Al Lewis was best known for his role as Grandpa on the TV show, "The Munsters".
Unlike most actors who attempt to subtract years from their lives, Mr. Lewis claimed that he was born in 1910, not 1923. Perhaps this began in 1964 when he was vying for the role as Grandpa and feared he might lose the job because he was actually younger than Yvonne De Carlo, who would be playing his daughter.
But as the years passed, he chose to flesh out those 13 phantom years. He was said to have been born Alexander or Albert Meister in 1910, in the upstate town of Wolcott (no official record). He said that he worked as a radio actor, circus clown, trapeze artist, medicine show "professor," and union organizer in the South. After moving to Brooklyn, he said he worked on the defense committee for Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian anarchists who were executed in 1927.
He said that he appeared in Olsen and Johnson's Hellzapoppin', the Broadway hit of 1938. He said that he championed the cause of the Scottsboro Boys, nine black teenagers who were accused of raping two white women in a profoundly flawed case. He also claimed to have been merchant seaman who had to abandon a torpedoed ship; and to have earned a doctorate in child psychology from Columbia University. The university, though, has no record of this.
In his later years, Mr. Lewis backed up his strong convictions with his presence and his money. He advocated prison reform, vigorously opposed the Rockefeller drug laws as unnecessarily punitive, and argued both against police brutality and for police salary increases. He opened Grampa's Restaurant in NYC, produced a children's video, appeared in a series of Saturday morning kids' shows, hosted a radio show on WBAI-FM in NYC, and ran as the Green Party candidate for governor in 1998.