In the 1950s, after he broke up with long-time partner Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis made a string of very successful comedies built around his, shall we say, "distinct" comic persona. Jerry's schtick was a mixture of elaborate, agile physical business combined with an aggressive use of facial and vocal tics, which at their mildest were kind of goofy and at their most extreme somewhat alarming. He came on like a demented, hyper-active child — indeed, his biggest appeal was to children, who could recognize that he was acting out wildly and getting away with it.
But Jerry was very ambitious and, as big as his success was, he wanted more. Beginning in 1960, with The Bellboy, he began writing and directing his own films, by force of will becoming one of the most distinctive of American auteurs. For a while in the '60s, he was at the pinnacle of the business and even earned a fair amount of critical success (the adoration of French critics eventually attained mythic proportions).
But like many comedians before him, there was a part of Jerry that wanted to be taken seriously. Comedy sometimes doesn't seem to get the respect a dedicated performer is looking for. This urge in Jerry reached its peak with the unreleased The Day the Clown Cried (1972), which he wrote, directed and starred in as a comic who, having been sent to Auschwitz by the Nazis, entertains the children on their way to the gas chambers. Just think of Roberto Benigni's Life Is Beautiful (1997) to get an idea of just how chilling that would be.
On a smaller scale, this desire to be taken seriously resulted in a real oddity, now released on DVD by Inception Media Group: a television adaptation of The Jazz Singer, made for NBC's Lincoln-Mercury Startime in 1959, and never screened again until now.