Irvington NJ (Storch Report) – I too was an alumnus of Union Avenue School, Irvington High School and a soda jerk at Gerstein’s Drug store on Chancellor Avenue in Irvington N.J., as was Jerry Lewis.
I was eight years younger than Lewis and have two Jerry stories, one I can confirm and the other a third party hand-me-down.
The hand-me-down was at Union Avenue School, a K thru 8 school, the principal was Ms. Betz, I don’t remember her first name, a rather big woman with a shock of red hair. She was there for the Jerry incident and still there when I went through the school.
Jerry was a clown in school, a kid that never grew up and it served him well, as well as those that became global fans, who he provided with a lifetime of laughter in shows and movies.
One day at Union Avenue School, as the story is told, Jerry locked himself in a cloak room.
Cloak rooms were at the back of every class room and at this school they were metal doors that pulled out and then opened inward. The handles were the same on the inside as the outside and could not be locked.
Well Jerry found a way to lock himself in the cloak room by putting some kind of a bar between the handles.
Jerry was eventually persuaded to come out and he was sent to the principal’s office.
And there he stood before Ms Betz and she read him the riot act and then said, “Jerry you will never amount to anything in your life.”
A profit she wasn’t.
The second story I can vouch for.
Jerry once worked for Gerstein’s Drug store as a soda jerk. It was located on the corner of Chancellor and Union Avenue a few blocks from the grammar school we both went to.
Years latter I too worked there as a soda jerk and it was still owned by Gerstein.
One day a blue Cadillac convertible with wings on the rear fenders pulled up in front of the store and Jerry jumped out over the seats and doors, his star was already rising, and walked into the store with a crowd following him.
Dean Martin wasn’t with him. I was the soda jerk behind the counter. He asked for my apron as the crowd filled the counter and he began his act as though it was a movie set and began making ice cream sodas, sundaes and milk shakes for the fans and once again became a soda jerk.
A voice bellowed from the prescription drug counter and it was Mr. Gerstein, and he said, “Jerry, you’re going to pay for this.”
After it was all over and the crowd dispersed, Jerry walked back to the drug counter, pulled out a wad of cash and said, “This should take care of everything,” and handed it to Gerstein.
He walked out of the store, jumped into his Cadillac and drove off.
He provided the world with a lifetime of laughter.
Ms Betz was wrong.
Even the French, who do not often get things right, admired him and bestowed him with knighthood.
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Don, I just came across your August article about Jerry Lewis and the soda jerk story. That was a great piece of Jerry Lewis history and I can just picture the scene and bedlam as you described it. I too am from Irvington although I now live in Georgia. I first lived on Bruen Avenue, and when I was five we moved to Myrtle avenue and I attended Grove St. school. When I was a sophomore in high school we relocated again after a fire in the house where we had an apartment. That next move was to 38th Street, not that many blocks from where Gerstein’s would have been located. And I certainly remember cloak rooms that you talked about.
I only saw Jerry Lewis in person once. In 1957 my mother took me to the Sanford Theater where Jerry appeared on stage for a Saturday matinee showing of his movie ‘The Delicate Delinquent’. Back in those days that was the most exciting thing that could happen to a kid and devoted fan of Jerry. I even use to practice his expressions in the bathroom mirror.
I just wanted to let you know that I really enjoyed your article and story about Jerry, and have bookmarked your website.
Flowery Branch, Ga