Mike Douglas

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Michael Delaney Dowd Jr. (August 11, 1920 – August 11, 2006), known as Mike Douglas, was an American "Big Band" era singer, entertainer, television talk show host (The Mike Douglas Show), and actor.

He began singing as a choirboy. By his teens he was working as a singer on a Lake Michigan dinner cruise ship. After serving in the United States Navy in World War II and as a "staff singer" for WMAQ-TV in Chicago, he moved to Los Angeles. He was on the Ginny Simms radio show. After that, Douglas joined the big band of Kay Kyser as a singer.

Although big band swing faded from popularity as World War II ended, Kyser had to continue performing due to contractual obligations, and continued to log a few hits with Douglas, including two notable hits, "Ole [or Old] Buttermilk Sky" in 1946 and "The Old Lamplighter" the following year. Kyser was responsible for giving him his show business name, and he continued to perform with the band until Kyser retired in 1951 due to health problems. In 1950, he provided the singing voice of Prince Charming in Walt Disney's Cinderella.

In the 1950s, Douglas, living in Burbank, California, tried to keep his singing career going, working as house singer for a nightclub and going on the road to stay busy. By the middle of the decade, rock-and-roll and doo wop had taken over the charts, which left many older performers in the musical dustbin. In the leanest years, Douglas and his wife survived by successfully "flipping" their Los Angeles homes.

Douglas next surfaced in 1961 in Cleveland, where a onetime Chicago colleague hired him for $400 a week as an afternoon television talk-show host at WKYC-TV, then known as KYW-TV. The Mike Douglas Show rapidly gained popularity, and ultimately, national syndication in August 1963 on the five Westinghouse-owned stations. The show was broadcast live on KYW-TV in its city of origination, but this practice ended in 1965 after guest Zsa Zsa Gabor used the phrase "son of a bitch" when referring to stand-up comedian and comic actor Morey Amsterdam of the Dick Van Dyke Show.

As KYW-TV's owner, Westinghouse Broadcasting, successfully had a station swap with NBC overturned by the FCC, Westinghouse returned to Philadelphia on June 19, 1965 with call letters KYW, along with the station swap came The Mike Douglas Show, which aired its first Philadelphia-based show on August 30, 1965. Even after ownership reverted to NBC, WKYC in Cleveland continued to carry the program for many years afterward. Guests ranged from Truman Capote and Richard Nixon to The Rolling Stones, Herman's Hermits and Kiss, with an occasional on-camera appearance by Tim Conway (who would later be discovered at WJW-TV, also in Cleveland). Moe Howard of "Three Stooges" fame was a guest several times, with a pie-fight inevitably happening at the end of the interview, and platform speaker on nonverbal communication (body language) Dr. Cody Sweet.

The show helped introduce entertainers such as Barbra Streisand and Aretha Franklin. After the move to Philadelphia, Douglas also attempted to revive his own singing career, logging his lone Top 40 single as a solo artist, "The Men In My Little Girl's Life" in 1966. By 1967, The Mike Douglas Show was broadcast to 171 markets and 6,000,000 viewers each day, mostly women at home. It earned $10.5 million annually from advertisers, while its host was paid more than $500,000. In 1967, the program received the first Emmy Award for Individual Achievement in Daytime Television from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

In July 1978, the talk show's home base was transferred to Los Angeles, where it remained until finally going off the air in 1981. Near the end of its run, the series switched to a traveling roadshow format and became The Mike Douglas Entertainment Hour, but this change failed to boost falling ratings. After his series was cancelled, Douglas hosted CNN's Los Angeles-based celebrity interview show, People Now, taking over the hosting duties from Lee Leonard. He was replaced in January 1983 by WTBS personality Bill Tush.

Douglas became a local cultural icon in Philadelphia, often inviting prominent players from the city's professional sports teams to be guests on his show (he had a particular affinity for the city's pro football team, the Philadelphia Eagles, constantly referring to the team as "Our Eagles", and he could often be seen in attendance at Eagles' home games, especially whenever they appeared on Monday Night Football). He also assisted in mayor Frank Rizzo's campaign against derisive jokes often told by outsiders about the city, acting as chief spokesperson for the "Anti-Defamation Agency" Rizzo had set up for this purpose.

In February 1976 Hollywood recognized Douglas' contribution to television, honoring him with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located on Hollywood Boulevard.

Douglas sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" before the first Philadelphia Phillies game at Veterans Stadium on April 10, 1971, and also sang the national anthem prior to a Cincinnati Bengals-Miami Dolphins playoff game on December 23, 1973. He wrote two memoirs: My Story (1979) and I'll Be Right Back: Memories of TV's Greatest Talk Show (1999). He also wrote a cookbook, The Mike Douglas Cookbook (1969), featuring recipes from him, his family, and the show's guests. 40 years after Douglas began his talk show at KYW-TV, his granddaughter Debbie Voinovich Donley designed successor WKYC's new broadcast facility on Lakeside Avenue, completed in 2002. In 2007, a new documentary film Mike Douglas: Moments and Memories was shown on PBS stations. The Lily Tomlin comedy The Incredible Shrinking Woman shows the dwindling Pat Kramer appearing on Douglas's show, where he sings "Little Things Mean a Lot" in her honor.

Douglas developed prostate cancer in 1990, but after surgery he was cancer-free and remained in good health until almost the end of his life. He died suddenly on August 11, 2006, his 86th birthday,[7] at Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Although the exact cause of his death was not revealed, his widow, Genevieve, told the Associated Press that he became dehydrated while golfing a few weeks earlier on a hot Florida summer day. Douglas was treated at a hospital following this episode, but he was apparently unable to recover. Douglas was also survived by his daughters Kelly and twins Michele and Christine, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia posthumously inducted Douglas into their Hall of Fame in 2006.



Mike Douglas, who drew on his affable personality and singing talent during 21 years as a talk show host, died Friday 11th August 2006 on his 81st birthday, his wife said.

He died at 5:30 a.m. in a Palm Beach Gardens hospital, said his wife, Genevieve Douglas. She wasn't sure of the cause, but said he had been admitted Thursday.

Douglas became dehydrated on the golf course a few weeks ago and had been treated on and off since. "He was coming along fine, we thought. It was really a shock," she said. "We never anticipated this to happen."

Douglas' afternoon show, which aired from 1961 to 1982, featured his ballad and big-band singing style, other musicians, comedians, sports figures and political personalities, including seven former, sitting or future presidents.

"People still believe 'The Mike Douglas Show' was a talk show, and I never correct them, but I don't think so," Douglas said in his 1999 memoir, "I'll Be Right Back: Memories of TV's Greatest Talk Show."

"It was really a music show, with a whole lot of talk and laughter in between numbers."

Douglas did about 6,000 syndicated shows, most 90 minutes long, and estimated that at its peak the show was seen in about 230 cities.

Tom Kelly, who co-authored Douglas' memoir, said he had about 30,000 guests appear on his show over the years.

"One big key to his great success was he had his ego in check," Kelly said. "He always let the guest have the limelight. He was a fine performer. He could sing, he could do comedy, he did it all, but he always gave the guest the spotlight."

Douglas was among the "early settlers" in daytime talk shows, said Robert Thompson, a professor and director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.

"Mike Douglas was an old-fashioned traditionalist, holding down the fort while the culture was changing," Thompson said. "He was always the very friendly talk show host, nice to everybody. He would lean toward his guest as if he really cared. He owned that territory."

Hosts Phil Donahue, Dinah Shore and Merv Griffin also found success about the same time. Douglas said in his book that people often confused him with Griffin, another singer of Irish heritage. (Douglas was born Michael Delaney Dowd Jr. in Chicago, Illinois.)

Douglas fondly recalled when Tiger Woods, who as a preschooler was already drawing attention, appeared on the same 1978 show as Bob Hope, an avid golfer. "I don't know what kind of drugs they've got this kid on," Hope quipped, "but I want some."

Douglas was genial most of the time -- he was nicknamed "the Cary Grant of the coffee break," according to Allmusic.com -- but confided in his memoir that his composure was sorely tested one week in 1972 when former Beatle John Lennon and wife, Yoko Ono, were his unlikely guest hosts. One of the guest celebrities they selected was well-known anti-war activist Jerry Rubin.

"He just got on my nerves. It sounded like this guy hated the president, the Congress, everyone in business, the military, all police and just about everything America stands for," Douglas said.

He recalled becoming confrontational with Rubin. But Lennon "picked up the mantle of Kind and Gentle Host, and he did it quite well, reinterpreting Jerry's comments to take some of the sting out and adding a little humor to keep things cool," Douglas said.

Douglas also had a number of hit singles, first with Kay Kyser's big band -- he was a featured performer on the radio and eventual television program, "Kay Kyser's Kollege of Musical Knowledge" -- and later on his own. "The Men in My Little Girl's Life" hit the top 10 in 1966.

As the rock 'n' roll era began to emerge in the late 1950s, his style became less marketable, so he started looking for a way to energize his career.

He briefly hosted "Hi, Ladies!", a daytime television program on WGN in Chicago. In 1961, Woody Fraser, a Westinghouse Group W program director who had known Douglas in Chicago, recruited him to a Group W station in Cleveland (then KYW) to host a talk and entertainment program.

The show syndicated starting in 1963 but had a limited budget, and Cleveland was not a frequent destination for well-known potential guests. The show moved to Philadelphia in 1965 and to Los Angeles in 1978.

Three years later, Group W replaced Douglas with a younger singer, John Davidson. "The Mike Douglas Show" continued in syndication under Douglas' control until he retired in 1982 to North Palm Beach, Florida. Douglas appeared as a guest on several talk shows but spent much of his leisure time on the golf course.

He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1990, but surgery was successful.

 

Sources

 

Sources for this article include:

•  PA
•  "The Mike Douglas Show". Archive of American Television

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Last modified: Saturday, 18 March 2017