June 8, 2010
I don’t often link to other writers’ work in this space. It’s not because I’m a snob – it’s just that I can barely stay on top of my own pieces. (Case in point: I don’t have anything on tap this week.)
But I would be remiss if I didn’t direct everyone to this terrific piece on Al “Grandpa Munster” Lewis by one Kliph Nesteroff (who should display his byline more prominently). I haven’t watched The Munsters since I was a kid, but since then, I’ve come to know Lewis for his dramatic roles in some live television during the late fifties, and then as a frequent guest star on Naked City and Route 66. At that point, Lewis was a classic “New York” type of character actor, often playing gangsters and other menacing roles (he was taller than you’d guess). He’s credible in those parts even if you only know Lewis from the comic side of his career (The Phil Silvers Show, Car 54, The Munsters), which seems to have outlasted the rest.
“Grandpa,” it turns out, was full of shit. He padded his resume and his personal life with a lot of lies, and the discrepancies regarding his age were reported widely when he entered politics. Only after Lewis died was it established with some certainty that he had (for reasons that remain murky) added thirteen years to his age. I had read about all of that before, but Mr. Nesteroff has applied some thorough legwork toward investigating which of Lewis’s fish stories are bullshit and which aren’t. The results may surprise you. I was gratified to learn, for instance, that Lewis’s credentials as a lifelong progressive activist mostly check out – a fact that goes a long way toward redeeming a personality that otherwise sounds kind of insufferable.
I was also intrigued by the anecdotes in Nesteroff’s piece that involved Lewis’s Munsters co-star, Fred Gwynne. Gwynne, it would appear, was a darker and more complex fellow than his most famous character, the amiable Herman Munster. If we’re lucky, Mr. Nesteroff will next turn his attention to Gwynne’s life story.
Al Lewis menaces Martin Milner on Route 66 (“The Thin White Line”).