Monday, April 22, 2024

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 (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.

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.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
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.

Read more

In Other News