In 1972, comedian and filmmaker Jerry Lewis made The Day the Clown Cried, an infamous and supremely embarrassing pop-culture fixation that Lewis has kept hidden in a vault for the last four decades. The dramatic film stars Lewis as Helmut Doork, an unemployed circus clown who ends up entertaining children before shepherding them into a Nazi gas chamber.
Only a handful of people in the world have seen this colossal cinematic train wreck. "[S]eeing this film was really awe-inspiring, in that you are rarely in the presence of a perfect object," actor and humorist Harry Shearer famously told Spy magazine in 1992. "This was a perfect object. This movie is so drastically wrong, its pathos and its comedy are so wildly misplaced, that you could not, in your fantasy of what it might be like, improve on what it really is. 'Oh, My God!'—that's all you can say."
Well, over the weekend, additional behind-scenes-footage of the Nazi death camp clown movie leaked online. (Other footage had leaked years ago.) And if you thought this story couldn't get any weirder, guess who was backing an aborted remake of the film in the early '90s? Jack Abramoff, the former Republican mega-lobbyist and convicted felon whose name became synonymous with bribery, Washington corruption, and ripping off American Indian tribes.
"What drew me to the project was the power of the story and the humanity of the narrative," Abramoff tells Mother Jones. "I did not know, at first, about the Lewis involvement. I was shown the script and fell in love with it."
As writer and film obsessive Lawrence Levi noted in 2006, one of the letters sent in support of Abramoff to US District Judge Paul Huck in Miami (the judge who sentenced Abramoff to nearly six years in prison for fraud) includes a paragraph regarding Abramoff's involvement in the failed film project. Here's the relevant section, via Harper's:
Jack made every effort possible to secure funding for a film entitled The Day the Clown Cried, a movie about the importance of taking care of children, set in a WWII concentration camp.