Etched in black and white in the recesses of my brain are several extraordinary moments of early television. The first is the surrealistic on-camera murder of Lee Harvey Oswald. The next is a riveting 1968 version of Of Mice and Men starring George Segal. And finally, the one I think about this time of year, is one of Jack Palace portraying muscular dystrophy. Dressed in black with a flashlight under his chin, he menacingly told the dreadful things he did to his victims’ bodies. Two hours searching on the Internet and still I just couldn’t find it; if anyone does, please post it on this site.
In the late 1970s this segment was part of the 21-plus-hour MDA Labor Day Telethon. Beginning in 1954, Jerry Lewis has always been intricately linked to this event as the captain who showed his extreme endurance every single Labor Day weekend. Every year without fail, his voice raspy and hoarse, his collar undone and cigarette smoke circling his hair, he’d close the marathon with his rendition of the telethon’s signature song “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
Back in the days when there were only a very few stations, every Labor Day weekend the telethon dominated an entire weekend of television. At its peak the show included stars from Streisand to Sinatra.
Since its inception the epic program has reportedly raised nearly $2.5 billion to help the association carry on its fight against muscular dystrophy and related diseases. This year, however, a tradition will significantly change and signal the end of an era. Earlier this year MDA announced that Lewis would no longer host or even appear in the show. In addition, the 46th annual MDA Labor Day Telethon will now squeeze all of the entertainment, awareness building and fundraising into six prime-time hours on Sunday night, Sept. 4. The show will again be broadcast on WGNO, but this year it will be held in Baton Rouge.
April Catarella, the executive director of the Greater New Orleans Muscular Dystrophy Association, thinks this year’s telethon is going to be its best. She loves the fact that the telethon connects her directly to the people donating the funds. “So often we hear people saying it’s hard economics times now, but here’s $5,” she says. “That means so much. The event also gives the organization a chance to truly recognize those donors and people who help us throughout the year.”
The GNO MDA currently serves approximately 500 families in 12 parishes and deals with more than 40 neuromuscular diseases. April is proud to point out that every dollar raised locally stays local, helping southeast Louisiana families who are touched by these challenging disorders.
After college April spent eight years working in minor league sports, including the Louisiana IceGators hockey team in Lafayette and the minor league Montgomery Biscuits baseball team. But she knew she wanted to work in the non-profit sector. When a job in her hometown opened up, she jumped at the chance. “I wanted to be able to help people not just meet deadlines and achieve all my tasks for the day,” she says. “ I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives.”
Though many will mourn the absence of Jerry and his galaxy of stars, we all know that time marches on and things change. What is important to remember is though things change people like April will continue to wake up every morning and head to work with one goal in mind: making sure no one ever walks alone.
Please share any of your old television memories!