Monday, September 05, 2016
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 was the absolute height of entertainment cheese, a time warp to a Las Vegas scene that everyone but Jerry realized has long since passed, and was the home of the most insincere sincerity that only show business can create. The treacle just oozeed out of your speakers. Born in the swinging 60s (which you can read about here), 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 knew what I was going to get and was always richly rewarded.
Nowhere did 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 then there was Ed McMahon. For sixty years America wondered – just what IS this guy’s talent? Say what you will, the man made a wildly successful career for himself by playing the toady to the host.
The telethon was 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.
I miss it all, but most of all Jerry. I'll never be able to hear "Rock-a-bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody" again without crying. Fortunately, when the hell will I ever hear that song again?
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM