Al Lewis (April 30, 1923 – February 3, 2006) was an American actor best known for his role as "Grandpa" on the television series The Munsters. Later in life, he was also a restaurant owner, political candidate, and radio broadcaster.
In a 1998 interview with Walt Shepperd, Al Lewis said:
My mother was a worker, worked in the garment trades. My mother was an indomitable spirit. My grandfather had no sons. He had six daughters. They lived in Poland or Russia, every five years it would change. My mother being the oldest daughter, they saved their money, and when she was about 16 they sent her to the United States, not knowing a word of English. She went to work in the garment center, worked her back and rear-end off and brought over to the United States her five sisters and two parents. I remember going on picket lines with my mother. My mother wouldn't back down to anyone.
He stated the same information in an 10 April 1997 interview with correspondents Amy Goodman and Bernard White.
He was born on 30 April 1923, but few other facts about Lewis are known with any certainty; most of the information comes from interviews he gave, but there are inconsistencies in his testimonies. Sometimes he gave his birth year as 1910, other times 1923. Ted Lewis, his son, said his father was born in 1923. Dan Barry
of the New York Times
writes: "Actors who lie about their age usually subtract, not add, years, and few would have the nerve to fudge those years by more than a decade. Al may have been born under the name Albert Meister
or Alexander Meister
to a Jewish
family in Brooklyn, New York
Other sources place his birth in Wolcott, New York, but no official record of his birth has been published to date, and officials in Wolcott say they have no record of any Meister. The Times wrote: "Lewis was born Albert Meister, probably in 1923, although he insisted that he was born in 1910. This, and Lewis' many other questionable stories, means that much of the actors life is a broth of conjecture that his fans will no doubt squabble over for years to come."
On his application for a Social Security number, completed sometime between 1936 and 1950, Lewis gave a date of birth of 30 April 1923. The date of birth must be verified by a birth certificate for the enrollee to receive age-related benefits.
As to why Lewis might have lied about his age, the most common theory is that in 1964 he might have been concerned about being a year younger than Yvonne De Carlo, who was cast to play his daughter, Lily.
He said he moved to Brooklyn, New York
with his family as a child and attended Thomas Jefferson High School, from which he left in his junior year. He later attended Oswego State Teachers College (now SUNY Oswego
). He also claimed he earned a Ph.D.
in child psychology
from Columbia University
in 1941. The university, though, has no record of this. In other interviews he also claimed he joined the Merchant Marine
prior to World War II
and spent time in Italy.
In interviews he said he worked as a circus performer and as a hot dog vendor at Ebbets Field, the former ballpark for the Brooklyn Dodgers. In 1987 he opened an Italian restaurant called Grampa's Bella Gente at 252 Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village, New York City.
His acting career begins the well documented portion of his life. He worked in burlesque
theaters, then on Broadway
in the dramas The Night Circus
(1958) and One More River
(1960), and as the character Moe Shtarker in the musical comedy Do Re Mi
(1962). His earliest television work includes two episodes of The Phil Silvers Show
in 1959, and four episodes of Naked City
from 1959 to 1963. His first well-known television role was as Officer Leo Schnauser on Car 54, Where Are You?
from 1961 to 1963, although he is best remembered as Grandpa on The Munsters
, which ran on American television
from 1964 to 1966 and for years later in re-runs. He had a guest role as a clumsy space magician in a Lost in Space
episode called "Rocket To Earth." His first role in a movie was playing Machine Gun Manny in Pretty Boy Floyd
(1960). He played the role of a bank robber in Green Acres
(1968). He also played the character Turkey in They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
(1969). Lewis had also played the role of a stern judge in Used Cars
(1980) His last role in a movie was Father Hanlon in Night Terror
He was also a recurring guest on The Howard Stern Show. In 1987 during a "Howard Stern Freedom Rally" against the FCC which was broadcast live on the air, Al repeatedly shouted "fuck the FCC!" until Howard was able to take the microphone away from him. Stern and the station were not punished for his actions.
From 1987 to 1989 Lewis hosted an afternoon horror movie show on the Turner Broadcasting network in his Grandpa Munster outfit.
Al Lewis was featured in the Atari 7800 game Midnight Mutants, an action-adventure title with a Halloween theme. His appearance in the game mirrored his Grandpa persona in the Munsters television series.
Lewis has claimed that he was member of the Sacco and Vanzetti
Defense Committee in 1927, and that he worked in the 1930s to free the Scottsboro Boys
. However, both of these occurances would be unlikely if he had been born in 1923.
In a 1997 interview, Lewis also claimed that he was an organizer in the Food, Agricultural and Tobacco Workers Union in North Carolina in the 1930s. Once on his WBAI-FM radio program Lewis said If anything I consider myself an anarchist.
As an activist, he hosted a politically oriented radio program on WBAI, and ran as Green Party candidate for Governor of New York in 1998. In that race he sought to be listed on the ballot as Grandpa Al Lewis, arguing that he was most widely known by that name. His request was rejected by the Board of Elections, a decision upheld in court against his challenge. Despite this setback, he achieved one of his campaign objectives. His total of 52,533 votes exceeded the threshold of votes set by New York law (50,000), and hence guaranteed the Green Party of New York an automatic ballot line for the next four years. (See Election results, New York governor) He said that, with no [political] machine and no money backing him, the likelihood of winning the governorship would be like climbing Mount Everest barefooted.
Al Lewis was married twice. He married Marge Domowitz in 1956. They had three sons, including one who was a high school football player. Al and Marge divorced in 1977. In 1984, he married Karen Ingenthron
and they were still married at the time of his death.
He lived on Roosevelt Island
, an island that lies between Manhattan
in the East River
of New York City. In 2003, he was hospitalized for an angioplasty
, and complications from the surgery led to an emergency bypass and the amputation of his right leg below the knee and all the toes on his left foot. He died on 3 February 2006, of natural causes in a hospital. He was cremated
, and his funeral
was held at Riverside Church
in New York City
. (It is unclear if he had converted from Judaism
.) His favorite gospel music
was played, and he was buried on 18 February 2006 in his favorite cigar box.
- 1923 Birth, most likely in Brooklyn, New York
- 1956 Marriage to Marge Domowitz on November 1
- 1958 The Night Circus on Broadway
- 1959 The Phil Silvers Show first appearance on this TV show
- 1959 Naked City first appearance on this TV show
- 1960 One More River on Broadway
- 1960 Pretty Boy Floyd as 'Machine Gun Manny in movies
- 1961 Car 54, Where Are You? starts on TV
- 1962 Do Re Mi as Moe Shtarker on Broadway
- 1963 Car 54, Where Are You? ends on TV
- 1964 The Munsters starts on TV
- 1966 The Munsters ends on TV
- 1968 Green Acres as bank robber
- 1969 They Shoot Horses, Don't They? as Turkey in movie
- 1977 Divorce from Marge Domowitz on 11 October
- 1984 Marriage to Karen Ingenthron
- 1987 Opens "Grampa's Bella Gente" restaurant
- 1995 Attended Mr. & Mrs. Nude Universe, Roselawn, Indiana
- 1998 Green Party candidate for Governor of New York
- 2002 Night Terror as Father Hanlon in movie
- 2003 Angioplasty and leg amputation
- 2003 A&E Biography released
- 2004 Release of Ramones Raw containing interview with Lewis
- 2005 Release of the video Porn King: The Trials of Al Goldstein containing interview with Lewis
- 2006 Death of Al Lewis on 3 February
- 2006 Buried on 18 February
- 2006 Goodbye, America, as Himself -
- Al Lewis, Beloved as 'Grandpa Munster,' Dies at 95 [sic] NPR, February 4, 2006.
- 'Grandpa' Al Lewis dies at 95 This link DOA Please remove[sic] Newsday, 4 February 2006.
- 'Grandpa Munster' Al Lewis Dies (quotes his son on 1923 birthdate)This link DOA please remove AP update, 4 February 2006.
- Al Lewis, 95, Dies; Portrayed Grandpa on 'The Munsters' [sic] The New York Times, 5 February 2006.
- TV's Grandpa Munster dies at 82 BBC, 5 February 2006.
- Goodbye 'Grandpa' - 'Munsters' icon Lewis dead Daily News, 5 February 2006
- 'Grandpa' Al Lewis 1923-2006: Actor, Radio Host and Lifelong Political Activist Dead at 82 Democracy Now, Monday, February 6, 2006.
- Obituary The Guardian, 7 February 2006
- Times Online