Douglas, Mike

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Mike Douglas

Born Michael Delany Dowd, Jr., August 11, 1925, in Chicago, IL; died August 11, 2006, in Palm Beach Gardens, FL. Talk show host and singer. Mike Douglas was on the verge of turning away from show business when he was approached to host a syndicated daytime talk show. The Mike Douglas Show received decent ratings when it first aired in the early 1960s. Once the show moved from its Cleveland base to Philadelphia, many top-rated performers began to appear on the show and the ratings improved. Douglas was a gracious host, who put each guest at ease and made them look good. The Mike Douglas Show was the first talk show to receive an Emmy.

Douglas was born on August 11, 1925, in Chicago, Illinois. At nine years old, he would entertain patrons at local Irish bars for change. Douglas appeared on a radio program, The Irish Hour, at age eleven. After he graduated from high school, he found work as a singing master of ceremonies on a cruise ship that toured Lake Erie, which bordered Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, and Canada.

Douglas attended Oklahoma City University. In addition to his studies, he also appeared on a local radio show. Later, he served in the Navy during World War II. After the war, Douglas joined the Kay Kyser Band as a featured singer. He also appeared on Kay Kyser's Kollege of Musical Knowledge. The program first aired on radio but later moved to television. Douglas was featured on several of Kyser's recordings, including "The Old Lamplighter," and "Ole Buttermilk Sky." In 1950 his voice was used as the singing voice for Prince Charming in the Disney film Cinderella.

In previous years, Douglas used his birth name. One day before a performance, however, Kyser introduced him as "Mike Douglas" and the new last name stuck. When Kyser retired, Douglas returned to Chicago and hosted the Hi Ladies radio program. He also appeared on the television variety show Club 60. He frequently appeared on the Breakfast Club, another radio show.

Douglas was working as a lounge singer in Los Angeles. With rock music on the rise, his genre was on the decline. At the time, he was taking a real estate course, preparing to leave show business behind. However, he was asked to be the host of a syndicated talk show and as a result, The Mike Douglas Show debuted in 1961. Things went well and the show soon moved from Cleveland, Ohio, to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Celebrity guests were more amenable to come to Philadelphia than Cleveland so Douglas was able to bring on more A-list stars.

Douglas was a very genial and polite host. He helped his guests relax and made them look good. Because of this, he was able to interview almost everyone who was anyone in show business and politics, from Burt Reynolds to Ralph Nader. Douglas usually opened each program with a song, and he also performed with other singers, including Sammy Davis, Jr. and Sarah Vaughan.

In addition with opening each show with a song, Douglas also showcased up-in-coming comedians, including Bill Cosby and Jay Leno. Singer/actress Barbra Streisand also performed on the show before she became a household name. Douglas included comedy segments on the program, which most of his guests willingly participated in. Comedian Jack Benny turned down requests to appear on the show repeatedly until a skit was created that involved Douglas and a small group of fans waiting for Benny's limousine to appear. Known for his cheapskate ways, Benny then showed up by bus, counting his change. In the Los Angeles Times, Burt Rey-nolds recalled, "[Douglas] just had a way about him that very, very few people have…. We just winged it because he was so much fun and easy."

In 1967 The Mike Douglas Show won its first Emmy. The win was the first for a talk show. The program earned a total of five Emmys during its run. For his part, Douglas became a household name. According to TV Guide, quoted in the Chicago Tribune, "Dishes go unwashed and shirts remained unironed when Mike Douglas comes on."

Throughout the show's run, Douglas would occasionally invite a guest to co-host for one week. His invitation to singer John Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, would be the only time the program was considered controversial. During the week, guests included Ralph Nader, Bobby Seale (co-leader of the Black Panthers), and activist Jerry Rubin. According to the Washington Post, in his memoir, I'll Be Right Back: Memories of TV's Greatest Talk Show, Douglas wrote he was anxious throughout that week, despite huge ratings.

The Mike Douglas Show aired from 1961 to 1981. Douglas appeared on the show more than 6,000 times and interviewed more than 30,000 guests. The show moved from Philadelphia to Los Angeles in the late 1970s. It aired on the cable network CNN for its last two years. After the show ended, Douglas retired and moved to Florida to play golf and focus on his family.

In the early 1990s Douglas was diagnosed with prostrate cancer and underwent a successful surgery and treatment. According to the Washington Post, his wife of 62 years, Genevieve, told the Associated Press he had been battling dehydration weeks earlier when he entered the hospital in Palm Beach Gardens, on August 10, 2006. He died the next day at the age of 81. Douglas was one of the pioneers who helped to make talk shows a daily part of every viewer's life. His politeness and entertaining ways were an inspiration to future talk-show hosts.


Chicago Tribune, August 12, 2006, sec. 2, p. 10; Los Angeles Times, August 12, 2006, p. B12; New York Times, August 12, 2006, p. B16; Times (London), August 25, 2006, p. 69; Washington Post, August 12, 2006, p. B6.

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