Celluloid City: Jerry Lewis Is The Bellboy at the Fontainebleau Hotel
Florida was America's film capital until the Puritanical residents of Jacksonville ran those industry heathens out to California in the 1920s. But Miami knows how to treat those denizens of debauchery, which is why they keep coming back to Miami to film movies. In Celluloid City, we spotlight some of those classics shot right in our own backyards.
Jerry Lewis, probably the only American to be mobbed in France by fans, is apparently one hell of a multitasker. In 1960, France's favorite funnyman came to Miami Beach and spent four weeks at the Fontainebleau Hotel. Lewis spent each day of those four weeks acting in and directing The Bellboy, and then spent each night performing in the hotel's nightclub.
Shot almost entirely inside the Fontainebleau, the movie is full of interior shots that showcase the hotel's old school elegance steeped in '50s and '60s glamor. We're talking pure Rat Pack. The Bellboy treats us to a visual tour as Lewis spazzes around it's chic design. It's a great movie to see if you want a glimpse of Miami Beach before it was invaded by the Armani Exchange and Mansion. Plus, you need to see this Fountainbleu backdrop classic before that Joaquin Phoenix doc comes out next week with scenes in the hotel's sticky new club, Liv.
During his Hollywood career, Lewis was mostly a box office draw, only starting to fade out towards the mid-sixties. When he filmed The Bellboy, he was at the top of his game. The film's premise is a basic confused identity story, with Lewis playing both a bellboy at the hotel, as well as himself--a world famous movie star staying at the hotel.
Before writing the screenplay for The Bellboy, Lewis consulted with friend and fellow slapsticker Stan Laurel of Laurel and Hardy fame. He also reigned in the talents of Milton Berle, who was performing nearby in Miami Beach. There really isn't a plot to the film, as the producers are generous enough to announce at the start of the picture, just Lewis being Lewis. For instance, when ordered to empty the trunk of a guest's foreign car, he removes the rear-engine motor instead of the luggage. Classic Lewis!
The film also includes a famous scene where a flummoxed Lewis can't find the right ringing phone to answer - it was even featured in a recent iPhone commercial.
Although the film didn't win any awards, Lewis himself received the Golden Light Technical Achievement Award for his invention of the video assist, a device that allowed him to view footage right after it was filmed. That way, he was able to jump back and forth between directing and acting.
Even if you're not into Lewis's rubber faces or physical humor, The Bellboy is worth watching just for the trip down memory lane. And by trip, we mean an actual journey, not a Jerry Lewis pratfall.
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