02.11.06

Revising Grandpa Al’s Obituary

Posted in Basketball, The World Of Entertainment at 7:44 pm by

The New York Times’ Dan Barry reports that Grandpa Al Lewis passed away last week at the age of 82, not 95. Next thing you know, we’ll be hearing that Al never brought Sidney Green to UNLV.

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. But at some point Mr. Lewis began to claim that he was born in 1910, when he was actually born in 1923. In other words, he was 13 years old by the time he was born.

Why? The prevailing theory holds that in 1964, when he was vying for the role as ancient Grandpa, Mr. Lewis worried that he might lose the job because he was actually younger than Yvonne De Carlo, the actress who would be playing his daughter, Lily. So he aged himself, a lot, in a ruse no doubt abetted by his rubbery face.

This little lie may not have mattered much at the time. But as the years passed, and as Lewis emerged in New York as a cranky radio talk-show host and freewheeling candidate, he apparently chose to flesh out those 13 phantom years of his.

He was said to have been born Alexander or Albert Meister in 1910, in the upstate town of Wolcott; officials there say they have no record of any Meister. After moving to Brooklyn, he was said to have worked on the defense committee for Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian anarchists who were executed in 1927; challenging work for a child of 4.

When Lewis talked about the 1930′s, he described himself not as a boy growing into long pants, but as an adventurous man, always in the mix of history. He said that he worked as a radio actor, circus clown, trapeze artist, medicine show “professor,” and union organizer in the South, where, he once said, “you faced death at any moment.”

He said that he appeared in Olsen and Johnson’s “Hellzapoppin’,” the Broadway hit of 1938. He said that he championed the cause of the Scottsboro Boys, nine black teenagers who were accused of raping two white women in a profoundly flawed case.

All this while he was working on a doctorate in child psychology, which he was said to have earned at Columbia University in 1941 ” or 1949. The university, though, has no record of this.

I’d prefer to not cast aspersions on Lewis’ integrity. You might call it lying. I’d say this was just another neat of example of identity re-creation, in the rich tradition of George Lynch and J.T. Leroy.

3 Responses to “Revising Grandpa Al’s Obituary”

  1. Jim says:

    Wouldn’t it be interesting if the Dan Barry’s of journalism put as much “ooomph” into rooting out the truth about things that matter (like failed U.S. policy in the ME, lies about weapons of mass destraction, and the ubiquitous lies and obfuscations of a Scotty McLellan press conference)!

    That Al Lewis tacked on 13 years to his life pales in comparison, but, then again, I subscribe to Al Lewis’ philosophy of life.

    F*ck Dan Barry and all his MSM brethren!

  2. GC says:

    “Wouldn’t it be interesting if the Dan Barry’s of journalism put as much ooomph into rooting out the truth about things that matter (like failed U.S. policy in the ME, lies about weapons of mass destruction, and the ubiquitous lies and obfuscations of a Scotty McLellan press conference)!”

    he might very well aspire to do just that, Jim. But given that he writes for the Metro & State section of the Times, it might be a little out of place.

    The paper in question has certain devoted a ton of space regularly to everything you mentioned.

  3. Brian Barry says:

    Hey Jim FYI, maybe you should do a little research before you press that send button. Dan Barry won the Pulitzer while at the Providence Journal as an investigative reporter for rooting out the corruption in the state supreme court system . That was before he distinguished himself as the city hall bureau chief keeping Giuliani in line at the Times. Not to mention the George K. Polk award and a second Pulitzer as a team member covering 9/11.Yeah, I know, everyone is entitled to an opinion, but for chrissakes, make an attempt to provide an informed one

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