Labor Day MDA Telethon Eliminated After Nobel Peace Prize Nominee Jerry Lewis Unfairly Ousted
March 16, 1926 - August 20, 2017
"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.
Pledges and Collections Declined
During 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 the MDA short "telethon" prerecording received lesser amounts of pledges that did the Jerry Lewis Telethon and collected a much smaller percent of those lesser pledges. This was such an embarrassment, that the MDA removed the short telethon income line item from their financial statements and rolled those figures into some other category. Now, the public cannot find out the telethon dollar amount.
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.
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.
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.
- Labor Day Jerry Lewis Telethon Without Comedian: MDA Lost $14 Million Last YearShowbiz411 | Showbiz4
MDA: Little by little everything is falling– income, revenue, grants. The only thing that gets better at MDA is (6-figure) salaries. Gerald Weinberg, the long time president, made over $400,000 in 2012.
- "MDA telecast raised more -- a lot more -- with Jerry Lewis in 2010 than without him in 2011"
According to the MDA’s 990 tax returns, posted on the organization’s website, the 2011 show did not raise more money than the 2010 broadcast. The MDA fell short of 2010 by quite a lot, actually -- $18 million.
- Roger Ebert, Comedians Rally for Jerry Lewis After Telethon Ejection
Roger Ebert ripped Jerry Lewis's removal as host of the annual Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon as comedians rallied in support. News came Wednesday that the Tucson-based MDA had relieved
MDA Employee Dissatisfaction
As of May-June 2016, the average rating of satisfaction was only 2.5 out of 5 stars or 50%. Only 33% of those surveyed would recommend working at MDA to a friend.
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
Top 10 Most Influential Celebrities:
(American survey by Nationwide Insurance in 2008):
Michael J. Fox
Former President Jimmy Carter
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.
Questions & Answers
© 2008 Patty Inglish MS