The Long Fight Against Muscular Dystrophy

September 7, 2020 |

For six decades, Labor Day meant an American tradition: the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. MDA ended its association with Lewis in 2010, although the telethon continued in ever-shorter form until its final broadcast in 2014. But the association of Labor Day with helping the MDA continues. Some local areas still host telethons, and firefighters across America are out this holiday weekend at intersections, collecting cash for their “Fill the Boot” drive. If you see them, I hope you’ll dig into your pocket and give generously.

And the national organization this year is bringing back the Telethon in a new “COVID-19/Zoom”-friendly way. You can learn more and donate directly at their website: https://www.mda.org/telethon

Although Jerry Lewis passed away a few years ago at 91, active right up until the end, I’m sure that he would want you to continue giving generously and remember that it’s about helping the kids. In fact, while Jerry made the telethon the success that it became, he wasn’t the one who started it all rolling. He gave credit for sparking his six-decade mission to wipe out muscular dystrophy to another man -- a man you’ve probably never heard of. Jerry kept the story secret for many years, until the publication of his memoir, “Jerry Lewis in Person.”

Jerry recalled that it was in 1948. He was 22, and he and Dean Martin were the hottest comedy team in show business. His good friend and press agent, Jack Keller, had helped make them stars, but never requested a single thing for himself -- until one day, he came to Jerry and begged a favor. He had a friend who was in trouble and asked if Jerry would talk to him. His name was Paul Cohen. He’d had MD since childhood, and he’d started a group called the Muscular Dystrophy Association to fight it. They had a few patients, their parents and nothing much else.

By chance, Jerry knew someone whose nephew had had MD. He said he’d watched helplessly as that child had withered like a leaf in the winter, and the effect of seeing that would never leave his mind until a cure was found. So he agreed to meet with the handful of doctors who knew anything about MD at the time. They weren’t encouraging. They warned him that research was in the Dark Ages. Nobody even knew what caused MD, and no known medicines helped. It was like fighting an invisible killer. But that just made Jerry more determined to take it on.

He and Dean began hosting fundraisers…until one night, Jerry jokingly ad-libbed at the end of their TV show that viewers should each send in two dollars. He was stunned when over $2,000 arrived in the mail. And that’s when it hit him: the power of television to raise money for charity. So in 1951, Jack Keller put together a special hosted by Dean and Jerry. It aired on just one station and raised $68,000 (over $671,000 in today’s dollars), and the MDA telethon was off and running.

Over the next six decades, Jerry Lewis’ tireless work on his Labor Day telethons helped raised well over a billion dollars to fight neuromuscular diseases and help the victims and their families. He also inspired millions of Americans to join in the effort. That’s why so many Americans will always associate him with Labor Day.

But let’s also salute an unsung hero. If you think one person can’t make a difference, remember that the Labor Day tradition that raised over a billion dollars to help children with MD started because a man you’d never heard of, Jack Keller…for the first time in his life…asked someone for a favor. And as Jerry observed, it was no surprise to him that the favor was a request to help someone else.

So when you see a firefighter out collecting for MDA, doing his or her bit to help the kids, please do your bit and toss something into the boot. You'd be amazed how all those individual efforts add up.

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Comments 1-13 of 13

  • Renee Kendrick

    09/09/2020 12:37 AM

    MDA Labor Day Telethon, WOW! One of the favorite events of my lifetime. I began watching in my childhood with one of my favorite elderly family members. We would stay up as late as we could and get up early so we could watch the telethon all day. I so vividly remember Bob Sampson, Jerry's oldest "kid", and how he so graciously told his story! Then Jerry would sing, "You'll Never Walk Alone" at the ending of the telethon! I would cry every year. Those memories will be etched in my mind until I pass on from this life. I watched the telethon every year until the final broadcast. It was heartbreaking that golf became more important than special needs people to the national stations, thus causing the telethon to be shortened for public viewing. Oh how much our younger generations have missed out on such a unique, annual event!!! More than likely, very few young people in this nation even know about the MDA! Thank you, Governor, for bringing back wonderful memories. I even mentioned to someone this Labor Day weekend of how much I missed the telethon.

  • Kathy Gibbons

    09/08/2020 10:54 AM

    Question: With all the money raised over 6 decades (60 years); how come a cure has never been
    invented......with all those millions of dollars ??? This whole thing sounds fishy and just stinks to high heaven ....just does not ADD up !!?!?!?!?!?!

  • Carla B

    09/08/2020 07:54 AM

    I’m curious about your thoughts on Constitutional amendment 14

  • Rosemary Keasling

    09/08/2020 04:42 AM

    We see a lot in the news about George Soros providing funds to promote anarchy in our country. Why isn’t anybody doing anything about that?

  • Nancy Martin

    09/07/2020 03:17 PM

    Watched and donated every year since I was a child. Would love it when Jerry would do a “silly”. Our word for his type of comedy. Sad when he and MDA had a falling out. Labor day weekend has not been the same since.

  • Bob Shillingstad

    09/07/2020 02:37 PM

    Mike,
    You mean well promoting MDA. We had a grandson who passed from Duchennes MD, the worst kind, at age 23. We became very involved after his diagnosis and headed events to begin with.
    Conclusion, I would not give a dime to MDA. I won’t go into detail bet can give you a lot of facts and experiences.

  • Teresa Edwards

    09/07/2020 02:07 PM

    This has nothing to do with MD, but in your commentary today you referenced the on-going scandal of parents buying their children into good universities. I agree that it is wrong and these people need to face consequences, but I also believe the individuals responsible for accepting these bribes need to be held accountable. Lori Laughlin and all the rest of them would never have considered doing something so illegal if there had not been a nefarious individual or system ready, willing, and able to accept their money. Where are the indictments for these people?

  • Tracy Davis

    09/07/2020 12:41 PM

    Thank you, Mr. Huckabee, for your tireless efforts on behalf of conservatives, conservatism and historical truths. I am also thankful that you, too, know the saving grace of God through faith in the shed blood, death, burial and resurrection of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. In addition to thanking you, I wanted to humbly and meekly ask you to return to using the KJV text for your daily Bible verse. If you simply compare COL. 1:14 and MARK 9:43-49 in other translations, I believe you will understand and agree that the KJV is the most complete and accurate preserved Word of God we have in this present dispensation of grace. Again, thank you for all your hard work, in honestness and sincerity. EPH 4:17-32

  • Dawn M Lamb

    09/07/2020 11:50 AM

    Thank you for reminds .. And all your little side storys.. Thank you and GOD BLESS you and your family for what you do for others..

  • Toni metherall

    09/07/2020 11:43 AM

    Dear governor
    I so much appreciate your newsletters. You are a wonderful voice in this scary time politically. Thank you
    Toni

  • Nelda White

    09/07/2020 11:30 AM

    I wasn't able to see you verse of the day. Did someone take it off or maybe you forgot? Miss it and thank you for printing "verse of the day".

  • Michael Hutch

    09/07/2020 09:31 AM

    Thanks for reminding me of MDA

    On Labor issue, all you hear from Dems are "Good paying UNION jobs" Well THEY HAD a purpose way back then. Hey Joe, what about the non Union??? As of 2019 Bureau of labor stats shows, there were 14.6 million union workers or 10.3 % of the labor force. So what about the other 89.7% or about 150 Million??? They need to come out and tell Joe, Kamala etal to hit the road with their Union Bosses

  • Gretchen Grant

    09/07/2020 09:14 AM

    WOW! What a marvelous story. From the time our children were little the Labor Day telethon was a tradition in our house. I remember one year in particular when we lived in CA. The local TV station had celebrities manning the phones. A person could call in and talk to the celebrity of their choice. Our kids wanted to talk to Jimmie Walker from "Good Times" fame. They did get to talk to Jimmie Walker and he said his catch phrase for them "Dyn-O-Mite." They were so thrilled. He encouraged the children to give and they did. Just one memory from so many years of great entertainment for such a great cause. Today our grandson, a fireman and paramedic, will be out collecting.