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Labor Day MDA Telethon Eliminated After Nobel Peace Prize Nominee Jerry Lewis Unfairly Ousted

Ms. Inglish has spent 30 years working in medicine, psychology, STEM instruction, and aerospace education for Active USAF Civil Air Patrol.

Jerry Lewis Quote: "Dream as if you'll live forever, live as if you'll die today."

Jerry Lewis Quote: "Dream as if you'll live forever, live as if you'll die today."

Jerry Lewis served the Muscular Dystrophy Association for nearly sixty years until 2011, when he was removed from service. The 24-hour telethon was shortened from six hours in 2011 to two hours in 2014 and was then eliminated.

MDA leaders had been collecting a much smaller percentage of actual funds related to pledges made since 2001. They asked Mr. Lewis to record a promotional piece for their website. Even after his sudden ouster without clear reasons, the long-time humanitarian kindly complied, at age 89.

Jerry Lewis raised approximately $2.5 billion for research and cures from 1966 - 2010.

Decline and Fall of the MDA Telethon

MDA used a 6-hour pre-recorded faux telethon - a commercial really - as a poor substitute for the much loved Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon beginning in 2011.

In 2013, it was reduced to a 2-hour infotainment commercial.

In 2013, MDA accounting staff persons hid the actual dollars pledged and collected within another P & L line item, so the public can no longer see the lower amount of pledges compared with those of the previous six decades and the extremely poor collection rate from 2011 to the present.

However, the separate ALS Ice Bucket Challenge (ALS belongs to the MDA family of conditions) raised about $90,000,000 before Labor Day in 2014, without any involvement from the MDA.

Testimony by staff and executives on Glassdoor.com reveal problems within MDA. Increasingly, other pledge and collection systems have out distanced the new MDA "telethon."

In 2013, it [a prerecorded "telethon"] was reduced to a 2-hour infotainment commercial.

Another company has developed ways of regrowing the muscles devastated by the diseases that Jerry Lewis campaigned to end within his lifetime. The company is Fate Therapeutics.

Healthcare Research and Campaign Changes

Jerry Lewis was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his 59 years of volunteer work in collecting over $2,500,000,000 for Muscular Dystrophy research and cures.

His reward for this from MDA was his elimination in 2011.

The former quote that has been removed from the MDA's FAQ page is this, according to Snopes.com:

Jerry Lewis receives no pay for his tireless year-round work for MDA. He is MDA's "number-one volunteer" and star of the Telethon.

However, the many vice presidents of the MDA, including Jann Carl of the Labor Day event, receive at least $100,000 yearly.

Up to 2011, the Muscular Dystrophy Association ensured that research and new cures for Muscular Dystrophy did not rely solely on government funding in America. However, a shakeup occurred in late August 2011, when Jerry Lewis announced his impending retirement with a proposed special announcement that he would give after Labor Day 2011.

In a preemptive strike, MDA eliminated him from the Telethon just before the event and reduced the event to six hours.

In late August 2012, MDA announced that the telethon was eliminated entirely. In its place they would air a videotaped three-hour program on the Sunday before Labor Day and call it the MDA Show Of Strength. By 2013, the event was reduced to a two-hour tape. By 2014, it had moved to ABC. So, Disney is purchasing everything now! - Disney owns ABC.

This sounds suspiciously political. Is MDA building a wall of protection around itself?

Quietly and with greater strength than MDA, another company has developed ways of regrowing the muscles devastated by the diseases that Jerry Lewis campaigned to end within his lifetime.

This is the company that deserves the support, rather than MDA: Fate Therapeutics. See what they are doing at Fate Therapeutics and New Work In Muscular Dystrophy

The many vice presidents of the MDA, including Jann Carl of the former Labor Day event, receive at least $100,000 yearly.

Millions of people miss the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon as a part of American culture and an important fund raising event.

Millions of people miss the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon as a part of American culture and an important fund raising event.


Muscular Dystrophy Association Cutbacks

On August 3-4, 2011, controversy grew around Jerry Lewis's retirement from MDA as National Chairman and Labor Day Telethon Host in 2012.

During Jerry's term as chairman (1952 - 2011), billions of dollars were raised for research, allowing MDA to be less dependent on government funding than other disease research entities in America had been. In addition, several types of neuromuscular diseases and conditions became treatable and curable through the results of telethon research dollars.

MDA made no excuses for quick, rashly announced program cutbacks, including the MDA Telethon and it's host, who had been credited with being the Number One Celebrity to Influence Others in the world (see list below).

Beginning 9/4/2011, the MDA Telethon became a 6-hour entertainment show. 6:00 PM to Midnight, live on the East Coast from Las Vegas. MDA stated that too many TV stations affiliates had dropped the annual telethon, the entertainment acts were no longer good, and they (MDA) were taking immediate action.

"Where has he gone to?" Leaving every chair behind.

"Where has he gone to?" Leaving every chair behind.

About Jerry Lewis, by a former Hubber who knows him: I once worked as a stand-in for Jerry Lewis. For weeks our relationship was a bit awkward, but a turn of events changed everything. I'm even here to write about it only because Jerry came to my rescue in a very big way.

— "Seafood Gumbo" on Hubpages

Speculation and Evidence - What Caused the Ouster?

Some event or action caused Jerry's ouster just 30 days before what was to have been Jerry's 60th and last MDA Telethon. What was that action or event?

We may never know, but we can see a large organization ousting a Senior Citizen of much worth just a year after the world lost Ed McMahon, the other respected Senior of the show. That looks like a pattern of eliminating the "old guard" to some folks.

Speculation elsewhere is that Lewis was going to expose malfeasance in the MDA and/or explain that a scientist had successfully found a cure for a large set of conditions within muscular dystrophy. Additional speculation is that the MDA leadership did not like either possibility.

We will likely never know Jerry's secret personal reason - the one he always threatened to tell - for supporting MDA for 59 years. How many of us will continue to support MDA now, in the face of their rash actions? I will not.

2010 - 2013 MDA Telethon Results

  • In 2011, the MDA Show of Strength pre-taped show was just 6 hours long. In 2012, it was reduced further to only 3 hours in length. On Labor Day 2013, the show was cut again to just 2 hours. At this rate, by 2015, it will be a 30-minute infomercial.

Employees Dissatisfied with MDA

On Glassdoor.com, MDA employees recorded a low satisfaction rating for for the company from 2000 - 2016. It was also reported that MDA maintains 30 National Vice Presidents, all of whom earn 6-figure incomes.

In light of high employee turnover on the front lines of the company and only a 50% collection rate for pledges, those hundreds of thousands of dollars for each VP might better be spent on research and cures for intramuscular diseases.

Quotes From Employees:

Executive Director, June 2011: Morally degrading, life consuming, thankless, need a self esteem class to get back on track. Management by fear, everyone comes to work motivated only by the fear that they will be fired. Average tenure is 2 years, and I believe that is a stretch. It's harder and harder to raise funds because the entire model is based on building relationships, but sponsors and donors are so exhausted by having to meet different employees every year, that they are just not engaged any longer and stop giving or cancel events.

Health Care Service Coordinator: MDA's hours can be brutal! While they offer lots of holidays, there is no comp time. So, there are times that I have worked 14 days in a row because of an event and they do not even allow us to come in late or have a day off. You work until the work gets done and if it takes 10 hour work days, that's what it takes. It wouldn't be so bad if they paid decent, but not only have we not gotten a raise in over 4 years, we were just furloughed for the week of Thanksgiving. That is actually a 2% pay cut! There is a revolving door - they cannot keep staff and they are not honest with staff about what the job actually entails time wise.

Labor Day Telethon - We Watched the Stars Come Out

Watch the Stars Come Out.

Watch the Stars Come Out.

Until There's a Cure, There's a Telethon

Although I had not been near a TV Set on Labor Day for a decade as of 2008, I used to watch the traditional Muscular Dystrophy Association's annual Labor Day telethon for many years. I resumed watching in 2009, but many poeople have seen it ever since the first official event held at Carnegie Hall in 1955. Previous to that, there was a series of MDA TV Specials since 1952, but the telethon was not the iconic official LABOR DAY TELETHON until 1966. Broadcast over just one station in NYC in 1966, it brought in over $1,000,000 even then, during the early Viet Nam War.

Broadcast in some form since the 1950s, this event has raised $2.5 Billion research and treatments for neuromuscular diseases that include muscular dystrophy.

MDA has not relied solely on government grants that may not offer enough funding for adequate research and that may also restrict the organization overly much with governmental oversight delays. The MDA Telethon has brought successful treatment, longer and more productive lives. and hope to thousands of patients and their families.

I will never forget one Telethon in particular in which an adult male sat center stage in a wheelchair. His body folded down onto itself in a way suggestive of a Japanese fan. However, his singing in a professional sounding, strong voice was moving. His song was Some People Call me Chameleon - "Some people call me chameleon, they say I change from face to face..." His wife and he had just become parents biologically to twins, likely via artificial insemination. He was a dad.

People with muscular dystrophy are as capable as anyone else in many ways. Stephen Hawking is in his 60s, has a neuromuscular disease, is still brilliant, and is contributing to the new horizon in physics and now-privatized aerospace travel.

The Labor Day Tradition of the MDA Telethon is an important part of the cultural skyline of America. Despite some opinions against Jerry Lewis for his outspoken calling out of some institutions, I think he has done a profoundly good for since 1952, when he and Dean Martin hosted the first show for MDA. As of 2008, he has yet received no pay for the work he does for MDA - over 55 years of long hours and effort. How many people would do it? As of August 2011, MDA turned its collective back on him.

Jerry Lewis is ranked as the Number One Most Influential Celebrity, however, in a nationwide survey. I agree.

© 2008 Patty Inglish MS

Comments & Thoughts

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on September 05, 2016:

True that! I am angry over this matter still. An article in the news yesterday shows how MDA has collected smaller and smaller amounts of donations every year in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014. Other research accompanies will put them out of business within the decade, imo.

Treathyl FOX from Austin, Texas on September 05, 2016:

I don't care what the reasons were for the ouster. I thinking those behind the scenes and "in charge" are ungrateful people. They don't an ounce of compassion for a person who kept them employed all those years.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on September 04, 2015:

During 2011 - 2014, the MDA "telethon" received far less in pledges than Jerry Lewis had done; and 2011 - 2014 collections of those were dismal. In 2013, MDA removed the "telethon" line item from financial statements and added it to some other category. Now, we cannot find out the yearly dollar amount.

Fate Therapeutics is making more progress in muscular dystrophy cures than MDA by growing new muscle fibers.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on September 05, 2012:

I will add anything I can find, but MDA would not publish their Pledge Total for 2012, because they were able to collect only about 50% of the total in 2011, whereas under Jerry, no year's collections ever dipped below 73%, even in a recession.

I did learn that MDA has 30 National VPs that all earn 6-figure incomes, it reports that 1 minute of its research costs $70, and 1 week of their summer camp is $800. An MDA summer camp north of me charges much less for a week, so something is wrong. As for research, Fate Therapeutics already has the effective treatment for Duschenne MDA. So, including the costs of high employee turnover, I think there is much waste in the use of MDA pledge funds. Thirty VPs at 6-figure incomes? I think that is absurd.

The recipes are left from the original Hub on watching the Telethon and having related cookouts. That section is cacophonous when we reach it now, deafening in its eerie reminder of shocking losses and wasted pledges. Probably next year, I'll move the recipes somewhere else, but the dissonance still feels right to me at this moment. It reminds me of Labor Day 2006 when Steve Irwin died by stingray wound and someone sold eerie T-shirts with only a stingray on the front.

SEXYLADYDEE from Upstate NY on September 05, 2012:

Thanks for adding some clarity to a situation many if us didn't have a clue about, other than he and the telethon just disappeared. I did the annual fundraising walk for ten years. I hope you will expand this hub if the other side if this is ever exposed. I will admit the recipes at the end did not flow with the honest and informative article at the beginning. Dee

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on September 02, 2012:

Friends have been looking in the TV listings, searching for the MDA telethon, not realizing that there is not to be one this year.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on September 01, 2012:

The MDA Telethon was eliminated for 2012. Read the updates and wonder.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on February 11, 2012:

I feel the same way. After these months, it feel like the MDA was reluctant to let him continue, because the organization thought he might level harsh criticism on them during the show or the next day in his planned announcements. It was a pre-emptive strike from MDA and I'm sad it happened. i think it was wrong.

myawn from Florida on February 11, 2012:

The MDA show won't be the same without Jerry Nice Hub! voted up

sligobay from east of the equator on September 29, 2011:

Great article Patty. I enjoyed all f the information imparted about the Telethon and the origin of Labor Day. I also hope Jerry Lewis will disclose his secrets at a press conference.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on August 15, 2011:

I'm hoping Jerry Lewis will have the press conference after the Telethon, as he had planned.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on August 08, 2011:

Thanks for commenting, quotations. A two-hour final telethon send off party would have been OK, with lots of guest stars. I'm sure On the Rocks acapella group would have loved to have been there and made Lewis laugh.

Robert P from Canada on August 08, 2011:

I think that they should have given Jerry a more honorable sendoff, provided he agreed not to embarrass the organization on air by complaining about being forced out.

But the fact is that it was long passed time for Lewis to go. I found his presentation terrible and irritating like finger nails on a chalkboard - any time I saw him hosting I changed the channels.

This is not to take away from his great achievements as the host and with the organization, but it would have been best for everyone if he had realized that it was time to pass on the torch rather than for someone else to have to make the tough decision. If he had chosen to retire both he and the organization would have benefited from favorable publicity rather than this mess.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on August 08, 2011:

A group of comedians is planning their own Labor Day show in honor of Jerry Lewis's work for MDA, with proceeds to go to MDA.

Robert Ebert blasted MDA in the press.

Cagsil from USA or America on August 06, 2011:

You're quite welcome Patty. I would think it would definitely be a different show without his wit mastery. I mean Jerry Lewis was a natural comic, in every sense of the word and for a very long time. But, I don't think it would do as good without him. When he did the show he was quite serious about it and I simply do not think there will be any substitute that will match his long standing and accomplishments. :)

SEXYLADYDEE from Upstate NY on August 06, 2011:

I also missed the announcement. It's the end of an era. As a child I loved watching his telethons with my family. He is the reason I did the walkathons for over 20 years. I was inspired by his dedication and as a young person it made me aware of the need for service to your community. I suppose Dick Clark will retire next and then the last of the great "ones" will be gone. Thanks for this informative hub. Dee

ross670daw on August 04, 2011:

I have been a huge fan of Jerry Lewis since I was a kid watching his movies on a saturday afternoon, his comedy was amazing. I wasn't aware back then of his fantastic charitable contribution to society though, it's the mark of the man. His participation and efforts over a long and colorful career will not be forgotten.

Long live JL.

Earth Angel on August 04, 2011:

Dearest Patty,

You bring up some interesting points! I somehow missed this in the news! I have supported MDA and the Jerry Lewis Telethon for decades! I have several friends affected and JL always provided long-lasting hope!

I too, have waited for so many years to learn the secret of his motivation! I always thought it must be someone in his family, maybe a sibling, that died early on due to this disease, and it was kept a secret! (Hard to do in Hollywood, however!?)

This corporate "upset" will be good for ratings! We will all be tuning in to see "what's up??"

I do hope it wasn't some immediate health issue with Jerry himself!? The last few MDA Telethons he didn't look too well?

I send them all the very BEST! They have done some amazing work over the years!

Blessings for bringing this so quickly to our attention!

Earth Angel!

FloraBreenRobison on August 04, 2011:

I must say in reading the announcement that I have never heard of any of the announced hosts for the show. At 35, I'm not sure if this says more about me loving classic Hollywood, or about me being 35,period.

deblipp on August 04, 2011:

He's not beloved in the disability community, who don't want to be talked about as pathetic, but rather as vital human beings with disabilities.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on August 04, 2011:

Thanks, Cagsil - It is going to be a strange show this year, I think.

Cagsil from USA or America on August 04, 2011:

Hey Patty, I watch Jerry Lewis for many years and even contributed to the MDA over the years. I would always root for him to break the goal every year and I have to admit it was inspiring how people would pull together, because of his empowering personality. It was awesome to watch. :) Great hub! Definitely voted up! :)

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on August 04, 2011:

As a young child, I saw an old news clip of Lewis imitating, I thought, a cerebral palsy patient. Always wondered of he was trying to make amends with the telethon. Fifty-none years is a long time to be helping anyone or any cause. Not many do this.

daskittlez69 from midwest on August 04, 2011:

I am way late on reading this. But I thoroughly enjoyed your hub. I knew Jerry Lewis had been doing the telethon for a long time but I would have never guessed as how long. Here is your up.

FloraBreenRobison on August 04, 2011:

I've always been divided about Jerry Lewis ever since he referred to people by a derogatory phrase I won't repeat. This is aman who is helping them? I have a biased opinion because I have slight cebral palsy in my right side and I am very sensitive to so called political correctness vs. not mentioning a disability at all. For example, I detest "physically challenged." That refers to a wide range and can be just a need for reading glasses. He has raised a lot of money and that is excellent. He may yet reveal why he has been doing these fundraisers -perhaps after he dies this information will be revealed the way katherine Hepburn's diaries were revealed after she died.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on September 06, 2010:

September 6, 2010: "Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon raises $58.9 million" (AP)

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on September 02, 2008:

I did, indeed, watch the Telethon in 2008, but coverage did not begin locally until the small hours of the morning. It was eerie how Labor Day, the Republican National Convention and Hurricane Gus coincided. And I am happy that the governments and CBOs were so much more organized for this storm.

Hope everyone had a good weekend!


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