The story of Jan Lewan is well known in Eastern Pennsylvania and a few other locales where Polka is a musical option of choice. Jan Lewan personified the era when Polka itself was king.. he, incidentally, was the self-proclaimed Polka King of Hazleton Pennsylvania.
Thanks to Netflix and JACK BLACK, the era of Polka continues.. The POLKA KING debuted earlier in January and I finally got the chance to watch it in total. Despite my better judgement, I went away humming a rapping polka and becoming reinvigorated with dredging up old knowledge about Lewan.
Lewan performed polka throughout the tri-state area. He almost won a Grammy in 1995. He helped rig a Pennsylvania beauty pageant so his wife could win. The was de-crowed in the late 90s..
Lewan owned and operated a gift store in Hazleton, Pennsylvania.
Lewan also defrauded 400 elderly people in 22 states an amount that totaled just under $5 million. He was selling unregistered securities. Despite the state of Pennsylvania telling him to stop, he continued.
And yes.. he met Hazleton Mayor and now Senate candidate Lou Barletta in 2000 before going to jail in 2001.
He also met Donald Trump. He met George H.W. Bush. He met George Burns. He even met the Pope–one extremely humorous part of the POLKA KING is the Rome voyage that Lewan takes senior citizens on to meet the Pontiff. And it worked out.
… While in prison in Delaware in 2004, Lewan was stabbed in the neck by a cellmate. He was taken to a nearby hospital and was released several days later. The perpetrator of the stabbing had 15 years added to his sentence.
You don’t have to be a fan of polka to appreciate THE POLKA KING.
Jack Black’s amazing performance as Lewan is impressive … he is able to somehow channel the energy of the 1990s polka nostalgia. He also seems to turn Lewan into a folk hero, of sorts. A complicated man who came to America, looking for the American dream, and confusing it with the quest to make money without morality. Lewan loved the people who gave him big checks. Deep down knew he would never be able to give them their return on investment.
His crime was greed. His crime was fraud.
His comeback now begins.
In 2009 the Hazleton STANDARD SPEAKER interviewed Lewan when he was released from jail. Lewan, before moving to Florida, went back to Hazleton to say sorry. He quoted a Polish saying, “IF you’re drowning, you’ll catch the whiskers to come up.”
The newfound fame of the Polka King is right up his alley.. he loved the spotlight. He loves the attention.
And thanks to Jack Black’s acting abilities, Lewan now has a whole new audience Googling his lies, his life, and his near death experience in prison.
….all the while humming the dreaded POLKA RAP featured at the end of the film.