The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Jon Lewis Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Chris Petersen.

May 4, 2017


Jonathan Roy Lewis was born in 1955 in New Hyde Park, New York, where he spent his boyhood and gained his early education. After completing high school in 1973, he attended Hobart College, where he majored in English. Upon graduating from Hobart in 1977, he continued to pursue studies in creative writing at the State University of New York at Buffalo, earning his MAH degree in 1979. While at SUNY-Buffalo, a chance viewing of the film Out of the Past sparked in Lewis a passion for film studies, which he formally pursued as a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Los Angeles starting in 1979. He completed his doctoral studies in 1983, authoring a dissertation on the comedic work of Marilyn Monroe and Jerry Lewis.

His Ph.D. in hand, Lewis returned to New York where he worked as an instructor in Hobart and William Smith College's English Department. That December, he accepted an offer from the Oregon State University English department, where he became OSU's first Film Studies scholar. Lewis subsequently developed the university's Film Studies curriculum while also running a popular International Film Series for the wider Corvallis community during the 1980s and early 1990s. In the mid-1990s, Lewis also worked as a film booker for the Avalon Cinema, which was owned and operated in Corvallis by Paul Turner, one of Lewis' former students.

Over three productive decades at OSU, Lewis' scholarly contributions have included a collection of well-received books including an influential 2000 publication, Hollywood v. Hard-Core: How the Struggle over Censorship Created the Modern Film Industry, that detailed major shifts in 1980s film culture. Lewis also wrote two pedagogical texts based on his teaching experiences at OSU and on his own approaches to film: American Film: A History (2008) and Essential Cinema: An Introduction to Film Analysis (2013). Lewis additionally wrote a book on The Godfather, published in 2010 as a part of the British Film Industry's Film Classics Series, that has been translated into several languages. Another book, Hard-Boiled Hollywood: Crime and Punishment in Post-war Los Angeles, published in 2017, focuses on the Transition Era of American cinema.

Lewis was named an OSU Distinguished Professor in 2015, the highest honor that the university bestows upon members of its faculty. He is also an Oregon State University Honors College Eminent Professor.