Jerry Lewis (Getty Images)
Between The Nutty Professor, The King of Comedy and his numerous films with Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis isn’t exactly lacking in memorable film roles. But if the 89-year-old actor-writer-director had been just a bit more comfortable wearing women’s clothing, he could have been part of one of the most iconic films of all time.
During a conversation with Martin Scorsese at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York on Tuesday night, Lewis revealed that he was originally asked by director Billy Wilder to star in the 1959 classic Some Like It Hot. Wilder wanted Lewis — who’d split with Dean Martin several years earlier — to play the role of Jerry, an uptight jazz musician who winds up on the run from the mob.
Lewis, however, balked at the prospect of dressing in drag for much of the film — despite the fact that it would have allowed him to share an on-screen kiss with Hot costar Marilyn Monroe. “It would be too uncomfortable,“ he told Scorsese. "I’d done bits in drag, but a whole movie? No way.”
Jack Lemmon in ‘Some Like It Hot’
Lewis’s Hot role wound up going to Jack Lemmon, who wound up earning a Best Actor nomination for his work. And the movie itself would go on to become one of the most revered comedies in history, eventually voted the top comedy of all time by the American Film Institute in 2000.
Still, Lewis told Scorsese he didn’t regret passing on the part — though Wilder never let the actor forget his decision: For years, the director sent Lewis a holiday gift with a card reading "Dear Schmuck.” As a wise man once said: “Well, nobody’s perfect.”