Friday, August 11, 2006

Mike Douglas, Genial TV Host, Dies at 81

Published: August 11, 2006
Mike Douglas, the genial television host whose afternoon talk show who was a beacon of popular culture in the 1960’s and 1970’s, died today in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.His death came on his 81st birthday, a generation after his irony-free broadcast style began to pass from the screen.Everyone from Richard Nixon to the Rolling Stones showed up on “The Mike Douglas Show.” It had a run of more than two decades, beginning in 1961. At the height of its popularity, in the late 1960’s, it was one of the most watched shows on television.About seven million people tuned in each day. They saw Liberace and Little Richard, Malcolm X and Barbra Streisand, the Catskills comedienne Totie Fields going goggled-eyed at the Kabuki-masked rocker Gene Simmons of Kiss. It was Robert Frost one day, Richard Pryor the next. The flash-in-the-pan pop group called The Turtles was seated next to Truman Capote.And next to them was Mr. Douglas, smiling and silver-tongued, seated before a backdrop of plastic flowers.The show provided a stage for Bill Cosby and Jay Leno when they were up-and-coming performers. It always featured musicians, reflecting Mr. Douglas’s show-business beginnings as a singer, and they ranged from Frank Sinatra to John Lennon.Mr. Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono were Mr. Douglas’s guest hosts for one week, when viewers were treated to Mr. Douglas singing the Beatles tune “With a Little Help From My Friends,” interviews with radical leaders like Bobby Seale of the Black Panther Party, and Mr. Lennon playing his antiwar hymn “Imagine.”The program also produced a pivotal moment in American political history. The creative genius behind the scenes at “The Mike Douglas Show” in the 1960’s was the producer Roger Ailes. Mr. Ailes became a crucial media adviser to Mr. Nixon in his successful run for President in 1968 after meeting him on the show. He went on to play a similar campaign role for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He is now as chief executive officer of Fox News Channel and chairman of Fox Television.Mr. Douglas was not an interrogator like his television contemporary Mike Wallace, nor possessed of the cool of his late-night counterpart Johnny Carson. David Letterman, whose life as a daytime host was starting when Mr. Douglas’s was winding down, became a kind of antithesis of Mr. Douglas.He usually served his guests softball questions, exuding good vibrations. Yet his program could make news. He offered Ralph Nader his first chance to question the safety of American automobiles on national television, and he let political figures from the far ends of the spectrum as well as the middle have their say.His success was also a foreshadowing of the future: in an era before cable television, Mr. Douglas was not a creature of the networks. His show was a syndicated production of the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company and sold to some 200 local stations. It was the first syndicated television show to win an Emmy. Toward the end of his long run, Mr. Douglas was being paid $2 million a year, a salary probably exceeded on television at the time only by Mr. Carson’s.At the height of his fame, Mr. Douglas said he was always thinking of how to make a housewife in Cedar Rapids happy. The secret of his success, he said, was simple: “I’m a square.”Michael Delaney Dowd Jr. was born on Aug. 11, 1925 (or a few years earlier) in Chicago, Ill., the son of a railway freight agent and a homemaker. He performed as a teen-aged crooner on a cruise ship that sailed the Great Lakes out of Chicago.He moved to California after World War II and appeared on the bandleader Kay Kyser’s televised “Kollege of Musical Knowledge,” a musical quiz show, from 1950 to 1952. He returned to Chicago to host “Hi, Ladies,” a radio show aimed at housewives, but his career foundered in the 1950’s.He was singing in a piano bar when Westinghouse offered him his own television talk show in 1961. “The Mike Douglas Show” began in Cleveland on a single station in December 1961. Within two years it was seen in Boston, Baltimore, San Francisco and Pittsburgh. The show moved to Philadelphia in 1965, making it easier to attract guests from New York.Its fame increased. By 1967 it was the most popular show on daytime television. The 14 minutes of commercials on the 90-minute show produced some $10 million annually for its creators, and Mr. Douglas, his wife, and their three daughters were living on a 30-room Tudor mansion of Philadelphia’s Main Line. His ratings eventually declined in the 1970’s, and his long run ended in 1982.In retirement, Mr. Douglas wrote a memoir, “I’ll Be Right Back: Memories of TV’s Greatest Talk Show,” (Simon & Schuster, 1999) and played golf. He had fallen ill from dehydration on a golf course a few weeks ago, said his wife of 62 years, Genevieve. He is survived by his wife, their daughters Michele, Christine, and Kelly Anne.“Mike is the glue,” his producer, Mr. Ailes, said in 1967, the year the show won its first of five Emmy awards. “Without him the show would fall apart.” Another of his producers, Larry Rosen, called Mr. Douglas “a piece of clay you can do anything with him.” It was meant as a tribute to a man who displayed an adaptable affability five times a week for 21 years.

*Lucy appeared on Mike's show many times...he also appeared on one of Mary Tyler Moore's short-lived TV shows with Lucy.

Thanks, Josh (DizzyArnizzy), for finding this article for us!
Original article found at: