By Dianne R. Davis
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Photos by Burt or Dianne R. Davis

Jerry Lewis Still Reaching Out for Cures for Muscular Dystrophy

South Point Hotel  in Vegas Was His Headquarters

I spent 16 hours over labor day weekend at the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon headquarters and broadcast center at the South Point Hotel and Casino.  In my spare time, I do some extra work in Vegas and both last year and this year I got the call from Julie Goldman Casting, a local casting agency, to work as audience at the telethon.  The logic behind this is that if extras are paid, they don’t get up to exit just as the camera pans the audience. And at 3 a.m., there aren’t a lot of tourists anxious to sit in the audience when Jerry isn’t even there.  In addition, the performers and the technicians benefit from the energy given off by these “extras”.

I’ve been following the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon since the 1950’s when I was a kid growing up in New Jersey.  I remember when my friends and I collected money door to door at the Brookside Apartments in Somerville, New Jersey in 1956.  We called the phone number for the New York area from my friend David’s apartment and actually got to talk to Jerry.  Imagine that!  I think we collected around $28 that day and that seemed a large amount to us.

So there I was, 53 years later, at the telecast with Jerry only yards away.  So much has changed.  Jerry doesn’t run around the stage anymore doing pratfalls, conducting the orchestra, or clowning with the celebrities. Then again, the big names that used to walk on without fanfare to surprise Jerry and lend their support don’t come around anymore.  Most people his age are retired or gone. Then again, there isn’t too much time for them.  The corporate contribution presentations dominate the telethon now.  They are a necessary evil.  Corporations, schools, companies, and unions  contribute millions and most need their moment in the spotlight.

So celebrity time is more limited although there are acts scattered throughout the broadcast.  But there is always time made for the benefactors of the contributions – Jerry’s kids.  And make no mistake, Jerry’s kids aren’t limited to single digit ages.  Thankfully, these challenged youth and adults are living longer thanks to research funded by the telethon.

Local entertainers appearing in person in the studio during my 16 hour experience included Charo, Mosaic, Ronn Lucas, Ralphie and Tim Gabrielson.

The “extras” aren’t the only audience, people can wait in line for their opportunity to sit in the audience.

Much criticism has been tossed Jerry’s way, but I can only report what I saw.  And that is a man in his 80’s who has been working to support the research to cure these disease and raise the money to improve the quality and length of life of those effected by it. Jerry is a man with a mission.  His next challenge associated with this battle is to go to Australia to set up an organization there similar to the one in the USA.

In the meantime, he didn’t spend too much time on his feet in front of the cameras, and he sat when the camera wasn’t on him. More of the local hosting was done by Nancy O’Dell and Alison Sweeney, and Jann Carl.

Pledges from the viewing audience came to more than $60 million, a drop from the previous year. Las Vegas, the entertainment capital of the world, served as the heart of this year’s Muscular Dystrophy  telethon.  I watched from the heart of the heart.  I saw the way Jerry looks at his “kids”.  He loves them and wants them to be well.  And Sin City supports him in this effort.  We can only continue to wish that the work of the telethon can be concluded.  I hope no audience is necessary next year because no telethon is necessary.  If that is not the case, I’ll be back applauding and cheering on the volunteers, the celebrities, and most of all, “Jerry’s kids.”  As Jerry sings, “You’ll never walk alone.”

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