Douglas, Mike (1925—)

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Douglas, Mike (1925—)

Daytime television talk show host Mike Douglas personified mainstream popular entertainment during the 21-year run of The Mike Douglas Show from 1961 to 1982. The show, which initially originated from Cleveland, Ohio, and later moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was a 90-minute syndicated program that dominated the ratings during the important weekday afternoon/early evening time slots. Douglas served as an affable Midwestern everyman who welcomed guests from show business, politics, and current events. Unlike many daytime shows of the 1990s, which focused primarily on confrontations between outrageous and often vulgar guests, The Mike Douglas Show offered viewers a mixture of thoughtful conversation and wholesome entertainment. Douglas once described his personality and appeal to the mass audience by stating, "I'd have to say I'm square and I'm happy that I am." His charming "Mr. Nice Guy" image made him the quintessential TV host and encouraged such personalities as Marlon Brando, John Lennon, Barbra Streisand, Rose Kennedy, and Princess Grace of Monaco to choose his program for their rare talk show appearances.

Born Michael Dowd on August 11, 1925, in Chicago, Illinois, Mike Douglas served in the Navy during World War II and first attracted attention with an impromptu singing performance while visiting the famous Hollywood Canteen. His rendition of "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" so impressed nightclub manager Earl Carroll that the young sailor was given a standing offer of a job as a singer as soon as he was free to take it. However, upon leaving the service in 1945, Dowd turned down Carroll's offer and a Hollywood film contract to join Kay Kayser's big band as a featured male singer. For five years Douglas, whose professional name was bestowed upon him during a performance by Kayser, sang on both the radio and television versions of Kay Kayser's Kollege of Musical Knowledge. Among his most popular songs with Kayser and his own spin-off group Michael Douglas & The Campus Kids were "Ole Buttermilk Sky" (1946) and "The Old Lamplighter" (1947). Upon Kayser's retirement in 1950, Douglas began a solo singing career. His most noteworthy performance of this period occurred when he provided the singing voice for Prince Charming in Walt Disney's animated fairytale classic Cinderella (1950).

Douglas moved into television in the early 1950s and appeared on numerous programs originating from Chicago. In 1961, he arrived in Cleveland to launch his own talk show. Westinghouse, which syndicated the Douglas show, owned KYW-TV in Cleveland and believed it would be most cost-effective to originate the program from those facilities. Later, an FCC ruling on a legal technicality forced Westinghouse and NBC to swap their stations in Cleveland and Philadelphia. In 1965, Douglas and his successful program relocated to Philadelphia's Independence Mall. Each episode of The Mike Douglas Show began with Douglas singing an opening number (most often "On a Wonderful Day Like Today") and then commenting on his personal life with his wife Genevieve and their three daughters.He then welcomed various guests and participated in comedy-variety segments.

One of the most noteworthy elements of the Douglas Show was the inclusion of a celebrity guest co-host each week. Performers such as Rosemary Clooney, Jim Nabors, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, and Gloria Swanson would join Mike in this role for five days. Perhaps Douglas's most unconventional co-hosts were John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who appeared for a week in February 1972. The couple introduced Douglas and his Middle American audience to such counterculture figures as Jerry Rubin, Black Panther Bobby Seale, and several segments of performance art. Highlights of the unusual week included Lennon playing with his rock idol Chuck Berry and Douglas joining the couple in an unrehearsed segment where they phoned strangers to say they loved them.

Mike Douglas symbolized family entertainment during the turbulent 1960s and 1970s. He was extremely popular and prominent on the American scene. Beyond his own afternoon program, he often substituted for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. Douglas even produced a hit record, "The Men in My Little Girl's Life," a song about fatherhood that reached number three on the Billboard charts. He was even seen on the big screen when he made a cameo appearance as a southern governor in the Burt Reynolds film Gator (1976). After The Mike Douglas Show ceased production in 1982, the host moved to the fledgling CNN cable network to briefly host an interview show. Douglas remained out of the spotlight until 1996 when he made a special guest appearance during the premiere week of The Rosie O'Donnell Show. Rosie O'Donnell credited Douglas as the inspiration for the positive, entertainment-based, and family-friendly show she hoped to create. Her great success in the late 1990s proved the daytime talk show format pioneered by Mike Douglas still resonated with many Americans.

—Charles Coletta

Further Reading:

Douglas, Mike. Mike Douglas: My Story. New York, Putnam, 1978.

White, Mel. Mike Douglas: When the Going Gets Tough. Waco, Texas, Word Books, 1982.

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Douglas, Mike (1925—)

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