I have to admit that I came to birthday boy Jerry Lewis (he's 80 today) in a rather round-about way. When I was a kid, he was just that annoying, loud guy I flipped past on Saturday afternoon TV sometimes. As I an adult, however, I developed a possibly unhealthy obsession with Dean Martin, and it was through him that I recognized the young Lewis for the talent he was. As the French have always know, there was a tremendous amount of skill and calculation behind Lewis' childish persona, the true evidence of which lay in his ability to always stay just this side of the very, very, very fine line between gratingly endearing and too irritating to stand. Somehow, we never got quite so disgusted with him that we didn't, minutes later, find ourselves sympathizing with his struggles - really, there was a kind of genius to the way he kept us in the palm of his hand.

Though Lewis had a successful career after the breakup of his partnership with Martin, that remains his best known and most-loved period, even today. And, like many others, I prefer to remember him as he was then: young, manic, and brimming with ability.