Monday, February 06, 2006

Farewell Gramps

Al Lewis, grandpa on TV's "The Munsters," dies
By Jeanne King

Al Lewis, best known for his role as Grandpa in television's "The Munsters," has died after a long illness, a local radio station said on Saturday.

A movie Web site listed his age as 95, but there have been reports that he was 83.

Lewis, who died on Friday, was born in Brooklyn and was raised by his mother, an immigrant sweatshop worker in the Brownsville district of that borough.

"Brownsville was the largest Jewish ghetto in America," he once said. "We all were very poor. But we stood together when people were evicted. When the marshals and sheriffs would leave, we'd break the lock and move the furniture back inside. Back then, we didn't let people live in the street."

Lewis worked as salesman and waiter and once owned a successful restaurant in Greenwich Village. He also was a poolroom owner, store detective and political candidate.

He worked as a circus clown and performed stunts on the trapeze bar, taught school, wrote two children's books and by the time he was 31, received a doctorate in child psychology from Columbia University.

An avid college basketball fan, he also scouted for several basketball teams.


It wasn't until 1949 that he turned to acting and joined the Paul Mann Actor's Workshop where his classmates were Sidney Poitier and Vic Morrow. It was at the workshop that Lewis developed his comedic style.

His first big role was as Officer Leo Schnauser on the "Car 54, Where Are You?" series that ran from 1961 to 1963. In 1964, Lewis began playing Grandpa Munster, part of a wacky, endearing family of monsters whose fictional address was 1313 Mockingbird Lane in Mockingbird Heights.

"The Munsters" ran for two years on CBS, then continued on in syndication.

In 1988, he accepted the Green Party nomination for governor of New York saying, "We don't inherit the world from our ancestors, we borrow it from our kids."

Although he lost to incumbent Republican Gov. George Pataki, he still managed to collect more than 52,000 votes with his name on the ballot as "Grandpa Al Lewis."

Lewis' first political work was for the Sacco and Vanzetti defense committee. Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two Italian anarchists, were executed in Massachusetts in 1927 for a double murder and robbery amid doubts about their guilt.

Lewis worked in the 1930s to free the Scottsboro Boys -- nine black teenagers accused of raping two white women in another highly publicized case. All but one were sentenced to death, but eventually they were cleared.

"If anything I consider myself an anarchist," he once said on his weekly radio show on WBAI in New York City.

Lewis had three angioplasties, and in 2003 doctors were forced to amputate his right leg below the knee and all five toes of his left foot.

He is survived by his wife, Karen, three sons and four grandchildren.

No comments: