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Jerry Lewis deserves better

POSTED: September 4, 2011 1:30 a.m.

When I think of Jerry Lewis, I think of the rubber-faced comedian whose physical comedy has made us laugh for years.

While a generation will only know Eddie Murphy as the Nutty Professor, it was Lewis who first played the dual roles of Professor Julius Kelp and his alter ego, Buddy Love.

Although it is now outdated, I still laugh when I think of Lewis and his famous typewriter act set to Leroy Anderson’s "The Typewriter Song." The song, incidentally, is a fast-paced orchestra arrangement that incorporated the sound of a manual typewriter, complete with an end of the margin bell.

OK, there is a whole crowd of young folks who have no idea what I am speaking of in the last paragraph. (Oh, by the way, you can see it on YouTube.)

But Jerry Lewis’ greatest legacy will likely be the millions and millions of dollars he has raised for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

With the possible exception of Danny Thomas and his role in establishing the St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Lewis was identified so closely with the effort to help those with neuromuscular diseases.

For years, children with muscular dystrophy were known as "Jerry’s Kids." At certain times of year, you couldn’t walk in a grocery or convenience store without seeing some kind of fundraising activity for MDA, all with an image of Lewis.

He became chairman of the MDA and was clearly passionate about seeking a better life for those born with these awful problems.

Telethons have been around since the earliest days of television, but it was Lewis who took it to a new level.

He first went on the air in New York City on Labor Day in the 1960s. Many predicted he would fail because Labor Day was not a big time for TV viewing. But they had to paint on an additional digit, because the event topped $1 million dollars.

MDA and Lewis built the "Love Network" with more than 100 stations carrying the 21-hour telethon.

Lewis tapped into his Hollywood and entertainment friends to bring on a star-studded spectacular.

But it was Lewis that we loved to watch. We knew when he took a deep breath and the drum roll began that a new total was about to appear. Hearing the live orchestra playing eight bars of "What the World Needs Now is Love," would draw us to the TV to see how much had been raised.

Sadly, in the last few years, the show, like Lewis, was showing signs of age. While some new performers came on board, there were those of a previous era who surprised me that they were still alive.

At the same time, the highly rated TV stations became less willing to give up airtime and the telethon moved to other stations in the market.

What was once a big deal had become just another show.

Earlier this year, MDA announced that Lewis, now 85, would be hosting his last telethon this year.

About a month later, the organization announced that Lewis was done and that the telethon would be a six-hour show on Sunday night.

I’m sure there is a back story, but Jerry Lewis, a great entertainer and humanitarian deserved a final bow.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.



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