Each year around Labor Day I grow nostalgic for the old school entertainers who have become a rare breed, and I feel this now for a good reason. Years ago Jerry Lewis presented an A-list of Hollywood/Las Vegas giants during his annual Labor Day Telethon to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association. But when you think about the upcoming telethon, who’s left from this era?
Each year around Labor Day I grow nostalgic for the old-school entertainers who have become a rare breed, and I feel this now for a good reason.
Years ago, Jerry Lewis presented an A-list of Hollywood/Las Vegas giants during his annual Labor Day Telethon to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association. But when you think about the upcoming telethon, who’s left from that era?
Where’s Buddy Hackett and Sammy Davis Jr.? Whatever happened to Uncle Miltie and Slappy White? How have we managed to get along without Frank Sinatra?
A few weeks ago we lost another pillar in the entertainment industry when Merv Griffin died. It seems as though the list of notables who can no longer provide a cameo for the Labor Day Telethon is getting longer than those who can.
Don’t get me wrong -- we still have a few of the greats left. Shecky Greene, Sid Caesar and Norm Crosby are still with us — and let’s not forget Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme. What would the world look like without Tom Dreesen (just in case he hasn’t reminded you recently, Dreesen is originally from south suburban Harvey)?
While not officially a member, Lewis certainly knew those in The Rat Pack quite intimately. He built his movie career with Dean Martin. Then after years of estrangement, there was the emotional reunion between the two on the telethon.
But who’s now left from The Rat Pack? Joey Bishop — that’s it. Talk about a bygone era.
So the Labor Day Telethon is sort of a mile marker of the legendary entertainment greats who have stuck around. Of course, we got a scare last year when the Grim Reaper nearly paid a visit to J.Lew (that’s my nickname for Jerry Lewis; I figured that if Jennifer Lopez could be called J.Lo then Jerry Lewis can be called J.Lew).
In June 2006, he suffered what was described as a “mild” heart attack. But he rebounded in time to host the telethon.
This was a great relief to me. We’ve lost enough celebrity greats who used to appear on the Labor Day Telethon. How would the world absorb the loss of the man at the epicenter of the telethon?
At 81 years of age, we can’t take this comic treasure for granted. To describe me and a few of my friends simply as J.Lew fans would be a gross understatement.
We worship the very ground upon which Lewis’ dribble glass spills water. For us, “Hey lady!” and “Oh yeah!” aren’t just snappy catchphrases — they’re mantras for our way of life.
Try to imagine commemorating a Labor Day knowing that Jerry Lewis is no longer with us. You might as well go to work just like it was any other Monday.
So who would pick up the Labor Day Telethon mantle is (God forbid) something should happen to J.Lew? Would you choose from with old-school names like Bill Cosby, Liza Minnelli, Don Rickles, Charlie Callus or Wayne Newton?
Or would you go slightly newer-school and pick Fred Travelena or Adrian Zmed? How about Lola Falana?
The heir apparent is most likely Ed McMahon, who practically runs the show now as it is. But McMahon will always have that sidekick stigma, so I’d like to select someone who would eclipse him.
My runner-up for such a post is William Shatner. Like J.Lew, Shatner makes a handsome living off playing a caricature of himself.
But even William Shatner has to bow to the only celebrity with enough gravitas to pick up the torch from Jerry Lewis and take the Labor Day Telethon to the next level: Oprah Winfrey. Look what she did for daytime television, books and Dr. Phil. She would take the phrase “Hey, Lady!” and make it her own.
Jerry Moore is a news editor with GateHouse Media Suburban Newspapers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.