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Darrell Huckaby - 09/09/09

My Labor Day weekend was almost over when I remembered to turn on the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon. I have made it a point to watch Jerry Lewis pleading for America to help his kids just about every year he started pleading - which they tell me was in 1966.

I have never been a big fan of Jerry Lewis's brand of slapstick comedy. I think you either really like that sort of thing or you really don't and for whatever reason, I come down on the really don't side of the ledger. I do, however, appreciate his place in show business history and admire every sleepless hour he has spent raising money on behalf of MDA.

My favorite part of each telethon is when Jerry comes out and the end and sings "When you walk through the storm with your head held high; don't be afraid of the dark ... " Real tears roll down his cheeks as fatigue and emotion overcome him and then he asks for one last timpani as the big board rolls over to the final count - which has climbed into the millions over the years.

Honesty compels me to admit that the timpani and the big board lost some of its luster for me when Ed McMahan was no longer able to be a part of the show.

I didn't get to see the grand finale Monday night. I had other fish to fry - literally. A dozen or so folks were counting on me to feed them and the grease was getting hot at about the same time Jerry was winding down. According to the MDA Web site, however, the final total topped $65 million. That ain't a bad weekend.

I can't watch Jerry Lewis begging on behalf of his kids without thinking of Guy Sharpe. Guy was a legendary weatherman in Atlanta, back in the day, and a genuine Atlanta institution. He began his broadcast career on radio and worked for a while at WSB-TV and then at WAGA-TV before settling in on 11Alive for his last 19 years on television.

But when Guy was at WAGA, that station was affiliated with the Labor Day MDA Telethon and Guy was the Atlanta host. Just like Jerry Lewis, Guy was sincere in his lamentations on behalf of the children who had been stricken with neuromuscular disease. By the end of each broadcast Guy would be very emotional - and sometimes angry that Georgians had not been quite as generous as he thought they should have been.

Sometimes Guy got himself in trouble for taking corporate Atlanta to the woodshed, so to speak. I remember one particular outburst in which he screamed, "Where is Coca-Cola? Where is Delta Airlines?" as he listed those companies who had - and, apparently had not - given generously enough, at least in Guy's estimation.

Come to think of it, that year might have been Guy's last to host the telethon. It was probably not a great idea to criticize Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines on live TV back in those days.

One of my favorite moments from Atlanta television's rich history involves another Guy Sharpe meltdown. Three members of the then-fledgling Atlanta Falcons came down to the studio and asked to be put on the live telecast. They intended to make a contribution to MDA and to challenge every other pro athlete in Atlanta - which would have been members of the Braves and Hawks in those days - to do the same.

You could tell Guy was full of anticipation as he paraded the players onto the studio stage. Their spokesman stepped up to the stage and announced that he and his buddies were donating $10 each and challenging every athlete in Atlanta to match them.

I thought Guy, who wasn't a large man, would have to be restrained but, instead, he stepped back and stared incredulously at the behemoth athletes for what seemed like forever. Finally he was able to speak.

"Gee, fellows," Guy asked, his voice trembling from anger. "Are you sure you can spare it?" And then his voice got louder and louder. "You guys probably don't make more than a quarter-million a year, running and jumping and playing a game that these kids will never be able to play. Are you sure you can spare ten bucks?"

His tirade continued, and I think he reached into his pocket and offered the players some of his own money since they were obviously in such dire financial straits. I do recall that they cut to commercial before he could do bodily harm to the Falcon players.

Those were the days. I didn't see any fireworks Monday - just an old familiar face in a very familiar place. Somehow it brought me a bit of comfort and a bit of inspiration. I didn't pick up my phone, but I did pick up my checkbook. My contribution to Jerry's kids was made in memory of Guy Sharpe. Maybe yours could be, too, at www.mda.org.

Darrell Huckaby