On this day in 1950, comedians Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis make their first appearance as hosts of a new TV variety show, The Colgate Comedy Hour.
Martin and Lewis first teamed up in 1946. Martin, born in Steubenville, Ohio, in 1917, had started a nightclub act after working as a prizefighter and a steelworker in the 1940s. Lewis, the son of performers, debuted in comedy acts with his parents at age five and was working steadily as a comic by 1946, when he met Martin. The pair performed an act in which screwball Lewis constantly interrupted straight man Martin’s singing. They made their first appearance at a club in Atlantic City and were an instant hit, soon in demand for radio and movie performances. They made their first movie together, My Friend Irma, in 1949. The following year, they were chosen, along with Eddie Cantor and Fred Allen, to share the host position for The Colgate Comedy Hour. The show ran until 1955, a year before Martin and Lewis split up.
After the duo parted ways, Martin launched his own TV variety show, which ran from 1965 to 1974. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Martin teamed up with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop to perform in Las Vegas. The group quickly became known as the Rat Pack, a suave group of young, fast-living entertainers. The group made several movies together in the early 1960s, including Ocean’s Eleven (1960), Sergeants Three (1962), and Robin and the Seven Hoods. Dean Martin died in 1995.
Jerry Lewis went on to sign one of the most lucrative film contracts of the day, a $10 million deal for 14 films with Paramount. Lewis’ films, including Cinderfella (1960) and The Nutty Professor (1963), failed to attract much praise from American critics but made him a star in France, where he has long been considered a comic genius. After a long absence from film, he gave an acclaimed performance in the 1986 film The King of Comedy, co-starring Robert De Niro.