Al Lewis as Grandpa
Lewis attended Thomas Jefferson High School. Not quite sure what he wanted to do with his life, he tried a Number of professions including salesman, waiter, owner of a poolroom, and store detective.
In the late 1920s, he worked as a circus clown, riding a unicycle and performing stunts on the trapeze bar. Later, Lewis taught school and wrote two children’s books.
Lewis received a Ph.D. in child psychology from Columbia University at age thirty-one. He has read almost a book a day since he was eleven, he says.
In 1949, at the suggestion of a friend, Lewis turned to acting and joined the Paul Mann Actor’s Workshop in New York. There, with classmates Sidney Poitier and Vic Morrow, he developed a comedic style and a showcase for his commendable dramatic talent.
Lewis worked in burlesque and vaudeville theaters across the country, which led to other theater endeavors and eventually to Broadway. He made New York his home base but traveled extensively and settled in Italy for a short period. By the 1950’s television was booming, and Lewis took advantage of the medium. He was seen, if not heard, on almost every live show out of New York.
He landed the role of Officer Leo Schnauser on “Car 54, Where Are You?-the successful Nat Hiken series that also starred Fred Gwynne. The series ran from 1961 to 1963.
While finishing up a Broadway run of Do Re Mi with Phil Silvers and Nancy Walker, he was summoned along with Fred Gwynne to test for”The Munsters.”
In early 1964, when Lewis began playing Grandpa Munster, he probably did not realize that he would be remembered forever for his portrayal of the petulant third-rate wizard of the Munster clan. “Fans treat me like an icon,” he says.
He enjoys the smiles he gives people as Grandpa, but for all the recognition he receives, there is one particular actor he reveres: “In my humble opinion, and nothing about me is humble,” he says, “Chaplin was the only genius who ever worked in Hollywood. No question about it. In fact, I got to meet him at John Garfield’s house once.”
After “The Munsters,” Lewis made countless appearances in television and motion pictures, performed on the dinner theater circuit around the country and even owned a brokerage firm in Los Angeles for a time. Lewis, a closet intellectual, is also an avid college basketball fanatic, has scouted for several basketball teams, and has been featured in Sports Illustrated. His eye for athletes is great and is trusted by many coaches.
Lewis pulled up stakes and moved to New York shortly after his divorce from his wife, Marge. He opened a restaurant, appropriately called Grampa’s, in Greenwich Village, and the business has led to plans for opening a few more Italian eateries around the Big Apple.
Lewis appeared around the country donning the familiar tuxedo that made him famous and continued to act in television and motion pictures. He released a home video for children and appeared on WTBS cable in a series of Saturday morning programs for children.
When asked what accomplishment he is proudest of he firmly replies, “My three sons.”
Al Lewis passed away on February 3, 2006.