May 17, 2011

Labor (Day) of Love

No disrespect to the memory of Julia Child, but there are not many things about France that I care for. It’s not the political/nationalism thing; I never ate a “Freedom Fry”. More accurately, I don’t like most of the things the French like. I don’t like wine, small portions,rudeness, wine, Gérard Depardieu, cigarettes, snails, wine, mimes, arrogance or mushrooms. I’d rather go to Rome than Paris and I’d rather go to Vienna than Rome.  But the one thing I and the French see eye to eye on is the often maligned and unsung genius of Joseph Levitch, better know to the world as Jerry Lewis. I have watched Jerry Lewis movies as long as I jerrylewiscan remember; the Houston UHF station played them Saturdays at 10:30AM and the ABC affiliate showed them on the Million Dollar Movie weekdays at 4PM, doing a week-long run at least once a year. I loved them all, whether it was Martin and Lewis or just Lewis. Favorites include The Delicate Delinquent, That’s My Boy and Way, Way Out, but I’ve probably watched most of them more than once.

What does this have to do with a TV blog?  This love of Jerry Lewis movies led to my addiction to the Jerry Lewis Labor Day MDA Telethon. I probably lewis-jerrystarted watching out of the novelty of seeing the guy from those movies on this different kind of show. Throughout most of my childhood, I would stay up on Sunday night, Labor Day Eve, watching until I couldn’t keep my eyes open. Late Sunday night was the best part of the Telethon. The theme song would be sung, “Smile though your heart is aching, Smile even though it's breaking…”  Sunday night was when they featured all of the old Vegas style acts, singers, magicians and comedians. As soon as my mda telethoneyes opened on Monday, the TV was back on to see what I’d missed.

Monday morning was used for bringing in big corporate donors to tell how much the Firefighters or 7-11 had raised. Bathroom breaks were taken when they cut away to the local feed, which happened more and more as the day drug on, with shots of kids dumping cash into the barrel, then back to the national show. And every so often, Ed McMahon would interrupt Jerry in whatever he was doing to go to the tote board. “What the World Needs Now” would play and a new total would roll over, usually passing another million milestone. And at some pointlewis1on Monday afternoon, so tired he could barely stand, Jerry would take to the stage and belt out, “You'll Never Walk Alone” and he and I would both be in tears.

Year after year, this would carry on. When I was young, my mom or dad would answer my pleas and let me call in a pledge. When I got older and got my first job, I would proudly call and pay my own pledge.  Through college and young adulthood, it was hard to give the same attention, but I always monitored it, and tried to call in a pledge when I could afford it.

Lewis began doing short local telethons for MDA in New York in 1952 at the behest of a staffer. 10000621H204490In 1966, they attempted the telethon on Labor Day, 19 hours in New York City only. It earned over $1 million dollars, so far beyond expectations that a “1” had to be painted in front of the tote board. Over the next few years, additional stations were added to form the Love Network. The Network grew, the broadcast moved to LA and Vegas, and it became part of the culture.  To date the Telethon has raised $2.45 BILLION in support of the Muscular Dystrophy Association and Jerry’s Kids.
Today Lewis, 85, announced that this year will be his last hosting the annual fundraising event. He’s been ill for years, and had been appearing on stage less and less, relying on co-hosts to do the heavy lifting. The Telethon will be scaled back to a 6 hour presentation on Sunday night. Lewis released a statement through the MDA stating in part, “As a labor of love, I’ve hosted the annual Telethon since 1966, and I’ll be making my final appearance on the show this year by performing my signature song, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’… I’ll continue to serve MDA as its National Chairman – as I’ve done since the early 1950′s. I’ll never desert MDA and my kids.”

You may notice that my site has an Amazon Affiliate store now. I will be giving any commissions earned between now and Labor Day to the Telethon. So if you’re going to shop Amazon anyway, go through my store. Jerry’s Kids will benefit.

I for one will “stay up and watch the stars come out” and I’ll be donating. And I’d bet a few tears will be shed, on screen and in the recliner.

More to Come.

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