The Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon

A Super-8 film by Chuck Kleinhans and Liz Schillinger documenting and analyzing the spectacle of the 1980 Jerry Lewis telethon, an annual televised fundraiser to support the Muscular Dystrophy Association, in communities around Chicago and on television.

00:06Copy video clip URL “The Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon” title screen. Camera opens on flashing grainy TV screen. 

00:29Copy video clip URL Camera cuts to Larry Foster, a Skokie, IL 7/11 manager, talking about his store’s participation in the Jerry Lewis telethon. The purchase of certain products, like Sara Lee, results in a donation to Jerry’s Kids.

2:14Copy video clip URL Cut to an event in a park for the telethon. People pour gathered money into a communal container. Interviewer Liz Schilinger asks to boys if they think the money really goes to helping people with muscular dystrophy, but the camera cuts away before they answer. Different cameraman talks to a man that biked down Irving Park Road to get to the event. Footage of the telethon on TV interspersed with footage from the event in the park. 

9:05Copy video clip URL Cut to a man named Stuart sitting next to the TV and providing an analysis of the trajectory of the telethon. “It’s sort of horrifying, like watching Mr. Jekyll turn into Mr. Hyde. And it happens every year! … And finally, at the end of it all, you end up giving money out of a sense of shame for having watched this man convert into this monster.” More footage of the telethon.

11:40Copy video clip URL Cut to a public figure talking to Schilinger in the park about why Jerry Lewis hosts the telethon. “Jerry has not specifically given a reason, but he claims that when a cure is found, he’s going to unveil his reason.” Interview with a woman dressed as a clown.

13:40Copy video clip URL Cut back to the telethon, where actor Hervé Jean-Pierre Villechaize, of Fantasy Island fame, is making a request for donations.

14:15Copy video clip URL WGN anchor John Drury reports on the results of the telethon.

14:41Copy video clip URL End.



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