powered by AFI
The film begins with Jack Kruschen, as fictional Paramount movie producer "Jack Emulsion," directly addressing the camera to tell the audience that they are going to see a "different" type of motion picture. After describing various kinds of movies such as romances and horror films, Emulsion explains that The Bellboy is "a series of silly sequences" or "a visual diary of a few weeks in the life of a real nut." Emulsion then yells at the projectionist to roll the film, which commences with various shots of Miami Beach, FL.
Over the scenic tour, off-screen narrator Walter Winchell describes the popular tourist destination and the Hotel Fontainebleau. Winchell asserts that it is the large staff who are the "backbone" of the hotel, and that the bellboys are the Fontainebleau's "real, unsung heroes." When Winchell says that while he calls them "men," most people just yell for the bellboy, Jerry Lewis pops up into the line of assembled bellboys and the title appears. As "Stanley" begins his duties, he enters a room and washes the large windows. Using his finger, he writes the credit "Starring Jerry Lewis" in the cleaning solution, and the rest of the credits then appear as if handwritten on the window. Lewis' main credit reads: "Written, Produced and Directed by Jerry Lewis."
At the end of the film, after Stanley has revealed why he never speaks, Winchell adds that the moral of the picture is a simple one: "You'll never know the next guy's story unless you ask." The film then ends with the following written statement: "This motion picture was filmed in the luxurious Fontainebleau Hotel, Miami Beach, Florida. We gratefully acknowledge the cooperation of the management. The Producer." The credit for "guest star" Joe Levitch [Jerry Lewis] is an inside joke, as Levitch is Lewis' real name. The picture features numerous gags in which characters speak to or look directly at the camera. In the sequence in which Stanley finds himself in a room filled with scantily clad models, he does a double take, then runs up to the camera and holds his hand over it to black out the scene. When the bellboys are enjoying a night out at a club, stripper "Rock Candy" comes onstage and the word "censored" appears superimposed over her until the scene fades to black.
The Bellboy marked the first film entirely directed by Lewis, who had directed some sequences in his earlier films. Although a February 1960 Daily Variety news item reported that the picture was based on "an original script penned" by Lewis in 1956, in various modern sources, including commentary on the film's 2004 DVD release, Lewis related that he conceived The Bellboy's story in 1960 during the drive from the Miami airport to the Fontainebleau, where he was to be performing. Contemporary articles add that production began just after Lewis had just finished the two-week stint at the Fontainebleau, and in modern sources, Lewis noted that he wrote most of the screenplay during his nightclub engagement and the rest was improvised during filming.
In a February 1960 New York Times article about the production, it was stated that the basis for the story was Lewis' youthful experiences while accompanying his father Danny, who was a popular vaudevillian. The article also indicated that Lewis had chosen to play Stanley as speechless "not necessarily from physical handicap," but because people often treated uniformed workers as "faceless and without identity." As described by Lewis in modern sources, The Bellboy was a tribute to his longtime hero, film comedian Stan Laurel. Not only was the lead character named after Laurel, but Laurel impersonator Bill Richmond periodically appears in the picture.
In modern sources, Lewis asserted that he wrote, directed, produced and supervised the editing and scoring of The Bellboy in record time because Paramount executive Barney Balaban desired to release his just-completed film CinderFella (see below) in the summer instead of at Christmas, as Lewis wanted. Lewis promised Balaban a "Jerry Lewis movie" for the summer and after supplying The Bellboy, was allowed to release CinderFella for the holidays. In reporting on The Bellboy's pre-production, a February 9, 1960 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that the film had been "greenlighted less than two weeks ago."
A February 1960 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that choreographer Nick Castle, who had gone to the Fontainebleau to stage Lewis' nightclub routine, stayed on to create the film's musical numbers. As reported by an April 1960 Hollywood Citizen-News article, Lewis drew the majority of his cast from a wide variety of entertainers, many of whom were appearing in Florida nightclubs at the time. According to contemporary reports, among Lewis' discoveries in Florida was Bob Clayton, a local television newscaster and weatherman who plays the main bell captain in the film. A February 24, 1960 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that Lewis was using nearly 1,400 people for one scene, and that he was utilizing "practically the entire staff of the hotel," including the maids, real bellboys, cooks and others.
According to studio records and contemporary news items, the number of the picture's "guest stars" was initially designed to be much larger, with appearances by Corinne Calvet, Henny Youngman, Ken Murray, Marie Wilson, Martha Raye, Myron Cohen, Louis Armstrong, Eartha Kitt, Diosa Costello, The Ink Spots, and Phyllis and Bennett Cerf. Joan Tabor was assigned the "leading femme role" according to a February 17, 1960 Hollywood Reporter news item, and while the Paramount Collection, located at the AMPAS Library, lists her role as that of a model, but she does not appear in the completed picture. Deleted scenes included in the film's DVD release show the sequences featuring Calvet as herself, being trailed by a long string of bellboys carrying her luggage. A February 24, 1960 item in Hollywood Reporter's "Rambling Reporter" column stated that Lewis was even attempting to get former president Harry S. Truman to make a cameo in the picture. The same column reported that Lewis had cast stripper Tee Tee Red, and it is possible that she appears as Rock Candy.
The DVD outtakes also contain footage of Lewis performing an extensive nightclub routine, which a June 1960 studio synopsis indicates was to have been included in the film as a performance by "Levitch." A routine by ventriloquist Rickie Layne, who often performed on The Ed Sullivan Show, as well as a "chimp routine" and performances by Harvey Stone, Joey Adams, The Dunhills and George Key were to be included, according to Hollywood Reporter news items and studio files. The April 1960 Hollywood Citizen-News article adds that Layne was to appear in a nightclub sequence in which he would use Stanley as his ventriloquist's dummy instead of his usual dummy, "Velvel."
Jack Keller, who appears in The Bellboy as the opponent of real-life golf pro Cary Middlecoff, played golf professionally for many years, and at the time of production, was Lewis' press agent. According to Lewis' DVD commentary, the gag with Stanley interrupting Middlecoff's putt with a flashbulb was based on a real incident that happened to Keller during his golf career. Although the golf announcer in the film was played by Bartley Shank, his voice was supplied by actor and voice-over artist Del Moore, who frequently appeared in Lewis' films.
Studio records reveal that Louis Y. Brown was originally signed to compose the film's musical score, but was replaced by Walter Scharf. Although a February 24, 1960 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that Milton Berle was "teaming" with Henry Tobias for a title tune called "Stanley the Bellboy," no such song appears in the picture, nor was used for exploitation purposes. As noted in the onscreen credits, the picture was almost entirely shot on location in Miami Beach, FL, at the Fontainebleau Hotel. According to the Paramount Collection, only the sequence featuring Jack Emulsion was shot at Paramount Studios. According to studio records, the picture was shot in twenty-six days, except for the prologue, and other Miami locations included the Flagler Race Track, the Bayshore Golf Club, the Miami Airport and the Miami Civic Auditorium.
The Paramount files report that technician Bruce Denny would be "handling the TV viewing device," described as "a rehearsal gimmick," during location shooting. The "gimmick" was the television assist, or video assist device, which was invented and patented by Lewis. In one modern interview, Lewis stated that he invented the apparatus in 1956 because he knew that eventually he would be directing himself and need monitors to critique his performance. The invention, which allows directors to see immediately on video and closed-circuit television monitors what is being captured by the film cameras, was used extensively for the first time on The Bellboy and has since become standard equipment throughout the motion picture and television industries.
Hollywood Reporter news items noted that after filming on The Bellboy was completed, Lewis left Miami for Las Vegas, where he was appearing at the Sands Hotel. Following a similar schedule to that in Miami, Lewis performed at night, then spent the days editing the film with equipment and assistants recruited from Hollywood. According to reports of Lewis' progress in Hollywood Reporter, it took the director less one month to assemble a rough cut of the picture.
Before the film's release, several Hollywood Reporter news items noted that it was being sold on a "blind bidding" basis, which meant that theater owners could not see the picture before bidding on it for exhibition. Paramount claimed a special exemption to the usual practices required by the U.S. Supreme Court's 1948 abolishment of block booking because The Bellboy's release date was set before post-production was completely finished. Although a number of exhibitors complained, according to a May 24, 1960 Hollywood Reporter news item, the U.S. Justice Department could not interfere as long as the studio applied the policy to every exhibitor who wished to acquire the picture.
Although The Bellboy was not well-received critically at the time of its release, with several reviewers unfavorably comparing Lewis to Charlie Chaplin, it was very successful at the box office. Contemporary sources credited Lewis' extensive promotion of the film with spurring its high grosses. According to Hollywood Reporter and Harrrison's Reports news items, Lewis promoted the picture in the New York City area by making personal appearances in twenty-one theaters in two days. The Bellboy has come to be regarded by modern critics as one of the highlights in Lewis' career as an actor and director.
In April 2003, Daily Variety reported that Lewis would be an executive producer on a remake of the picture, to be written by Kevin Bisch and produced by Gary Foster and Mark Steven Johnson for distribution through M-G-M. The article also noted that M-G-M had been developing the remake since 1997, with Jackie Chan set to star at one point, although he was no longer attached to the project. An earlier, 1998 Daily Variety item stated that Lewis would make an appearance in the remake. As of summer 2005, however, no remake of The Bellboy has been produced.