Saturday, August 13, 2011

Lewis-less Telethon a Cause for Sadness this year

A little kid in only the second grade at St. Ann's elementary school in Cleveland Heights received a packet with a letter from Jerry Lewis thanking that little boy for volunteering to knock on doors throughout the neighborhood asking for donations for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.


A second grader! I'm guessing the MDA folks didn't really know the young age of this boy but he was so thrilled to receive what seemed like a personal letter from Jerry Lewis that he dutifully set forth ringing doorbells and collecting contributions to benefit kids struggling with muscular illnesses.


That little boy continued this relationship with the MDA well into high school and people throughout the Coventry and Fairmount section of Cleveland Heights looked  forward to his appearance on their doorstep every year as fall approached.


As this lad grew in  maturity and physical stature, he gained a greater appreciation for Jerry Lewis appearing on the famous Labor Day telethon. It was as if Jerry held up his end of the bargain every year.

 The youngster would walk tirelessly along the sidewalks in Cleveland Heights and his good friend Jerry would seal the deal by bringing in millions of additional dollars through his hard work on the iconic marathon television appeal. Way to go Jerry!


I was that little boy.  I  feel like I grew up watching my pal Jerry.


Imagine my excitement several years ago when I actually had the opportunity to serve as a co-host for the telethon on the local television affiliate carrying the broadcast. I was flown to California to meet Ed McMahon. It  felt like a family reunion.


I was in  a state of shock  just a couple of weeks ago when a news item came across the wire with very little fanfare.


The Muscular Dystrophy Association announced quietly that Jerry Lewis, scheduled to host the telethon for the very last time this coming Labor Day, was scratched from the lineup entirely. His swansong appearance would now be no song whatsoever.


That is a crying shame.


Jerry Lewis began conducting local telethons for the MDA in 1952. In 1966 he began the national telethon which has become as associated with Labor Day as labor unions. The national fundraiser broadcast throughout the world  has raised just under Two and a Half Billion Dollars for Jerry's Kids.

That's $2.5 Billion with a B!


And now, just before what would surely have been the largest television audience in the telethon's history has a chance to say goodbye, the MDA instead says  "never mind" to Jerry.


Lewis has certainly had his critics over the years. Many have decried his use of sentimentalism to guilt contributors into fattening the tote board totals.


Jerry had a great answer for that. He told the world that if his efforts gave hope to one little boy or girl in an effort to walk again, he didn't care how emotional the pitch had to be. His goal of helping children was too important to be sidetracked by those who didn't like his methods.


I liked your methods, Jerry.

Few doubted the sincerity of what was in your heart when you intoned "You'll Never Walk Alone" at the close of broadcasts over the recent years.  The children you helped over the decades knew you were right there with them every hobbled step along their journey.

 This is one little boy who will miss you.

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