Just a few yards away from Disneyland's Videopolis stages where the sixth annual Children's Miracle Network Telethon did its 21-hour fund-raising thing last weekend, one of the park's favorite attractions pipes a beloved anthem to children of all ages: It's a world of laughter, a world of tears, It's a world of hope and a world of fears, There's so much that we share that it's time we're aware it's a small world after all.
Those words, rich with realistic hope, serve as a fitting background to a telethon that during its comparatively short existence has done much to make the world seem considerably smaller and less frightening to millions of sick and injured children.The numbers alone are impressive. The 1988 telethon, seen Saturday and Sunday on an estimated 190 affiliated television stations, raised an incredible $59 million (ncluding the $225,259 KSL raised locally for Primary Children's Medical Center) for more than 160 children's hospitals, an all-time record for television fund raising. That brings the Children's Miracle Network's six-year total to $170 million, all of which has gone to help more than five million youngsters.
As impressive as the numbers are, however, perhaps even more so is the degree of commitment to the cause that is felt by those closely associated with it.
"This means more to me than anything else I do all year," said co-host and telethon founder John Schneider moments after coming off stage for the first national telethon segment Saturday. "Out there in the audience there's a section that is reserved for what we call our `Miracle Children.' The simple fact is some of those kids wouldn't be alive today if it weren't for the telethon."
Schneider's sentiments were shared by Marie Osmond, who, with the Osmond family's Osmond Foundation, teamed up with Schneider to help make the Children's Miracle Network happen right from the very first.
"This is the greatest thing I do," said Osmond, who mixes Osmond Foundation work and trips to various children's hospitals with the more than 250 singing appearances she makes each year.
"This is a real family," she said, glancing around at the performers and technicians who were jovially mingling offstage after the show's second 40-minute on-air stint. "We all just really love each other. We've been through a lot together, both good and bad. And then to come together like this, and to see these kids . . . well, it's all just very emotional, very exciting, very fulfilling."
Rather than a reminder of the bad things that can happen to children, Osmond says she prefers to think of the telethon as "a celebration of success stories." And one of the biggest success stories of all has to do with the telethon itself, which has grown amazingly since its first year, 1983, when it was headquartered at the Osmond Studios in Orem and 30 affiliated stations raised $4.7 million for 22 children's hospitals. This year's telethon raised that much money in the first 90 minutes.
"It's incredible," said Schneider. "Every year when I see that final figure on the tote board I can't believe it. I was amazed with the amount of money we raised that first year. And now . . . it's almost overwhelming."
A big part of the telethon's recent success is its two-year association with Disneyland.
"It was a real coup for us," Schneider said. "Disney means children and happiness. That's a pretty good image for our telethon. And since Disney had never been involved with fund raising before, having them choose to get involved with us was about the best seal of approval we could ask for."
And it's given them some fancy new digs for the 21-hour television show itself. Not that there was anything wrong with the Osmond Studios. It's just that Anaheim is a little more accessible to the entertainment industry than Orem. The Disney connection also gives them a natural site for their East Coast cut-ins: Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.
Which is not to say the telethon has lost its Utah flavor entirely. For example, there was a Utah Moment early in the telethon when Marie was standing in the audience joking with former BYU football stars Jim McMahon and Todd Christensen. Noting his former teammate's natty suit, McMahon said that "when you play for the Raiders you get to dress like that."
Christensen looked at McMahon's jeans and casual shirt. "I know you're making a lot of money," he said, "and I know you're not spending it on clothes."
(cMahon was also involved in the telethon's best inadvertent joke. At one point Mary Hart was talking to him and asked, "By the way, Jim, how many kids do you have at home now?" Suddenly, there was a drum roll, prompting McMahon to announce, "Oh, I think we have a new total now!")
Native Utahn Merlin Olsen also plays an important part in the telethon, joining new co-host Mary Hart as the show's only experienced interviewers (art is a most welcome addition for her deft questioning and sparkling personality. Perhaps she could give Rich Little some lessons).
The Utah connection also included appearances by the Osmond Brothers, the Osmond Boys, opinion researcher Richard Wirthlin and announcer Mark Van Wagoner. (nd can we still count The Lettermen?) All were gathered here along with a host of other entertainment luminaries to do something nice for needy children. One saw few class divisions backstage, few indications of status or ego. These were all just people - singers, actors, football players, even living legends like Bob Hope and Dean Martin - coming together to put on a show that will help unfortunate youngsters.
Like it says in the song: There is just one moon and one golden sun, And a smile means friendship to everyone. Though the mountains divide and the oceans are wide It's a small world after all.