Why Did Billy Wilder Call Jerry Lewis Names?


Quick Answer

Billy Wilder called Jerry Lewis a "schmuck" because Lewis turned down a role in the movie "Some Like It Hot." Jack Lemmon took the role instead and starred with Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe. The movie went on to receive six Academy Award nominations, including one for best actor for Lemmon.

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Full Answer

In "Some Like It Hot," two Chicago musicians hide out dressed as women after they witness the St. Valentine's Massacre and fear might be killed by the mob. Lewis said he turned down the role of one of the musicians because he did not want to do a whole movie in women's clothing. He had done some shorter bits in drag and felt so much time in a dress would be uncomfortable. In 2000, the American Film Institute named "Some Like It Hot" as the funniest American movie of all time.

Every year after Lewis rejected the part, Billy Wilder sent a gift to Jerry Lewis and signed the card, "To the schmuck. Enjoy." Lewis said that Jack Lemmon also sent Lewis a box of chocolates every year until Lemmon's death.

Years later, when Lewis wrote "The Bellboy," he asked Wilder to direct the movie. This time Wilder turned Lewis down and told Lewis to do it himself. Lewis did, and it went on to be one of Paramount Picture's biggest hits of the year 1960.

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