One of the relatively few serious works by comedian Jerry Lewis, his 1971 book The Total Film-maker, begins with a touching dedication to the woman he married in 1945: "To Patti, whose love, patience and wisdom never diminished while waiting for me to grow up." Patti Lewis, alas, now appears to have quit waiting. In papers filed a month ago in Los Angeles, the first and only Mrs. Lewis requested a legal separation—and $450,000 a year to support herself and the youngest of their six sons, Joseph Christopher, 16. Her husband, she charges, "has displayed an open disregard for our marriage, and I am a 'financial puppet' at the mercy of his office, with no money of my own."

Her court papers complain bitterly of his extravagances, which she says have caused household bills to go unpaid, forced her to sell her jewels and led her to dispense with all live-in help: "He often pays the airplane travel, including specially chartered Learjets, for groups of his friends to meet him on vacations. He has hundreds of suitcases and keeps buying more. He has hundreds of tape recorders and keeps buying more." The real object of her disaffection, friends say, is SanDee Pitnick, a 30-year-old former stewardess with a bit part in Jerry's latest movie, Hardly Working. Patti complains that Lewis, 54, set up joint housekeeping in Las Vegas—and that he has recently "lavished gifts of jewelry and luggage on [his] woman friend in Paris, Hawaii, Las Vegas and Florida."

The Lewis family life-style clearly demands cash. Still residing in their 31-room mansion (with 17 bathrooms) are three of their six grown sons, as well as five dogs, four cats, eight parakeets, four cockatiels and four fish. Patti claims that Jerry's annual income amounts to some $1,278,000 after taxes, and that their community property runs "in excess of $7 million."

Jerry's side of the story is yet to be heard, and Patti is speaking only to the court. But friends say she has long put up with her husband's roving eye—and that her lawsuit comes less from shock than from exasperation. Certainly, her husband's restlessness comes as no surprise to her. As she wrote of him in a magazine article 13 years ago: "You just never know what phase he's going to go into next."