macmichael played a maid who became Dean and Jerry’s assistant and then played some other female characters during their initial radio run. The show featured a variety of guest stars including William Bendix, Bing Crosby, and Victor Moore with the actors playing “themselves.”
The New Martin and Lewis show followed a comedy/variety format with no plot, Dean Martin as the host who sings two or three songs in the course of the show (one often a duet with a guest star), he and Lewis banter and do a skit, they introduce the guest star, banter with the guest and do a sketch with the guest. The guests included strong performers like Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Anne Bancroft, Jack Webb, and Ida Lupino.
Dean Martin is a superb singer. He’s fun to listen to and his singing is the best argument for buying high quality recordings of this program. The guest stars are good, and it’s nice to hear Martin and Lewis getting to play off of some of Hollywood’s finest actors.
The comedy is a bit more uneven. Even though the plots were formulaic or silly, I prefer the original Martin and Lewis show. It gave Lewis more to work with. The new series format limited Lewis. Radio already took away the physical comedy which was such a big part of his appeal, but there was only so much that he could do with the banter portion of the shows, that many of the jokes and bits feel repetitive.
However, that’s not to say there aren’t laughs to be had, but the show is far from the team’s best work, particularly when compared to their films or the appearances on television’s Colgate Comedy Hour.
Overall, if you’re a fan of Martin and Lewis or either of the two on their own, both series are worth a listen.
Martin and Lewis Show rating: 4.25 out of 5
New Martin and Lewis Show rating: 3.75 out of 5