Labor Day is Not The Same Without The Jerry Lewis M.D.A. Telethon
It was September 4th, 1966 and the television world saw its first Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon. That’s right, 50 years ago. The Telethon is no longer on TV and Jerry Lewis, who was a huge part of the telethon and was asked not to return in 2011, passed away on August 20th at the age of 91. Without him, the telethon suffered. So much so, that the once 24 hour telethon was eventually pared down to just 3 hours after Lewis was no longer a part of it and now it is no more.
The Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) released a statement in May of 2015, saying “after careful consideration and analysis of evolving realities pertaining to both television viewing habits and to philanthropic giving, it is time for the (MDA) organization to discontinue producing and broadcasting the MDA telethon after 58 years on the air. The first few years were done without Lewis.
In the telethon’s place, MDA has shifted its informational and fund-raising focus, investing more in digital and mobile channels. When asked about the decision, the then 89-year-old Jerry Lewis said he “respected their decision and that he has no regrets in helping raise 2 billion, 600 thousand dollars” to help the children with Muscular Dystrophy.
Labor Day is not be the same without the telethon being broadcast on WGEM-TV locally. I can recall the past years when WGEM would host the local portion of the telethon with numerous “local” segments featuring local people. It was fun to watch because you never knew who would be on the next local cut-in.
For a few years, Dennis Oliver and I (see picture) would actually live on the WGEM pavement overnight in a house that was built with Pepsi cases. We would sell each case with a portion of the cost going to Muscular Dystrophy. By the end of 24 hours we usually had the house down to its foundation and we would go home knowing we helped the cause.
One year we sold it so fast that we thought we wouldn’t even have to actually sleep on the pavement overnight and might even get to go home and sleep in our own beds. But the Pepsi truck came back and the house was re-built for us to help sell more Pepsi cases. It was fun and it was all for a good cause.
One never knew who would come by at 2 or 3 in the morning. Just like the show, one never knew who was going to be on TV next. They say ,"All good things must come to an end some time" and that some time was three years ago.
Here's a hats off to Jerry Lewis and all of the people locally, who had anything to do with the telethons over the years. Job well done!