In a feature — and accompanying short film — for Vanity Fair‘s annual “Hollywood Issue,” a number of Jerry Lewis’ leading ladies, female co-stars and many other aspiring, talented women allege that the so-called King of Comedy sexually harassed and, in at least one case, sexually assaulted them.
The story and film are based in part on interviews conducted by Emmy-winning Allen v. Farrow filmmakers Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick who, in 2017, began investigating Hollywood’s long history of abuse. They found that some of the most severe accusations involved Lewis.
Among those interviewed for the piece are Hope Holiday, who appeared in The Ladies Man with Lewis the year after she broke out in Billy Wilder’s The Apartment; Jill St. John, who starred opposite the comedian in Who’s Minding the Store?; Anna Maria Alberghetti, who worked with him on Cinderfella; Karen Sharpe, who played the star’s love interest in The Disorderly Orderly, comic/actress/Oscar-nominated writer Renée Taylor; singer Lainie Kazan; and others.
The most serious allegations came from Sharpe and Holiday.
Sharpe asserted that, after a costume fitting in his office, Lewis dismissed the others present and physically assaulted her.
“He grabbed me,” she alleged to Vanity Fair. “He began to fondle me. He unzipped his pants. Quite frankly, I was dumbstruck.”
Sharpe indicates she rebuffed him and a furious Lewis later retaliated. She alleges he forbade anyone on set from speaking to her for the remainder of production. She says he refused to rehearse with her, instead sending his stand-in, and he would not let her quit.
Lewis never spoke to Sharpe unless it was during a scene, she says.
Holiday had known Lewis since she was 13 but was in her early 30s when she alleges the comedian invited her to his dressing room and, locking the door with the push of a button, began to “talk dirty” to her and masturbate.
“I was frightened,” she told Vanity Fair. “I just sat there, and I wanted to leave so badly.”
Holiday said her friends urged her to report Lewis to SAG, but she stayed quiet out of fear.
“He was very big at Paramount,” Holiday said. “I was under contract to him and to Paramount, and I didn’t want to shake the boat. Y’know, I figured I’ll just keep my mouth shut.”
Taylor says that she came to understand, in no uncertain terms, that studio execs knew of and condoned Lewis’ behavior toward women.
She was 28 when the comedian arranged a meeting for her with Paramount brass who, she says, immediately asked her if she was “one of Jerry’s Girls.” When she told them “no,” she alleges the execs began speaking crudely about her anatomy and that of Lewis.
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