Sunday, February 05, 2006

Alice Green Reflects on the Loss of Al Lewis

Actor Al Lewis has died. You probably remember Lewis as "Grandpa" on the 1960's TV show "The Munsters."

Watch the video.

But in 1998 Lewis re-emerged into the spotlight as a maverick New York political candidate. He ran for New York State Governor on the Green Party Ticket, along with Albany native Alice Green, who ran for Albany Mayor this past year.

Green said, "I think most people thought of him as a funny man, but I knew him as this really serious, compassionate person who was committed to doing what he could for social justice."

Green said Lewis was loved by many, and people would just flock to him while they were campaigning together. She said he was known by everyone as 'Grandpa Al Lewis."

"I'm very proud to have run with him. I was overjoyed that I got a chance to spend so much time with him and learn so much from him. And I'm going to miss him very much," said Green.

By Jeanne King

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Al Lewis, best known for his role as Grandpa in television's "The Munsters," has died after a long illness, a local radio station said on Saturday.

A movie Web site listed his age as 95, but there have been reports that he was 83.

Lewis, who died on Friday, was born in Brooklyn and was raised by his mother, an immigrant sweatshop worker in the Brownsville district of that borough.

"Brownsville was the largest Jewish ghetto in America," he once said. "We all were very poor. But we stood together when people were evicted. When the marshals and sheriffs would leave, we'd break the lock and move the furniture back inside. Back then, we didn't let people live in the street."

Lewis worked as salesman and waiter and once owned a successful restaurant in Greenwich Village. He also was a poolroom owner, store detective and political candidate.

He worked as a circus clown and performed stunts on the trapeze bar, taught school, wrote two children's books and by the time he was 31, received a doctorate in child psychology from Columbia University.

An avid college basketball fan, he also scouted for several basketball teams.


It wasn't until 1949 that he turned to acting and joined the Paul Mann Actor's Workshop where his classmates were Sidney Poitier and Vic Morrow. It was at the workshop that Lewis developed his comedic style.

His first big role was as Officer Leo Schnauser on the "Car 54, Where Are You?" series that ran from 1961 to 1963. In 1964, Lewis began playing Grandpa Munster, part of a wacky, endearing family of monsters whose fictional address was 1313 Mockingbird Lane in Mockingbird Heights.

"The Munsters" ran for two years on CBS, then continued on in syndication.

In 1988, he accepted the Green Party nomination for governor of New York saying, "We don't inherit the world from our ancestors, we borrow it from our kids."

Although he lost to incumbent Republican Gov. George Pataki, he still managed to collect more than 52,000 votes with his name on the ballot as "Grandpa Al Lewis."

Lewis' first political work was for the Sacco and Vanzetti defense committee. Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two Italian anarchists, were executed in Massachusetts in 1927 for a double murder and robbery amid doubts about their guilt.

Lewis worked in the 1930s to free the Scottsboro Boys -- nine black teenagers accused of raping two white women in another highly publicized case. All but one were sentenced to death, but eventually they were cleared.

"If anything I consider myself an anarchist," he once said on his weekly radio show on WBAI in New York City.

Lewis had three angioplasties, and in 2003 doctors were forced to amputate his right leg below the knee and all five toes of his left foot.

He is survived by his wife, Karen, three sons and four grandchildren.


Dave Atias said...

I remember when I found out that Al was going to be our candidate for Governor in 1998. I was driving to Albany for a State Party meeting, when Tim Saunders told me who was chosen - I was just getting seriously involved in the Greens then and was only focused on local issues.

"Al Lewis? Who the heck is that?"

"Grandpa Munster."

"Oh no! We're going to look like idiots," was my reaction. Then Tim put in a tape of one of Al's radio shows from WBAI. Sounded good. Really good. Then Tim told me about his union activism and other political work. I was warming up to the idea of running Grandpa Munster.

When we got to Albany, I had the opportunity to meet Al & his wife Karen. I was impressed with both of them. Since that day I not only helped Al's run for Governor but was a fan of both of theirs.

Al's passing isn't a surprise, but it still saddens me. A friend is gone. My heartfelt condolences to Karen and the rest of Al's family.

Jason Nabewaniec said...

“The "other" famous Green candidate.

There's one name that comes to many people's minds when they think of
Celebrity Green candidates. This is about the "other" famous Green

Grandpa Munster - Al Lewis - Green Party of NY 1998 Gubernatorial

In 1998 I asked Activist / Actor Al Lewis to run as the Green Party
Candidate for Governor of New York. To many he was known as Grandpa
Munster of the "Munsters" and Officer Scnauzer of "Car 54 Where Are
You?" hit comedy series of the early and mid 1960s. Some of us also
knew him as an activist show host on Pacifica's WBAI in NYC. Few knew
that he also had a doctorate in Child Psychology from Columbia

He was a life long activist, a profession that stretched far beyond
hi acting career. From Sacco & Venzetti through the Black Panthers to
fighting to overturn the Rockefeller Drug laws, Al was a dedicated

It seems many Greens as well as the public, knew little of his
history as an activist. Some Greens ridiculed us for asking him to
run. His political credentials dwarf Arnold Schwarzenegger.

We shot and edited this 35 minute video in May 1998. It includes
excerpts from his radio show, examples of his politics, exhortations
from listeners to run. We interviewed Al and Karen, his activist
wife, on in his personal activist history, positions on current
issues in NY State, His familial background and how he learned the
importance of activism and political awareness from his mother. Far
too many Greens had stereotyped him as a light comedic actor. It was
important for us to inform Greens about Al's formidable history.

I'm posting this link to the above video. It's broken into four
parts. Please step away from your TV sets for 35 minutes and learn
why Al Lewis, the "other" famous Green candidate, was so important to
us in NY. The video is poorly shot on consumer equipment with
mismatched cameras and you may need to turn up the audio a bit to
hear it clearly but I'm sure you'll both appreciate and actually
enjoy the message. Please do forward the link to other lists. It
provides insight into Al Lewis, activist and Green, never seen on
mainstream TV.”

-Craig Seeman

The files are MPEG4 and run at about 500mbps. You may need
Quicktime for Mac
Quicktime for Windows

Or the open source VLC Media Player for Unix, Windows, Mac to play the

Go to the page to Play the Al Lewis Video in 4 parts