Last week Gothamist was greatly saddened to learn that Grampa Munster, the actor, restauranteur, green politician, and classic New York personality also known as Al Lewis, had passed on. In writing his death up in an Extra, Extra, we followed the lead of other obits and reported that Lewis was 95. Later that week we saw a few reports trickle in that in fact Lewis was 82. The discrepancy of 13 years seemed a bit odd, but we quickly forgot about it. Until today that is, when we opened up our copy of the Times.
In the Metro Section, Dan Barry has one of those columns that makes one almost think about paying for Times Select (nah....). Instead of ripping Lewis up for the apparently heavily exaggerated life story that he chose to tell the world, Barry lovingly lists many of the larger fibs that Lewis told. The cumulative effect, instead of hurting Lewis, just makes him out as that much more of a charming figure. An clever old man telling white lies in order to educate and entertain the world.
"When Lewis talked about the 1930's, he described himself not as a boy growing into long pants, but as an adventurous man, always in the mix of history. He said that he worked as a radio actor, circus clown, trapeze artist, medicine show 'professor,' and union organizer in the South." Other jobs he claimed to have had included working "on the defense committee for Sacco and Venzetti, two Italian anarchists who were executed in 1927," when Lewis was 4-years-old. He also claimed to have appeared in "Olsen and Johnson's Hellzapoppin', the Broadway hit of 1938. Not to mention that time he got a doctorate in child psychology from Columbia University in 1941. Or was maybe 1949? Columbia certainly has no record of it.
So why did Lewis add those 13 years in the first place? The best guess is that he was worried he wouldn't get the role of Grampa if producers figured out that he was younger than the actress playing his daughter, so he made himself older. And why did he keep up the charade? We gotta go with the theory Barry puts forth at the end of the column: "Maybe it was just Grampa being Grampa."