On March 16 Jerry Lewis turns 90 years old, making him one of the oldest living great filmmakers along with Jonas Mekas (93), Seijun Suzuki (92), Stanley Donen (91), D.A. Pennebaker (90), Claude Lanzmann (90) and Andrzej Wajda (90). And if you have any doubt about his status as one of the great auteurs go and see any of the films he directed at Museum of Modern Art's’s current retrospective: Happy Birthday, Mr. Lewis: The Kid Turns 90.
To flip through the films of Jerry Lewis in poster form is to encounter an awful lot of crossed eyes, toothy grins and outsized heads on small bodies (a familiar trope for comedians in movie posters whether it's Fernandel or Cantinflas or Buster Keaton.) That said, Lewis also seems to have inspired illustrators around the world. The French love Jerry Lewis, as the cliché goes, but so, it seemed, did the Germans, the Italians, the Scandinavians and the Japanese, and I have found a number of rather beautiful and inventive posters from all those parts of the world. (I have not, however, found a single Jerry Lewis poster from Poland or Czechoslovakia; perhaps the anarchy perpetrated by Lewis was deemed too subversive for Eastern Bloc audiences.)
Below I’ve collected 25 of my favorite international posters for Lewis’s films. Though he has acted in films for over 65 years, from 1949 until the present day, his best posters all fall into a fifteen year stretch from 1953 to 1968. The earlier Martin and Lewis posters don't tend to highlight Jerry (though some of the international Martin and Lewis posters go in the opposite direction and omit Dean entirely) and the posters past 1968, after the golden age of movie poster illustration, tend to be much less interesting.
In one instance, in 1960, Lewis became personally involved in movie poster design. As the producer of Cinderfella (which Frank Tashlin directed), Lewis insisted on hiring the great illustrator Norman Rockwell, who had illustrated very few movie posters during his career. In an interview with Heritage Auctions, which is currently selling the original artwork from Lewis’s collection, he recounts how he told studio executives that “'This is going to be a tribute to Rockwell, my respect for the man, and I’m to take his work and make it the entire ad campaign.’ . . . It was very successful. We figured the picture would gross about $7 million domestic. The minute we put Rockwell’s name to it, the figure became $16 million.... My whole idea was to get an icon in the world of art and have that icon sell the movie for me. . . . And Rockwell brought that. That's what he brought.” You can see the whole interview here and place a bid on the artwork (estimated at $300,000 to $500,000).