With the annual Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon in Vegas next month, I wanted to interview Lewis. I figured I'd do a Q-and-A for Newsweek, use some of it for my Las Vegas Weekly column and play the audio on our celeb-interview podcast "The Strip."
So I emailed his management to arrange the conversation. And Lewis' PR guy, Rick Saphire, wrote back promptly: "Any interviews related to the MDA Telethon, must be scheduled through the publicity office of the Muscular Dystrophy Association. I can schedule general, career related interviews, but Mr. Lewis gets a sizable fee." (emphasis mine.)
That's weird, thought I. Also, manna from blogger heaven. So I wrote back and asked: "If the MDA helps me set up an interview, will it be restricted only to MDA and the telethon or will I be able to ask other questions? And, also, how much is the fee for an interview otherwise?"
Saphire answered two hours later: "Jerry Lewis will not (and can not) combine an interview about the MDA with matters pertaining to his own career. He does not use his position as MDA National Chairman to advance his other activities, etc. Up to a one hour interview with Mr. Lewis for a commercial publication (electronic or print) is $20,000." (emphasis mine.)
I was floored. And morbidly fascinated. I had to press on. "That's awfully steep," I wrote Mr. Saphire. "Have many media outlets actually paid that? Or do you negotiate?"
Eleven minutes later, Saphire replied: "Jerry Lewis' price is his price. It's a healthy sum, but ANY story about him receives international attention and raises readership. Yes, he is often paid that much and more for his interviews, but obviously it's only the heavy hitters in the media which can afford the fee."
So here's the thing. I write for the "heavy hitters." There isn't a single one that would pay for any celebrity interview, let alone one with a faded star who, while surely a fascinating conversation, wouldn't exactly move the needle on circulation or viewership in any meaningful way. And $20,000 is just off-the-wall even if it was one of the tabloids that do pay for certain interviews.
We took a look-see at Rick Saphire's site, by the by, and we wonder what he charges for access to such luminaries as Mally Lewis (daughter of Shari), "The Colbys" star Maxwell Caulfield or Jerry Mathers. And I wonder how we got last summer's bizarro interview with Chubby Checker, also listed on the site, for "The Strip" without having to mortgage the house.