Monday, September 05, 2016

I miss Jerry

The Labor Day weekend just isn't the same without Jerry Lewis hosting the telethon.   I unabashedly loved that show. I looked  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 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?

35 comments:

Tracy Downey said...

Jerry wasn't a nice man Ken. Gave him a manicure once. He has this desire to look down on people. But good to the kids yes. The old days of Our town (Vegas) are drifting in a deserted graveyard with countless neon signs from the old casinos now imploded. It's sad.

Rashad Khan said...

Don't forget the metaphorical cherry-on-top that was Jerry's rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone."

Roger Owen Green said...

Watch yesterday's CBS Sunday Morning http://www.cbsnews.com/news/jerry-lewis-returns/

BA said...

I always thought Lewis was insane when he was doing those telethons, clinically insane. He seems sane and sober enough elsewhere, but where were the guest roles? A parent on FRIENDS, an asshole on SEINFELD or LOUIE, nothing I know of. Maybe he was "difficult"?

Anonymous said...

"Ladies and Gentlemen direct from the Dunes Hotel, the marvelous Mr. Fred Travalena! " "No one sings like him, my friend of 45 years, the incomparable Mr Julius LaRosa!" Direct from the showroom of the Desert Inn, ladies and gentlemen a warm welcome for one of the funniest men I've ever known, Mr Norm Crosby" "Jerry, can I hear a timp?! Roll it, Oh Yeah!" "Now please listen to these words from one of my kids with my friend, Mr. Chad Everett" "Ladies and Gentlemen, now coming here right after her show at the Sands, the gorgeous Lola Falana!" "Jerry we at the United Federation of Firefighters passed the boot in Omaha Nebraska and here's our check for $ 35,000 dollars". "Ladies and Gentlemen, the Tall Cedars of Lebanon just gave us a check for 1 million dollars, and they'll be back later folks". I spent a lot of time with Jerry watching that schmaltzfest, I miss it so.

John Hammes said...

Anyone remember "The Jerry Lewis Show" from Summer 1984? Five hour long episodes were produced, basically a week long "pilot", if you will. Jerry's vision of what a late night talk show should be. Pretty much has to be seen to be believed.

Five hour long episodes... all these years later, still can't decide if that was five episodes too many... or too few.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Jerry did so much. Entertaining folks, helping various charities. My favorite show of his was the three-hour, live program on ABC (local in L.A., only?) in the early '60's which simply gave Jerry the opportunity to vamp and spaz his way through 180 minutes. It was the epitome of egotism - an exercise in "Watch Me!" - which made perfect sense to this 13 year-old kid. Hell, I wanted a show like that.

A few years later in high school, I was an unpaid DJ at a tiny FM station in the San Fernando Valley...and I think somehow Jerry was an investor. At any rate, his announcer pal and sometimes actor in Jerry's films, Del Moore, pre-recorded our station I.D.'s with a voice sooo naturally low and resonate, it did things to the oscilloscope I never thought I'd see. He made dogs cry. And me, too, from jealousy come to think of it.

Jerry is wonderful. Sometimes folks really dump on him but in my world he is a fine man. Flawed to be sure, like all of us, but he DID things for others. That's terrific. We should all be so helpful...

Ted said...

Coincidental to this post, I heard "Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody" on an oldies station a couple of days ago. Aretha Franklin was singing it.

Charles H. Bryan said...

If we were to bring it back, who would we get? Who's today's potential Jerry Lewis?

I'd go with Jim Carrey.

cd1515 said...

totally cheesy and it almost seemed fixed to me, how they'd magically hit the goal in the final minutes every year.
and 2 billion raised overall---that's not enough to beat this disease?

Anonymous said...

@BA:
Jerry did a nice turn on Wiseguy as a garment district capo

Stoney said...

Here's a very funny parody of the Falco song "Rock Me Amadeus" in tribute to Jerryhttps://youtu.be/aSzbbTPLUq8:

Joseph Scarbrough said...

The Labor Day weekend isn't the same without Boomsday: our local holiday that we've had for nearly thirty years, where on the Sunday night before Labor Day, we'd have an awesome pyrotechnic show full of fireworks synchronized to popular music. Unfortunately, after last year, the city of Knoxville decided to cancel Boomsday indefinitely, because, guess what? It wasn't a money-making holiday. Yep. Charlie Brown was right all along: holidays are just commercial rackets. The city says that it was losing more money into organizing the event every year than it was bringing in revenue for local businesses (apparently, the ratio of locals attending the event as opposed to tourists and visits was 90/10). Since I filmed much of the festivities last year with my GoPro, I pretty much just watched what I filmed, edited, and posted on YouTube in lieu of an actual Boomsday celebration this year: certainly not the same, but it's better than nothing.

Todd Everett said...

Jerry's in two current movies, "Max Rose" with Claire Bloom (of which I've heard moderately good things) and "The Trust," with Nic Cage and Elijah Wood, which is evidently available in iTunes.

Victor Velasco said...

"...when you wahhlk! (sniff)...through the storm (sniff sniff)...hold, hold your head up high (throat clear) and don't...
"Jerry, we have a new total!"
[drum roll, cymbal crash into "What The World Needs Now"]
OH YEAH! OH YEAH!

One of the best moments in all of television.

Allan V said...

Ken is right that Ed McMahon was "wildly successful" --- he had incredible exposure during a long career (Tonight Show, Star Search, PCH) --- but despite that, he still had serious financial trouble in his late years. I don't know if he was a lousy negotiator or if he just couldn't live within his means. Or perhaps famous sidekicks weren't paid as much as we would think.

YEKIMI said...

With no Labor Day MD/Jerry Lewis telethon my life is meaningless. I drift aimlessly through the weekend with no reason to get excited for Monday. I miss seeing the cheesy acts, staying up late into the night and seeing the actors or acts that were no longer good enough to make the daytime segments. I miss the local segments where you had the news anchors or local horror movie hosts doing the cut in segments, looking like they'd rather be at the bar across the street from the station chugging down a liter of Vodka.I miss seeing the East BuFu ladies knitting club fumbling around on camera as they present their check for $35.80 cents to "help beat this horrible disease". And most of all I wonder what Jerry Lewis does on Labor Day now. Is he in a dark closet someone with a Mr. Microphone performing in front of a trio of gerbils introducing the Kia Soul hamsters and their juggling act? Or is he curled up in a fetal position somewhere moaning out Ed McMahon's name and mumbling "Hey Laaaaddddyyyyyy, what'd I do wrong? Why won't they let me host a telethon anymore? I'll do anything, even host something to cure jock itch."

Andy Rose said...

According to Carson's biographers, one of Ed's unofficial jobs back in the New York days was to tail Johnny on his occasional drunken benders and make sure Mr. Carson got out of the bar before somebody slugged him.

But Ed evidently was not very smart in spending his money. In addition to the lavish house in Beverly Hills that he couldn't pay for, he was chauffered to NBC every day in a stretch limo. Carson, by contrast, drove himself to work, even though he lived considerably further away in Malibu.

Chris Muir said...

For me, Jerry Lewis reached his peak in the movie Funny Bones, playing a character vaguely like himself.

Astroboy said...

I REALLY want a Keely Smith T-Shirt!

Buttermilk Sky said...

Jerry appeared on "Law & Order: SVU" as the schizophrenic uncle of Det. John Munch (Richard Belzer). He was very good.

Jeff Maxwell said...

Ken, I, too, miss the MDA, JL telethon. It was a staple of September.

Jack Eglash, the entertainment director for the Sahara Hotel, was a friend of mine and very close friend and employer of Jerry Lewis. Jack also became the band leader for the telethon and held that position for many years.

The telethon was fraught with huge political agendas. But in the early days, Jerry provided iconic, inspirational performers to television that most folks would never had seen had they not gone to Las Vegas. Early Sinatra, Sammy, Jerry, etc., sparkled on that stage. By the time the Telethon didn't sparkle, it had burned a place in my heart. I even answered phones ad took in $3200 in pledges one year at KTTV as Private Igor from MASH.

Say what you will about him, and he is a very complicated cat, Jerry Lewis poured his heart and soul into that event. He entertained millions and raised millions for some folks who are suffering.

Let's see, what have I done?

Sheila said...

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?

You're a Linda Eder fan, aren't you, Ken? She recorded "Rock-a-Bye." It's on one of her CDs, and I heard her do it live once.

Shrill1 said...

An old but classic Jerry article, Ken. He's really one of a kind.

http://observer.com/2001/06/the-professors-still-nutty/

norm said...

Ed McMammon $$$$ problems go right back to marriages and divorces, in CALIF.
The "breadwinner" gets raped in the courts and Ed made poor judgements there.

Andrew said...

Jeff asks, "Let's see, what have I done?"

You were Igor. Nothing compares, man.

Anonymous said...

Labor Day will never be the same. As kids, we would all talk about who was staying up to watch the whole telethon. Of course, none of us could really make it after 3 AM. After Jerry we had the Miss America pageant to look forward to, and being within 60 minutes of AC, it was a big deal for us. Of course all this was followed by the yearly viewing of The Wizard of Oz, caramel apples and Halloween. Janice B.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Norm: Johnny Carson was married four times, too. It's not just the divorces. (Although ISTR it was Lewis Grizzard who said that after a number of such events in his later years he had adopted the strategy of every five years looking for a woman who couldn't stand him and buying her a house.)

So much depends on your burn rate - same as tech start-ups. It helps if in better-funded moments you can remember that it may not last. That's an aspect of a writing career Ken rarely touches on, probably because he didn't have a lot of down times.

wg

Jeff Maxwell said...

Andrew said...

"You were Igor. Nothing compares, man."

Andrew, you are very kind. Thank you.

Let's go to the boarrrrrrd!

Pat Reeder said...

I also miss the Labor Day Telethon. I agree with fellow fan David Letterman, who said you had a volatile personality on live TV, going 40 hours without sleep -- what could be better television?! Plus I genuinely enjoyed those Vegas acts that aired at 3 in the morning (I work all night at the computer, so that was my prime time -- and imagine those acts airing in prime time!) The people running MDA were ungrateful idiots to dump Jerry after all he'd done for them over the years. It took them hardly any time at all to run the organization into the ground, and now a national tradition of Americans coming together on Labor Day to help sick kids has dissipated into nothing. Heckuva job, MDA!

BTW, I'm with Astroboy: I want a Keely Smith T-shirt! Actually, two: an XL for me and a small for my wife, a singer who worships Keely Smith. And I'll take one of those Rosemary Clooney refrigerator magnets, too, for a stocking stuffer.

Unknown said...

I answered the phones many times for the telethon, was kinda fun, felt like I was helping in some ways. Got free food.
Watch the CBS Sunday morning piece with Jerry, turned everything around to about him. They haven't found a cure, what have I been doing all these years?

thirteen said...

I still miss the telethon -- it was an easy way of checking to see whether Charlie Callas was dead yet -- but I saw the opening of the last one Jerry did, in 2011. He was seated in a chair, and the camera operator had framed the shot poorly so that Lewis's gut and belt showed. Lewis accused the camera operator of being from the Third Reich, and there was no humor there at all. I wondered if that was it for Jerry. Turned out that it was -- maybe not for that reason, precisely, but it was.

I've always been fond of that wildly out-of-date Hirschfeld caricature Jerry slapped on everything having to do with the telethon. It's actually just half of the caricature Hirschfeld did of Martin & Lewis. Jerry had cut Dino out of the drawing like an angry housewife who'd just been dumped by her husband and was going through the family snapshots with a scissors.

Mike Barer said...

I have some very fond memories of the Jerry Telethon. I remember it was on channel 11 in Washington. There was a local cutaway and my cousin Burl, at that time a Seattle DJ appeared with Brakeman Bill McLain.

Diane D. said...

This is the most hilarious collection of comments (along with the post) I have read in the 4+ years I have been reading this blog! Coming late to the party I got to read all of them, one after the next with no interruption. I wish you all could have done it that way, but you were too busy writing them.

One of the most hilarious was Louis Grizzard's quote that after several divorces he adopted the strategy of every 5 years looking for a woman who couldn't stand him and buying her a house (from Wendy Grossman's comment above). I loved Grizzard so much (one of the funniest writers who ever lived), and he was far too young when he died (46). He had a congenital heart murmur, but he died because an abscessed tooth caused an infection in that heart defect. Take care of your teeth and if you have an abscess, get on antibiotics immediately (sorry, but I'm a nurse, and far too many people die this way, when a simple antibiotic would have prevented it).

Sam the Bard said...

If you want to really laugh, watch Jerry Lewis on the "Tribute to Laurel & Hardy" dvd that was a companion to the 10-dvd set that RHI put out a few years ago. I believe it's called "The Essential Collection" or something like that, and it's really good because almost all of the talkies they made for Hal Roach Studios from 1929-1940 are on there in great visual and audio quality. The 10th disc has a tribute that contains interviews with Dick Van Dyke, Bob Einstein, Penn (Teller just sits there of course haha), some L&H expert whose name escapes me at this early hour, and finally, Jerry Lewis.

To paraphrase the great George Carlin, Jerry Lewis is so "stunningly and embarrassingly full of s***" in these interviews that I have to wonder if he even knows what planet he's on. He claimed that Oliver Hardy was a construction worker on the Roach Lot and that Laurel one day saw him carrying a pipe on his shoulder and said "I have to do something to annoy that guy", and alas, this great, secret meeting was held in Roach's office wherein the two were formally introduced and Hardy was asked if he would like to become one half of a comedy team with Stan Laurel. And according to Jerry, Hardy expressed concern because he was nervous that he'd never acted before and didn't know if he could do it. This is such a huge, glaring lie that I can't even imagine how or under what circumstances Lewis dreamed it up. Hardy had appeared in *more* films (hundreds actually, including a role as the Tin Man in a 1925 version of "The Wizard of Oz") than Stan Laurel had before they officially became a team in 1927, since Laurel wanted to be on the writing side of things. Director Leo McCarey saw the potential between the two while they were appearing a film together pre-teamup (which happened a lot in the mid-20's) and suggested they be put together. Oliver Hardy was never a construction worker, on the Roach Lot or anywhere else that I've ever heard. Other gems that spew from Lewis' mouth are that Stan Laurel once confided in him that because Lewis was such a great comic, that they "could have been born from the same mother." That Laurel used to inspect his scripts and give advice (this is perhaps true, who knows? But Jerry tells us this in a was suggests he was the Chosen One). But most of all, you get the feeling that Jerry really wants to hammer home that he KNEW Stan Laurel. Well.....so did anyone else with a Santa Monica phone book and a little ingenuity in the late '50's and early '60's, since Laurel listed his phone number and used to entertain fans at his home. I guess because Lewis and Laurel were so close, that Dick Van Dyke was asked to deliver Laurel's eulogy in 1965. And a fantastic eulogy it was - look it up!

I know Jerry did good things with the telethon, and I also know a lot of bad things have been said about him. This comment isn't intended to rip on him or anything, just merely to point out the utterly bizarre things he said on that show. As a lifelong L&H fan, it was definitely some strange stuff to hear. Laurel and Hardy are my favorites, so I've read plenty over the years about them. Never once read that Hardy was in construction....well, maybe in "The Finshing Touch" or "Busy Bodies!"