There is an old adage among Catholics (especially fully lapsed ones like me): "once a Catholic, always a Catholic." As far away as you may wander from the One True Church, wayward souls like myself will always find themselves bowing and greeting passing nuns with special respect, crossing themselves at altars, and balking at calling priests by their first names. The same holds true of being a childhood acolyte of Jerry Lewis.
Long story short: aspiring to be a class clown at age 6 -- who else do you revere at that age in 1964? I started "staying up late with Jerry" (an old tagline) for the annual MDA Telethon from early childhood and maintained a sentimental attachment well into adulthood. I even collected for MDA as a kid. And to this day, and long after his voice makes me cringe from its massive timbre of self-importance, it is hard to get through a Labor Day Weekend without checking how Jerry did.
And you have to hand it to Jerry Lewis. He can be painful to watch. If you have the patience and stomach for it, try this 1965 David Susskind interview with Lewis at his most affected and unbearable.
There is actually a connection to online video in here somewhere. The MDA Telethon at one time earlier in this decade was one of the first cases I can recall of true simulcast TV programming to the Web. The bandwidth sucked, and I remember all kinds of dropped feeds and tech glitches, but it gave us an early glimpse of what TV Everywhere might be like. And, hey, if you really need that annual dose of Tony Orlando and Norm Crosby, then where else would you want to be on Labor Day Weekend? And how about Charo? Doesn't she deserve a gig now and then?
Alas, over the years MDA seems to have gone back and forth on whether it wants to stream live and how much of the show to keep archived. A lot of the technology at MDA.org seems stuck in 2003. They have highlights from past shows that invite you to download the Real video player (I can't recall the last time I was asked to do that) and they offer streams for multiple connection speeds as low as 56k. Remember those days? That was when people still listened to Lee Greenwood, who, not coincidentally, tends to pop up on the Telethon. Someone from the video industry please step in and volunteer some video player design and hosting services to the MDA?
Of course the low highlight of the Telethon is always Jerry's parting tearful rendering of "You'll Never Walk Alone." And yet if you do a search of the MDA videos on YouTube far and away the most popular clip from the Telethon is the 2008 performance of American's Got Talent contestant ventriloquist Terry Fator with 5.3 million views. Did I miss a pop culture phenomenon along the way?
But the most famous event during the Telethon's history has to be the year that Frank Sinatra surprised Lewis by bringing on stage the comedian's long-estranged partner Dean Martin. That was amazing television.
However we need to qualify his impressive devotion to the MDA (going back to the Martin and Lewis days in the early 50s) with his insufferable personality and unabashed egotism, there is no doubting the amazing telethon run this guy has had. He invented a genre.