The Biggest Thing in Show Business

Living It Up with Martin & Lewis

By Murray Pomerance & Matthew Solomon

Subjects: Film Studies, Popular Culture, American Studies
Hardcover : 9781438496528, 342 pages, February 2024
Paperback : 9781438496535, 342 pages, August 2024
Expected to ship: 2024-08-02

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents

An American Utopia

User's Manual

Can You Relax?

Can You Listen?

Part I

In the Playroom

Smash and Crash

Song of the South

Mouth to Mouth

Keep Good Records

Up the Ante

An Ampersanded Truth

An Interlude

Part II

Give Me a Head of Hair

The Tip of the Nose

I Stand Up, I Fall Down

"I Like Blood!"

Eyes Tightly Shut

Another Interlude

Part III

The True Voice of Feeling

When the Moon Hits Your Eye

This Is Cardboard


In Stereo

With the Doctor

Dean and Jerry Full Frontal

Splitsville on Schedule



In the Library

Can You Look Up?

List of Illustrations

A freewheeling, nonlinear exploration of the performing duo and their decade-long collaboration from 1946 to 1956.


From 1946 to 1956, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis provoked audiences into rollicking laughter as they shook up and delighted a culture they both mediated and made fun of. Using the duo's phenomenal popularity as a starting point, The Biggest Thing in Show Business looks askance at postwar America with a fast-moving sweep, jam-packed with unexpected connections, revealing details, and surprising insights. Aiming to be as unconventional as their subjects, Murray Pomerance and Matthew Solomon enact a highly spontaneous and up-to-the-minute approach to coauthorship that re-establishes the importance of Martin & Lewis in the cultural pantheon. As a result, the book's structure, methodology, and writing style are thoroughly dialogic and firmly opposed to stale convention.

Murray Pomerance is an independent scholar living in Toronto and Adjunct Professor in the School of Media and Communication at the RMIT University, Melbourne. He is the author of many books, including, most recently, A Silence from Hitchcock (also published by SUNY Press) and Uncanny Cinema: Agonies of the Viewing Experience. Matthew Solomon is Professor of Film, Television, and Media at the University of Michigan. His most recent book is Méliès Boots: Footwear and Film Manufacturing in Second Industrial Revolution Paris.


"Contrary to the cult of Jerry Lewis that formed in the wake of Positif and Cahiers' provocative celebration of Lewis as the consummate American idiot—work that overvalued his later films—the best of Jerry Lewis, as Murray Pomerance and Matthew Solomon convincingly contend, was surely the early stuff with Dean Martin, back when the two of them together were 'the biggest thing in show business.' Pomerance and Solomon do their level best to tell us why, and, like the comedy duo's performances they so complexly attend, the cultural history they offer is surprising and profound." — Jon Lewis, author of Road Trip to Nowhere: Hollywood Encounters the Counterculture

"For a brief period, Martin and Lewis were indeed the 'biggest thing in show business,' and this book does a wonderful job of presenting the postwar environment and what audiences at the time were drawn to. Pomerance and Solomon offer a deep and rich presentation and appreciation of the multitude of elements that made up the essence of the duo's performances." — Kristine Brunovska Karnick, coeditor of Classical Hollywood Comedy