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The 1954 escapade Living It Up was one of several movie remakes Paramount assigned to the comedy team of Lewis and Martin. Sailor Beware (1952) was a retooling of The Fleet's In (1942); Scared Stiff (1953) was an update of Bob Hope's The Ghost Breakers (1940); Pardners (1956) was a new version of Rhythm on the Range (1936). Living It Up was based on the classic 1937 screwball comedy Nothing Sacred and its subsequent Broadway musical remake Hazel Flagg but added the comic frenzy of Jerry Lewis and cool charm of Dean Martin as an added twist.
In the original 1937 satire penned by Ben Hecht, Carole Lombard is a small town girl misdiagnosed with radiation poisoning by the local doctor. Fredric March is the jaded big city reporter who wants to publicize her plight and treat her to a trip to New York. For Living It Up, the screenwriters altered the main character's genders with Jerry Lewis in the role of the supposedly dying Homer Flagg and Janet Leigh as the winsome reporter Wally. The doctor, another key character, was refashioned for Dean Martin who became a skirt-chasing physician named Steve. Although Homer and Steve find out that the original diagnosis is incorrect, they decide to take advantage of the free trip, so Homer can see the sights and the doctor can see more of Wally.
In between wooing Wally and avoiding Dr. Egelhofer (another doctor sent to verify Homer's sickness), Martin manages to fit in some swinging songs, including "How Do You Speak to an Angel," "Money Burns a Hole in My Pocket," and a duet with Lewis, "Every Street's a Boulevard." Homer, meanwhile, entertains a dance contest winner (Sheree North in her film debut) and an incredibly sexy and energetic jitterbug number ensues. The Paramount publicity department touted North's bit as "the screen's first rock and roll number" despite the fact that the jitterbug wasn't a new Elvis Presley inspired dance but a holdout from the pre-WWII era.
Besides the musical numbers, there is plenty of goofy comic banter. "You're going all the way to New York because you have radiation poisoning," reporter Wally tells Homer. Homer's quick reply: "How far can I go on a sinus condition?" Slapstick is also part of the mix although for one scene, the usually unflappable Martin almost lost his cool. The scene called for him to "accidentally" catch a ride on a serving cart but jump off before it crashes into a door. But director Norman Taurog insisted that it be done over and over again until it was "just so," much to Martin's annoyance.
Lewis and Martin worked with director Taurog six times in their movie careers, most notably on The Stooge (1953) and Jumping Jacks (1952). After Living It Up, he would direct the pair twice more in Pardners (1956) and You're Never Too Young (1955), which was a remake of The Major and the Minor (1942).
Janet Leigh was also an old acquaintance of the team. Lewis and Martin had known Leigh and her husband Tony Curtis for some years before Living It Up, and in fact, Lewis and his wife had been best man and matron of honor at Leigh's wedding to Curtis. They also appeared in many of the zany home movies that Lewis directed with his friends during this time.
But Leigh did have some misgivings about her part as the New York reporter. In her autobiography, There Really Was a Hollywood, she wrote, "The dialogue was laced with caustic one-liners; Eve Arden manages this so effectively, but it isn't my way - glibness doesn't sit well on my shoulders. Comedy for me has to come out of a situation, not just delivering witty lines. Norman agreed completely, recognizing what was natural for me."
Living It Up was made at the peak of the Martin and Lewis popularity. The duo started as a team in 1946 and started making movies three years later. They remained the world's top box-office earners from 1950 to 1956, the year the pair would go their separate ways. The professional break-up was still two years away at the time of Living It Up, but the strains were already beginning to show.
Leigh remembered in her autobiography that the two men kept their distance on the set of Living It Up and didn't socialize outside of work. "Dean had his group and Jerry had his group and all of that."But Leigh writes that despite differences, the two men created movie magic in their own ways on the set. "Dean was a natural relaxed, easygoing, open, and sexy and it resulted in a seemingly effortless, honest, warm portrayal. Jerry came across an inventive buffoon, and more. He's a much better actor than he has been given credit for."
Lewis told filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich in 2000 that the change in the relationship started to fester around 1954. "We had outside factions that were envious of our relationship," he said in an interview in Bogdanovich's book, "Who the Hell's In It." "Whatever mean-spirited people do, we were getting the ass-end of it."
After the break-up, Martin and Lewis each had successful careers on their own, but many critics still single out their partnership in movies --including Living It Up -- as a high point in cinematic comedy.Producer: Paul Jones
Director: Norman Taurog
Screenplay: Ben Hecht, Jack Rose, Melville Shavelson, James H. Street
Cinematography: Daniel L. Fapp
Film Editing: Archie Marshek
Art Direction: Albert Nozaki, Hal Pereira
Music: Walter Scharf, Jule Styne
Cast: Dean Martin (Dr. Steve Harris), Jerry Lewis (Homer Flagg), Janet Leigh (Wally Cook), Edward Arnold (The Mayor), Fred Clark (Oliver Stone), Sheree North (Jitterbug Dancer).
by Amy Cox