Al Lewis on his mother: "My mother was a worker, worked in the garment trades. My mother was an indomitable spirit. My grandfather had no sons. He had six daughters. They lived in Poland or Russia, every five years it would change. My mother being the oldest daughter, they saved their money, and when she was about 16 they sent her to the United States, not knowing a word of English. She went to work in the garment center, worked her back and rear-end off and brought over to the United States her five sisters and two parents. I remember going on picket lines with my mother. My mother wouldn't back down to anyone."

American actor (1923?-2006). Birth name: Alexander Meister or Albert Meister. He claimed to have been born in New York City in 1910, but his kids and his Social Security card said he was born in 1923. Why the deception? It could've been part of his tryouts for "The Munsters." If he was born in '23, he was actually a year younger than Yvonne DeCarlo, who was supposed to be his daughter. But by claiming to be 13 years older, perhaps he felt he'd seem more grandfatherly to the show's producers.

At any rate, it seems likely that Lewis told a bunch of stories about his youth, either to support his claims about his birthdate or just for the joy of telling stories. He claimed to have worked as a circus clown, to have earned a Ph.D. in child psychology from Columbia University, to have served in the Merchant Marine, to have been a member of Sacco and Vanzetti's defense committee, to have worked to free the Scottsboro Boys, to have employed Charles Manson as a babysitter. There's never been any real verification of those claims, and they're not believed to be true.

However, it is generally believed that a friend suggested that Lewis try his hand at acting in 1949, and he joined the Paul Mann Actor's Workshop in New York. After spending a few years performing on the vaudeville circuit and on Broadway, he began picking up work on television. His first listed credits were on "Decoy" and "The Phil Silvers Show" in 1959, and his first movie role was as Machine Gun Manny in 1960's "Pretty Boy Floyd." He played Officer Leo Schnauser on "Car 54, Where Are You?" and had roles on programs from "Route 66" and "The Naked City" to "Lost in Space" and "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C."

Lewis on Grandpa: "The role of Grandpa is not complicated because you're wearing odd makeup or bizarre costumes. That's not what complicates a role. What makes Grandpa a little odd is the fact that he had no prototype. When I approached this role, I knew that whatever I was doing was original. So no director could say to me, 'Listen, remember how he did it, this is how I want it done.' I worked very hard creating that character. I made those lines work. The walk and the posture all fit the character. As to the character itself, you might say that Grandpa was a kind of Dracula-type Major Hoople."

His biggest role, of course, was playing the Brooklyn-accented vampire Grandpa on "The Munsters." (Not Grandpa Munster -- Munster was his son-in-law's name. His full name was supposed to be Sam Dracula.) The 1964 sitcom was extremely popular and hampered most of the stars' careers, due to typecasting. Lewis claimed not to mind -- he enjoyed being recognized and said that he was more than happy to cash the royalty checks.

After the show's cancellation, Lewis worked rarely in acting, and not often in high-profile films. He was in "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" and played Myron Mishkin in the "Make Me Laugh" episode of Rod Serling's "Night Gallery." He was in "Used Cars," "Married to the Mob," "The Garden," the film version of "Car 54, Where Are You?" and several Munster TV movies. His last film role was in a 2002 horror movie called "Night Terror."

When not acting, however, Lewis remained very active. He opened a Greenwich Village restaurant called Grampa's Bella Gente in 1988, ran as a Green Party candidate for Governor of New York in 1998 (He wanted to run as "Granpa Al Lewis" but got turned down. His campaign, punctuated by strong stands against drug laws and the death penalty, got over 50,000 votes, however, which guaranteed the Green Party a line on the ballot for the next four years. Not bad for a guy who considered himself an anarchist.), and hosted a political talk radio program on WBAI-FM. He was also a recurring guest on Howard Stern's program and once went into a profane rant about the FCC during a live rally with Stern.

Lewis had an angioplasty in 2003, but complications developed, and doctors were forced to amputate his right leg below the knee and the toes of his left foot. He died of natural causes on February 3, 2006. He was cremated and laid to rest in his favorite cigar box.

Favorite trivia: Lewis co-wrote the song "Blueberry Hill."

Herman: "One must dig deep to find the perfect character."
Grandpa: "You're telling me? That's how I met my first ten wives!"

Research from the Internet Movie Database (, Wikipedia, and obituaries at Democracy Now!, The Guardian, and The TimesOnline

UPDATE: shaogo says: "Al was an acquaintance and quite the character in the Greenwich Village, NY scene. He'd meet up with my friends singer Rob Zappulla, Soupy Sales, Lew Anderson ('Clarabelle the Clown' but also a fabulous music arranger) and me once in a blue moon until his health was on the wane. Anderson's dead, too. But oh, those were hysterical times. He was an expert at self-promotion; thus the outrageous anecdotes, which no doubt got bigger and bigger as told around. (...) Also, Lewis liked the fact that we shared the same last name. He was a friggin' CHARACTER!"

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