When Darren McGavin replaced Dean Martin

The thing about comedy duos is that they rarely work as solo acts. Who is Abbott without Costello? Laurel without Hardy? Beavis without Butthead?

Maybe the one exception that proves the rule is Jerry Lewis. He was successful as a comedy duo with Dean Martin, and he went on to have further success in his career as a dual filmmaker/actor. Martin and Lewis found fame as a nightclub duo, before translating their act for television on The Colgate Comedy Hour. From there, the pair starred in a series of feature films before a widely publicized breakup.

According to a 1956 article in the Lubbock, Texas's Evening Journal, Martin refused to appear in A Delicate Delinquent, thus severing the decade-long creative tie with Jerry Lewis. 

So, with Martin out and Lewis still in, ol' Jerry needed a new foil. Martin was always the voice of reason, as grounded as Lewis was zany. A few years later, audiences would tire of Lewis on his own with no regular guy to play off of. But for the moment, with 1956's Delicate Delinquent, Jerry Lewis was in need of a partner.

Enter Darren McGavin. Years before he was Kolchak, and even more years before he was the dad in A Christmas Story,  the Evening Journal described McGavin as "a chunky red-haired Irishman." If you're keeping score at home, that's the complete opposite of Dean Martin. One thing they had in common, though, was the fact that both Martin and McGavin sang.

"But I won't be singing in the picture," said McGavin about A Delicate Delinquent. Instead, he gamely stepped into the role that was originally written for Dean Martin, in what amounted to a financially successful but otherwise forgettable romp. 

Contemporary readers will, of course, know that the Lewis/McGavin partnership was a one-off. However, at the time, the decision to work together again was up in the air. 

"That's up to Jerry," said McGavin. "As for myself, I never plan ahead."

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12 Comments

Tresix 4 months ago
From what I remember reading about the break-up, Lewis wanted Martin to play a uniformed officer like McGavin played while Martin wanted to be a detective. The two couldn’t reach an agreement and parted ways.
Runeshaper 4 months ago
Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, and Darren McGavin were all good solo and with others.
Snickers 4 months ago
Rather watch the Dynamic Duo. To the Bat poles!
MichaelPowers 4 months ago
Jerry & Dean had broken up their comedy team partnership; so Jer wasn't looking to establish a new one with Darren or anyone else. He was ready to strike out on his own.
AgingDisgracefully 4 months ago
Darren was likely looking ahead to THIS ill-advised partnership:
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0052506/?ref_=nm_flmg_t_140_act
justjeff 4 months ago
It's kind of lame for MeTV to consider this a "one-off partnership". McGavin stepped in as a replacement for Dean Martin so the film would get made. That's like saying Jerry Lewis and Tony Curtis were a partnership in the film "Boeing, Boeing" or that Robert DeNiro and Jerry were partners in "King of Comedy".

They *were* co-stars, but a partnership? Nah! However, I've said this before and it's worth repeating... There are times when MeTV's writers *never* let the facts get in the way of a good story...

And in a similar vein, were Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra (although members of the "Rat Pack" who did a number of films together) a comedy/singing partnership? If you think so, well "Ain't That a Kick in the Head"...
daDoctah 4 months ago
There's a bit in The Delicate Delinquent where McGavin administers an aptitude test to Lewis. To measure his intelligence (hopefully to discover he's not actually a moron, just undeveloped), he opens a sort of valise and takes out a variety of objects of different shapes, then tells Lewis to fit the objects into the holes inside the case while he times how long it takes him to do it.

Lewis tosses all the objects back into the case, closes the lid, picks up the case and shakes it vigorously for about two seconds. Then he opens the lid and shows McGavin that all the objects have been shaken into their appropriate holes.

Years later they had Katherine Helmond on "Soap" come out of a coma and they give her the same test to see if she's suffered any serious brain damage while she was out, and she solves it the same way.
cperrynaples 4 months ago
I can't imagine McGavin as a full time replacement! Martin didn't do the movie because he knew Jerry would upstage him the same way he did McGavin!
teire 4 months ago
Saw that movie at our local theater as a kid with my little brother. It was the Saturday matinee.
Bapa1 4 months ago
I remember that movie. McGavin's role was pretty serious.
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