Log in

No account? Create an account
entries friends calendar profile Metphistopheles Previous Previous Next Next
The Things You Remember. - Blather. Rants. Repeat.
A Møøse once bit my sister ...
The Things You Remember.

Labor Day Weekend is upon us. Unless you're Canadian, in which case you add the extra U. It's always had a certain bittersweetness for me, mainly because in our culture it marks an ending rather than a beginning or midpoint. Summer is over (even though it continues on the calendar for at least two, and this year three, more weeks). School begins again- whether you're the student (as I was for more than a third of my life) or a parent (for another more-than-third). Minor league baseball is over, major league pennant races are mostly irrelevant if you're a Mets fan, and that behemoth of fall known as the NFL begins the following Sunday.

In my formative years, though, it meant one other thing: the Jerry Lewis MDA telethon on Channel 5 in New York. Starting the night before, running through the wee hours and up to the final tote-board tally at the end of Labor Afternoon with Jerry caterwauling "You'll Never Walk Alone," I had a morbid fascination for this thing all through junior and senior high school. We never traveled for this holiday, what with school starting later that week, friends being away, and most other distractions (library, pool and whatnot) being closed to mark the day or the end of summer. So I'd sit in the air conditioned "den" that was once my room and watch. There were celebrities performing, Ed McMahon hi-yo'ing Jerry's jokes, and the master of MDA himself working the nationwide room to raise money for His "Kids."

It wasn't until much later that I discovered that many of them didn't appeciate the pity:

Is it wrong to have compassion for the disabled?

It would seem so, if one follows the reasoning used by some disability rights activists in attacking last week's Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon hosted by comedian Jerry Lewis.

They argue that such fundraisers reduce the disabled to objects of pity, poisoning the public's attitude toward persons with disabilities. The impressionable TV viewer, this logic goes, having been moved to help the seemingly helpless by writing a check, will be less likely to treat the disabled as capable equals out in the workplace.

The telethon still goes on, though it's no longer an all-night affair, and for the past several years, it's been Jerry-less.  I lost touch with it in college days- we started classes on Labor Day at Cornell- and only occasionally stuck my head in on it in my WNY days. Yet I still remember the pageantry, and the pity, and the scroll of local numbers superimposed over the nationwide telecast, which scrolled along the bottom of the show on Channel 5. A main 212 number that I could never call; that cost message units, which were EXPENSIVE.  They did have a local number for the 516 that, at least one year, I remember calling to pledge my five bucks toward the all-important tote.  The rest of the tri-state area got their dibs, as well, with 201s, 203s, and a bunch of 914s for Westchester and beyond, including the one that still sticks in my head- one that would be a local call to the Operators Standing By at Brown's Hotel.

I'd never heard of it, but knew, solely from this amazing amount of free metro-area-wide publicity, that it must be important. Later, when I learned, mostly in retrospect, about the history of the Catskill "Borscht Belt" and its influence on so much comedy and entertainment of my life, I never heard about it, either.  But today, the Times explained it all to me, from a little over a year ago- and I learned that Brown's Hotel was an institution in Jerry's life that passed the torch for the final time- literally- in 2012:

A fire over the weekend [of April 15, 2012] swept through a condominium complex in the Catskills that was once the Brown’s Hotel, where Jerry Lewis and other comedians entertained crowds of vacationing New Yorkers.


Brown’s Hotel was opened in 1944 by Charles and Lillian Brown. During the 1950s and ’60s, it was one of the three most popular borscht belt resorts, along with the Concord and Grossinger’s.

After business declined, the resort was sold at a foreclosure auction in 1988. In the mid-1990s, it was converted into condominiums, with the name Grandview Palace.

Dick Capri, a comedian who performed at Brown’s in the late 1960s and early ’70s, said performers could make a good living in the summer doing shows at Brown’s, the Concord and Grossinger’s. If you did an early show at one resort and a late show at another, he said, you could make $1,000 a week, which at the time was a lot of money.

Mr. Lewis was good friends with Lillian Brown, Mr. Capri said.

“She was like Queen Elizabeth — she was the queen of the Brown’s,” he said. “You know, ‘Mrs. Brown’s going to watch the show tonight, oh my God.’ ”

Mr. Capri said Mr. Lewis’s father, Danny Lewis, a former vaudeville entertainer, was also an M.C. at the lounge.

“The joke around then was, they would say to Danny, the father, ‘Did you hear from your son, Jerry?’ ” Mr. Capri said. “And Danny would say, ‘Not a cent.’ ”

The audiences at the resort, he said, were somewhat jaded by all the stars who came up there to perform.

“They would brag, ‘Oh, I walked out on Sammy Davis.’ And the other guy would say, ‘Me? Harry Belafonte.’ ”

Still, he said, he was very sorry when the resorts like Brown’s ultimately went out of business. “It was vaudeville with room and board,” he said.

Several times a year, I made the drive down the Quickway, as it was known in the end times of the Borschtiness, and remember the fading signs for Grossinger's, and Nevele (allegedly named in reverse for the eleven Jewish guys who founded it far away from the exclusionary practices of their home city's own country clubs), but I never knew where Brown's was, or what it was beyond it being a 914 number on the telethon.  It saddens me to know now that it's gone- just as the telethon itself is, for all intents and purposes, now that they've kicked their founder to the curb.

This entry was originally posted at http://captainsblog.dreamwidth.org/153795.html. Please comment here, or there using OpenID.
Leave a comment