What would Labor Day be without Jerry? To get you in the mood for this year's telethon, here again are my thoughts on last year's extravaganza.
Okay, I admit it. I unabashedly love the JERRY LEWIS TELETHON. I look forward to it every year…for both the right and wrong reasons.
It does benefit a very worthy cause, the Muscular Dystrophy Association. The videos of the kids are both heartbreaking and inspiring. Let’s hope someday there’s a cure.
But the JERRY LEWIS TELETHON is the absolute height of entertainment cheese, a time warp to a Las Vegas scene that everyone but Jerry realizes has long since passed, and is the home of the most insincere sincerity that only show business can create. The treacle just oozes out of your speakers. Born in the swinging 60s, nurtured by Sammy Davis Jr. (combining over-concern, hipness, gross sentimentality, and jewelry), this style was perfected by Jerry Lewis who added his own special touches. No one could beg with such passion while sticking a cigarette in his ear. No one could deliver a biblical sermon, break down crying, then go into his spastic retard character for comic relief.
The Frech call him Le Roi du Crazy. They still shortchange him. Since his auteur movie days he has developed his own unique and delicious blend of condescension and humility. Every year I know what I’m going to get and am always richly rewarded.
This year Jerry called local New York co-host, Tony Orlando: “Only the best Puerto Rican to ever come to this country.”
Now how can you NOT love this???
Nowhere do superlatives fly like the JERRY LEWIS TELETHON. In only one half hour I caught “infamously wonderful”, “exceptional talent”, “most talented”, “most amazing”, “most exciting”, “unmatched”, “extraordinary”, “a true legend”, and “a treasure in every sense of the word.” On the other hand, Jerry described guest David Cassidy as “that little cocker”. He’s probably right but still!
And of course, hugs for all. Except one. I'll get to that later.
Jerry looked better than in years past – especially that one where he was on steroids and looked like a Macy’s balloon. And his hair is no longer jet black. Finally, at age 80 he’s starting to grey.
I miss the fact that he doesn’t emcee all 21 hours anymore. By hour 16 he used to be slobbering about Dean even when the media director from Safeway markets was trying to hand him a check.
And then there’s Ed McMahon. For sixty years America has been wondering – just what IS this guy’s talent? Say what you will, the man has made a wildly successful career for himself by playing the toady to the host. And we only get to see that obsequiousness one time a year now.
There was also Jann Carl and Tom Bergeron to interview people and pronounce the big words. Jerry is quoted as saying, “They’re GIANTS in their field” and he’s “Proud and humbled” to have them.
Since Jerry and Ed now take the late night hours off, who fills in and emcees? This is not a joke. Puppets!!
In LA we had three crawls going constantly. I’m sure other stations had local storm warnings, sports scores, news headlines, and promos for the new season of JUDGE JUDY so there were as many as six crawls.
The telethon is a throwback to a better Vegas, a classier Vegas – where all performers dressed, dyed their hair, and drank. It was elegance as only the mob could imagine it. There were dinner shows and late night lounge shows, and no gift shops right outside the showrooms. You couldn’t buy Keely Smith t-shirts, Rosemary Clooney refrigerator magnets, or Frank Sinatra lunch pails. But I digress…
Celine Dion recorded a gooey-gram and then sang a pre-taped song from her overblown Vegas show. Dancers were flying all over the place. Dion was raised on a large hydraulic pedestal as she belted out a song she selected just for the occasion. I kid you not, the song she felt most appropriate for the Muscular Dystrophy telethon was called “Drove All Night to Make Love to You”.
Other guests included some fat comic doing alfalfa sprouts jokes (“you call that food?”), a ventriloquist who used Jerry as his dummy, Ace Young, the cast of GREASE, super entertainer Ivanka Trump, John Tesh, Vonzell, Tony Danza, and of course the best Puerto Rican to ever come to this country.
Jerry’s son, Gary performed two songs. In the middle of the second song (a touching teen ballad Gary dedicated to his father called “Everybody Loves a Clown”) Jerry wandered onto the set, stood next to Gary for twelve seconds, obviously felt uncomfortable, and then just left. After the song, nothing. Jerry just moved on to the next thing.
So I guess the only one of Jerry’s kids who wasn’t showered with love and emotion turned out to be his own.
But it's that kind of weirdness that keeps me coming back for more. On the other hand, nothing would please me more than to hear that the telethon has been canceled because a cure has been found. And maybe Jerry could spend next Labor Day fishing with Gary.
Last year's telethon collected $63.7 million dollars. Let's beat it this year.