Remembering Bruce Forsyth and Jerry Lewis on the London Stage

Two giants of the business called show have left this world within days of each other.  They may or may not have met each other, but both came from the same background of variety / vaudeville.  One owed his initial fame to television, the other film.  One was American the other English.  Neither had extensive legitimate theatre credentials, but what they did was memorable.

English Bruce Forsyth was a man of television and a past master of hosting family orientated quiz games and inventing catch phrases.  Jerry Lewis made his name on film but hosted a marathon of charity fund raising on television.  Lewis was a knockabout, child-like comedian gaining his stardom in a duo with the singer and straight man Dean Martin.  Forsyth was multi-talented and earned the title of an all-round entertainer as well as becoming a ‘Sir’ late in life.

Film made Lewis a star on both sides of the Atlantic, and in the fifties he and Martin topped the bill at the London Palladium with huge success.  Forsyth attempted success on Broadway with his one-man show but left without succeeding.  Americans will only know him through his limited film spots such as playing Julie Andrew’s father in Star. 

Sir Bruce starred in two West End shows, the American import Little Me and a semi-revue of Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse songs called The Travelling Music Show.  The first was a terrific hit for him, as it had been on Broadway for Sid Caesar.  Having to play many characters played to his talents.  These talents unfortunately could not save the other.

Jerry Lewis was to appear in a Broadway revival of Damn Yankees playing Applegate, the Faust character.  He took over from Victor Garber in the 1994 production and then toured with it around the States before bringing it to London in 1997.  He cleverly wove into his solo number ‘Those were the good old days’ a Vegas like cabaret act that landed right back into the story proper.  Unfortunately Lewis’s performance was not committed to disc.

The world of entertainment has lost two great and unique performers.