Picks and Pans Review: I Laffed Till I Cried

updated 09/13/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/13/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Patti Lewis

The joke about Jerry Lewis, writes his former wife, Patti, is that he was always such a slave to the spotlight that when he opened his refrigerator and the light came on, he would do 15 minutes of shtick before making a sandwich. It thus comes as no surprise that after 36 years of marriage, Patti had perhaps had enough of the nutty professor. But it was not the comic's need to perform, or even his perpetual clowning—smearing brownies on his teeth at dinner, jumping fully dressed into the family pool—that brought the marriage asunder. It was Jerry's flip side.

In this not mean-spirited but melancholy memoir, Patti cites her husband's blistering temper, emotional absences, addiction to painkillers, profligate spending and philandering that finally led to their 1980 divorce.

Rather than a textured account of her life with Jerry (now 67 and living in Las Vegas with his second wife, Sam, and their adopted daughter, Danielle), Patti offers readers the equivalent of a shoebox of souvenirs: disjointed episodes, fragments of her poetry and biblical passages—even recipes—along with scattered recollections from the couple's six sons.

Judging from this account, Jerry could be the poster boy for dysfunctional patriarchs. From youngest son Joseph: "One of the most fearsome sounds at the table was three taps of the fork on Dad's plate...if we were too noisy or were not eating fast enough." From son Tony, who remembers overhearing Dad calling girlfriends behind a locked bathroom door: "I knew (our father really loved us a lot) because I always heard him say it on television." Or this from adopted son Ron, on why his father turned fund-raiser: "He grew up with pain and suffering, and when he looked at muscular dystrophy, he saw a pain and suffering he understood."

After sifting through the past in this sad-clown story, Patti, who has not remarried, points out that she has forgiven her "talented child man," but it is very clear that she has not forgotten. (WRS Publishing, $19.95)

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