Jerry Lewis, His Famous Telethon, His Incompetent Conscript, and His Notorious Outtakes
caught me by surprise. Who knew that he was still doing that, or even that he was still alive? Surely not I. Jerry Lewis the comedian was a minor fixture of my youth, inextricably half of "Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis." The article went on to say
Jerry Lewis announced on Monday that he is retiring as the longtime emcee of the annual Muscular Dystrophy Association Labor Day Telethon. ďAs a labor of love, Iíve hosted the annual Telethon since 1966, and Iíll be making my final appearance on the show this year by performing my signature song, ĎYouíll Never Walk Aloneí,Ē the legendary 85-year-old comedy entertainer said in a statement on the MDA website. ďIíll continue to serve MDA as its National Chairman Ė as Iíve done since the early 1950′s. Iíll never desert MDA and my kids.Ē
He was a grown-up (to the extent that he's ever been a grown-up) when I was a kid, so I knew he was older. 85 doesn't seem improbable, so no research necessary here. But still doing that terminally tedious telethon? Apparently so, and will be doing it one more time this Labor Day. A tiny bit of research gives the history of the word telethon (television marathon) and reveals that the Jerry Lewis extravaganza was early, but not the first. Even so, ask a New York City area resident and I'll bet he guesses that it was.
The Incompetent Conscript
Although I characterized the MDA telethon as "terminally tedious," there was at least one edition that was pretty exciting for this reminiscing blogger. I was a cameraman! It was my very temporary pleasure to have found brief employment with the television station, WOR-TV, that was responsible for broadcasting the telethon. The details (from 1965 or so) are understandably fuzzy, but because I was working at the co-owned radio station, I was a member of the union. I was therefore permitted to touch the Holy Image Orthicon, a teevee camera that actually required a full person to operate because of its physical heft.
I'm sure there are those who would argue that years of training and apprenticeship are necessary to qualify to operate a camera with grace and artistry. The Jerry Lewis telethon was having none of that. My training lasted 15 minutes, my apprenticeship five, and there I was, pointing the camera at whatever the voice in the headphones told me to while adjusting the focus and zoom* with neither finesse nor aplomb, and not a little trepidation. I felt relief a couple of hours later, when my one and only television shift was completed with no disasters, real or incipient.
His Notorious Outtakes
If you've kicked around any branch of the entertainment industry for more than a few months in the past half-century, someone has introduced you to the outtakes for the advertisement of The Caddy, a Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis movie. I probably heard them in my late teens or early twenties. It is difficult for your illusions about show-biz folks to survive while listening to such inspired and hilarious profanity. (President Nixon had more gravitas.) I'm sure the outtakes are available on the internet; find them if you dare.