Sammy Petrillo, the nightclub comic who bore an uncanny resembelance to Jerry Lewis and co-starred in the 1952 cult film Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla, died August 15 in New York City. He was 74.
Paired with crooner Duke Mitchell, the two formed a nightclub act that was meant to draw comparisons with Lewis and his partner, Dean Martin. Ironically, when their act reached its climax with an announced impersonation of Martin and Lewis, Petrillo would actually impersonate Martin and Mitchell would take the more manic Lewis role. Their act was seen by Realart Pictures president Jack Broder, who cast the duo opposite aging screen legend Bela Lugosi for the low-budget comedy Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla. The film was made in just nine days on a budget of $50,000.00. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t very good – director William Beaudine would only shoot one take of each shot, moving on to the next set up even if an actor flubbed a line or some other technical error occurred – but it would go on to become a cult favorite years later.
After the film, Petrillo and Mitchell tried top return to the nightclub circuit, but found that Lewis wasn’t so enamored with the similarities between Petrillo and himself and began pressuring many venues to not hire the duo. They eventually split in 1956.
Born in The Bronx, New York City on October 24, 1934, Petrillo discovered his resemblance to Lewis as a teenager when a barber remarked on the similarity. Following his separation from Mitchell, he continued in show business, appearing in a small handful of extremely low-budget exploitation films including Shangri-La (1961), The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962) and Keyholes Are For Peeping (1972). He also wrote lyrics for the Isley Brothers’ hit “Angels Cried.”