JERRY/COUNT PT. TROIS

To close this little mini-Jerry Lewis/Count Basie festival here’s a clip from the 1977 MDA telethon featuring Jerry sort-of conducting the Count Basie band doing their famous ‘April In Paris’ arrangement. These were, for me, the prime years of the telethon–I regularly ‘stayed up with Jerry to watch the stars come out’ and was rewarded (?) by seeing the likes of Lola Falana, Joey Heatherton and the ‘Shall We Dance’ number from ‘The King And I’ performed by Yul Brynner and Constance Towers. Jerry started getting doped-up around midnight and it was the early AM Jerry–the zonked, not entirely on this planet Jerry–whom I loved the most. This was when the true Jerry would surface and his comedy would suddenly turn edgy and not always terribly gentle. Mocking people’s middle-of-the-country accents (and forget it if you were the south) was so painfully unfunny and cruel that it had its own kind of bleak, sociopathic funny. This performance of Jerry conducting the band feels very second-day-of-the-telethon–Jerry’s formidable energy is there but the whole thing has a slightly uncrisp, foggy vibe to it–it’s Jerry waiting for the new dose of meds to kick in. The edgy Jerry was personified in one of my favorite Jerry moments, when he was released from the hospital after having open heart surgery. The news cameras waited eagerly for them to wheel Jerry out. When they did he was smoking a a bent cigarette and loudly proclaiming: ‘Heart surgery works–you don’t have to give up smoking!’

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