Las Vegas Sun

January 16, 2018

Currently: 59° — Complete forecast

MDA chief heaps praise on Jerry Lewis; Vinnie Paul’s favorite movie; Billy Johnson’s maternal inspiration


Mona Shield Payne/Special to the Sun

Jerry Lewis celebrates a new tally during the final hour of the 45th Annual Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon at the South Point in 2010.

2010 Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon

The 2010 Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon at South Point. Ace Young, Nigel Lythgoe and David Archuleta are pictured here. Launch slideshow »

The Kats Report bureau at the moment is the William Hill Sports Book at the Fabulous Union Plaza Hotel! Which is how it was once known, decades ago, when KDWN AM-720 broadcast from the second floor.

At night, that signal carried all the way to Pocatello, Idaho. The Union Plaza on No. 1 Main Street was sort of a mythic place. So was the Stardust, home of the Stardust Sports Line, which also was a KDWN aerial fantasy that aired after Dodgers night games.

Right now, the scene is a moderately populated sports book where the Washington Huskies are putting a vise on Boise State, among the dozen football and baseball games being broadcast. I’m here not for sports betting, or observing, but to take in the Dixie Evans “United We Shimmy” tribute show across the casino floor at the vastly underappreciated Plaza Showroom.

I like that room a lot. There is not a more unshakable and authentic Old Vegas feel anywhere in town than when the main room at the Plaza is filled. This should be a pretty special event, honoring the memory of Evans, who passed away Aug. 3 in Las Vegas. Tempest Storm is going to be here, among the many stars of the “new burlesque” around town and elsewhere, so it should be quite a scene.

Until then, it’s rake time:

• In the face of support of vanquished MDA Labor Day Telethon host and organization official Jerry Lewis, Steven M. Derks on Saturday posted his “reflections” of the telethon on the organization’s website. Derks is the new president and CEO of the MDA, and this year’s fundraising “Show of Strength” TV show airs today from 9 to 11 p.m. on ABC (KTNV Channel 13 in Las Vegas; the original version of this column had the incorrect Pacific air time).

Derks specified some of the great gains the MDA has made over the years in the research and treatment of dystrophic diseases. He then heaped praise on Lewis, saying, “Where would MDA and the fight against 43 muscle diseases be without the amazing Jerry Lewis? Certainly, we would not be at this hopeful spot. Forever he will be our greatest “muscle maker,” a true hero in the hearts of millions.” (The entire piece can be read here.)

Lewis is to be mentioned during the show, and his 1976 reunion with Dean Martin is far and away the leader in the fan vote of nine "Telethon Moments" posted on the MDA website, but he is not scheduled to be heard from otherwise during the show.

It would not be a stretch to say the man Derks replaced as head of the MDA, Gerald Weinberg, would never have written such a tribute. He had ample time to tap that out and never did before he followed Lewis out of the organization in late 2011. The feud between Weinberg and Lewis was the chief reason the latter ended his run as host of the telethon and left his post as MDA chairman in 2010.

Also, the MDA is disputing the reporting (here and elsewhere) of what the organization raised in its 2011 telethon. The claim has been $61.5 million, but the MDA’s Form 990 tax filing from that year shows that it actually collected $30 million, less than half the amount pledged. That disclosure has led MDA spokeswoman Roxan Olivas to state that the $30 million figure listed in the “telethon” column was an incomplete figure.

She wrote in an email: “While in the past we had a column in the 990 that was titled telethon, not all the money reported and collected from telethon-related fundraising was in that column. For instance, in 2011, some of the $61.5 million that was reported was also in the special events column.” So the money taken in that year was divided, says the MDA, in separate categories.

It also is worth noting that the MDA stands by its figure of $58.7 million from the 2012 show, though that number is absent from the organization’s tax filing from last year.

“There is not one line or column in any of the 990s that is specific to all the telethon-related income, i.e. you won’t find one specific line that shows the exact $61.5 or $58.7 million figures,” Olivas noted. “It’s just not the way it’s reported. For 2012, telethon-related income was reported in the Special Events column and is included in the overall figure in that column.”

The 2012 990 filing was the first MDA tax return to report income from the telethon in “Special Events,” which makes it impossible for those on the outside to verify what has been pledged and what has been collected without verification from someone inside the MDA.

Nonetheless, the message from the MDA today, is: We do a lot of good. We appreciate Jerry Lewis. Trust us on our numbers.

Vinnie Paul at KISS by Monster Mini Golf

Vinnie Paul at KISS by Monster Mini Golf on Monday, March 19, 2012. Launch slideshow »

• Pantera co-founder and percussion hero Vinnie Paul has a short list of favorite movies playing in theaters right now.

The list: 1) “We’re the Millers.”

That’s it. The whole list.

Paul has seen the comedy -- which stars Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Emma Roberts and Will Porter as a fake family making a drug run to Mexico for Ed Helms — four times. He texts photos of the screen and messages to friends while sitting in the theater (sadly, Paul does not use Twitter). He says he’s returning to the film soon. “I just got back from Cabo, and I can’t wait to go again!” So if you catch the film and in the theater see a bearded guy in a black, embroidered cowboy hat … he might be Vinnie.

Click to enlarge photo

Billy Johnson writes his blog post after the Spanish Grand Prix.

• Las Vegas Wranglers President Billy Johnson has released his self-published novel, “If I Die, Tell Steve Martin I Found His Journal." The plot centers on a character not coincidentally named Navin R. Johnson who finds Steve Martin’s personal journal. Johnson is an underachieving but brilliant marketing executive who is reeling from three successive failed relationships. He reads into Martin’s journal and imagines the great comic actor and Renaissance man as his own guardian angel, fighting all of his battles and furnishing all sorts of sage advice.

Johnson is a longtime fan of Martin but hadn’t consciously thought of writing a book invoking his character until taking a trip overseas several years ago.

“I was in Ireland on vacation and had this odd dream where I saw my mother walking hand-in-hand with Steve Martin, and as anyone who has had vivid, crazy dreams, it lingered all day, and I started thinking, ‘What if it were true?’ I started writing it down, and the novel makes very little mention of it at all, but one imagination turned into another and turned into this book.”

Earth, Wind & Fire at Venetian

Earth, Wind & Fire performs at the Venetian on Friday, Aug. 30, 2013. The legendary band was joined by David Foster in the concert for Home Shopping Network. Launch slideshow »

• Earth Wind & Fire performed a show at the Venetian Theater that aired live on Home Shopping Network on Friday night, and once again EWF showed it is one of the great live bands of this or any era. During the first hour, the band promoted its new release, “Now, Then & Forever,” and grooved through its classics, “Fantasy,” “Serpentine Fire,” “Boogie Wonderland” among them. A silver-suited David Foster, as always the walking definition of self-confidence, showed up to join in the first hit he co-wrote for the band, “After the Love Has Gone.”

After the TV broadcast ceased, vocalist Philip Bailey yanked the in-ear monitors from his ears and said, “Let’s party.” The band played another 40 minutes, tearing through “September” and playing a song rarely performed live, the cover of the Beatles’ “Got to Get You Into My Life.”

Nice work, once more, by renowned set designer Andy Walmsley. The place never looked or sounded better.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy