Home Uncategorized Labor Day Telethon Reduced to 3 Hours, Jerry Lewis Completely Erased

Despite a change in the production team, and a change among its executives, the Muscular Dystrophy Association is continuing to make strange choices. The annual Labor Day telethon will be reducted to just three hours this year, down from six last year, and the old 21 hours that so became a part of Labor Day traditions. The show, now produced by R.A. Clark, son of the late Dick Clark, has not announced its hosts yet. But on the MDA website there is no longer a history page, or any mention of Jerry Lewis.

Lewis, rudely dumped from the show and MDA last year, served over 50 years as MDA’s champion and spokesperson. There is now nothing left of all those years of blood, sweat, tears, shrieking, crying, inveigling, etc. It’s all been swept away.

Last fall, after the scandal of Lewis leaving and the show being downsized, MDA got rid of longtime exec Gerald Weinberg and fired their TV production team. There was a glimmer of hope that MDA would reinstate Lewis or at least do something kind for him, or apologize. But it does seem that ship has sailed. All of MDA’s good will has been squandered, which is a great tragedy for Jerry’s kids and all the kids who’ve thrived because of the organization.

I wrote on March 19th in Forbes.com (now all obliterated thanks to that website’s shortcomings):

Fans of Jerry Lewis are still smarting from his ouster last year as chairman of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. The ouster included his unceremoniously being dumped as host of the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon after around 50 years of service. What we didn’t know until recently: Gerald Weinberg, the man responsible for Lewis’s public drubbing, was himself retired very quickly and quietly from MDA after last fall’s telethon. A press release went out and got little notice that Weinberg, who was making nearly$400,000 annually as the head of MDA, was retiring at the age of 82. http://www.bizjournals.com/prnewswire/press_releases/2011/12/12/NY21368

But insiders tell me Weinberg was fired. And MDA is looking for a new chief. There’s more: Lewis doesn’t talk much about what happened. At the 92nd St Y last Friday, an audience member asked him, “How does anyone fire Jerry Lewis?” Lewis responded: “Easy!” Jerry cried. “Very easy. If Jerry Lewis has a  problem with the leadership, and the leadership can change that”– that. meaning Lewis. And now the leadership is gone, too.

For Lewis, Weinberg’s end is probably too little, too late. The telethon used to run 21 hours over Labor Day weekend. Last year, it was cut to six hours. This September, it will be reduced to a three hour show. Very quietly, after Weinberg was retired, MDA brought in a new producer, R.A. Clark, Dick Clark’s son. “The entire production team from last year was fired,” says a source. Some Lewis loyalists are hopeful that MDA will make peace with Lewis and ask him to return for a real send off. But a friend says he’ll never do it. “He’s done.”

With Weinberg gone, salaries at MDA still remain pretty healthy. One million dollars is divided among the five remaining senior staffers. And according to the MDA’s most recent Form 990, for 2010, three board members got nice inside deals for work done: Edward Nigro ($214,050 for real estate renovations), Steve Farella  ($219,207 for PSA Placements), and Daniel G. Fries ($314,285for Pension Actuarial Services). Jerry Lewis got nothing.

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Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.
13 replies to this post
  1. He was fired because Dr. Wallach found a cure and planned to let Jerry announce it. Jerry told the execs, and he got fired, and so did everyone that supported him. The end. Oh, and selenium is the cure. The cause is not genetic, its just a selenium deficiency in the pregnant mother. Actually, Dr. Wallach has proved that all birth defects are not genetic, just nutritional deficiencies in the mothers.

  2. I remember, as a young girl, hosting a carnival (with my older sister) at our house to help raise money for Jerry Lewis and the MDA. I always enjoyed watching the telethon with my parents. It’s sad that, not only did they fire Mr. Lewis, they trimmed it down to 3 hours. What can you do in 3 hours? How much money can you raise in 3 hours? I knew that they didn’t raise as much as they did back in 2011. How could you raise that much in that short of time? All they seemed to want to do is to get rid of an older gentleman in exchange for younger hosts to appeal to a younger audience. Sure, Mr. Lewis could get long winded, but he’s the face of MDA. He brought muscular dystrophy to the forefront and made all of us aware of how horrible a condition it is. I agree….if it wasn’t for him, I wonder if as many people would have been helped….if anything, there probably would not have been carnivals for kids like me to host back in the early 70’s.

  3. Jerry was the MDA to many people. Love him or not, he got results and raised awareness. You don’t treat some one so revered that way. Miss you Jerry. You are simply the best.

  4. How could you asses do that to Jerry. I know, “MONEY”. It’s all about money. I religously looked forward to Jerry year after year. Astonishing the money Jerry raised for those kids all those years and you do that. I don’t give a shit what the fine print says, My devotion is to Jerry Lewis, never to you people who discarded him like a piece of waste paper. God bless the evil.

  5. After 50 yrs it’s a shame this has happened…We would plan our Labor Day around the Telethon, on the same level as Super Bowl Sunday…Telethon Tailgate Party (indoors of course), with the excitement level growing at every change of the Board until the very end when Jerry sang his infamous song!!
    Somehow, I wonder how this research will continue for so many who need help??
    Shame on those who fired Jerry Lewis, he’s a wonderful human being with a tremendously giving heart & truly is undeserving of this.
    We Love You Jerry Lewis, keep Faith & never give up!!!

  6. Ok kids, let’s do the math. If it had not been for Jerry Lewis and his high profile friends in the entertainment industry then no one would have ever heard of this terrible disease. Jerry was the champion, the white knight who showed the John Does of America how damaging this disease is to people and their families. He gave us a flag to ralley behind. He gave us a cause to fight. Now with shameless and tasteless manners you fired the key figure who drew the enormous amount of money needed to provide research for the cure. You all shot yourselves in the foot. Note to all you board members of MDA, don’t expect any big cash bonuses in the future because that well will soon run dry.


  8. WOW!!! 50 years of hard work down the drain…21 hours of great entertainment to 6 hours of crap last year…now 3 hours!! when the hell did this thing even air? its just a shame that the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon fell off so fast, no explanations no nothing…should’ve brought Jerry back this year for a last hurrah and given him a much deserved public apology!!! Labor Day will never be the same…Miss you Jerry!!!!!

  9. How do you think that you are going to raise money to help save the kids if you get rid of the best person in the world who put his whole life into MDA and he started this whole thing .He put his self into this to help the kids To have this program on for only three hour you people are out of your minds .I’ve been watching telethon for 45 years and am saddened on not having Jerry Lewis represent M.D.A.

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