The Boundless Enthusiasm of The Phil Donahue Show

Last week we learned a bit about The Mike Douglas Show which debuted in Cleveland.  Today we get the back story on The Phil Donahue Show which also started in Ohio, in Dayton, in 1967. In 1970 it went into syndication and was seen weekdays until 1996.

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Donahue was a reporter at WLWD and when the Johnny Gilbert Show ended, Phil got his chance to host his own show. In 1974, Phil moved his show to Chicago. In 1985 He moved to 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City.

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Donahue described himself as “the Cal Ripken” of television hosts. With interviews every weekday for more than a decade, about 7000 total, it’s hard to argue with him. Donahue was interested less in celebrities and more about investigative-type stories and popular issues. He covered topics such as interracial marriages, homosexuality, bigotry, poverty, drug trafficking, political scandals, cross dressing, the Catholic priest abuse of young boys, and current events. However, he did do interviews with important newsmakers including Ronald Reagan, Nelson Mandela, and Jane Fonda. He shunned tabloid-type stories that Jerry Springer and Geraldo Rivera featured.

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In an interview with the Television Academy, Donahue talked about some of his favorite interviews.  He said he enjoyed Gloria Steinhem and the discussion they had about women’s liberation. He said this was an issue he was able to watch from the beginning through its transitions.  (As an aside, I was able to interview Steinhem and later meet her at a university event in Eau Claire, and I understood his description of her charisma and insights.) The eye-opening perspectives he received from Steinhem about the oppression of women pushed him to explore views on homophobia and racism as well. He realized he could make a difference in these matters if others could understand these problems and the people who were bringing life-changing messages. He said he didn’t want the white guys doing all the talking anymore and he gave non-white guys the floor.

Another person he admired was Ralph Nader because he stuck to his guns and continued to fight for what was right when the cameras were off and he was alone.

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One of the most interesting shows he did was in December of 1985. He was asked to participate in the first people-to-people satellite meeting between the US and the Soviet Union with Vladimir Pozner who had appeared on Nightline with Ted Koppel who recommended him to Donahue. They taped in Seattle and Leningrad. When he asked the Russians where they wanted to visit in the United States, he got the typical responses: Disneyland, Las Vegas, New York City, and then someone said Oxford, Mississippi. Donahue asked why and the person said that it was because one of the world’s best authors, William Faulkner, was from there.  From that point on, the conversations got more interesting and culturally significant.

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Donahue realized in the 90s that he could not compete with Oprah and hosted his final episode in September of 1996. His career produced about 7000 shows. Oprah always respected his show and often said, “If there hadn’t been a Phil, there wouldn’t have been a me.”

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He was awarded with his first Emmy in 1977. By 1988 he was the owner of nine Emmys.

Don Grady, best known for playing Rob on My Three Sons, composed the theme music for the show. In 1979, he published an autobiography, Donahue: My Own Story

Although Phil had five children with his first wife, Margaret Cooney, he has been married to Marlo Thomas, daughter of Danny and star of That Girl, since 1980.

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I remember watching this show and Donahue was typically right in the middle of the audience running up and down the stairs to get input from his visitors. I think it was literally that bounding enthusiasm that set him apart from the other television hosts during this time. He was more concerned about improving life than improving ratings.

Blowing the Whistle on Monday Night Football: Illegal Formation

Monday Night Football is celebrating its 50th anniversary this month. On September 21, 1970, the ABC broadcasting team took the booth at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium. A crowd of 85,703 attended the game in person, but millions watched on television. The Cleveland Browns beat the Jets 31-21. ABC doubled the number of cameras per game. Close-ups were used often. The broadcast booth was not like any other that had been on television. The weekly sports show pioneered a variety of technological innovations including slow-motion replays and computerized graphics.

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In addition to the play-by-play announcer Keith Jackson and color analyst Don Meredith, a third chair was added to the booth. Howard Cosell was added to give a bit of controversy to the broadcast. A TV Guide viewer poll in 1978 named Cosell the most loved — and hated — analyst at the same time. With no sports network on 24 hours a day, Cosell provided recaps of the weekly games during half time.

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The first sponsors were Marlboro Cigarettes, Ford Motor Company, and Goodyear Tires. The show would make history as one of the longest-running prime time television series and one of the highest-rated shows among male viewers.

In season two, Frank Gifford took over for Jackson and that trio would continue broadcasting till 1983. In 1975 and 1976, Alex Karras took over for Meredith. From 1979-1983, Fran Tarkenton joined the other three in the booth. Al Michaels and Frank Gifford manned the spot from 1987-1997. A variety of sportscasters joined them in the booth or took over for them until 2005 including O.J. Simpson, Dan Dierdorf, Lynn Swan, Leslie Visser, Boomer Esiason, Dan Fouts, Dennis Miller, Melissa Stark, Eric Dickerson, John Madden, Lisa Guerrero, and Michelle Tafoya.

DENVERus – NOVEMBER 11: (NO ARCHIVING, NO RESALE) In this handout photo provided by ABC, John Madden (R) broadcasts with Al Michaels during the 500th telecast of Monday Night Football in a game between the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders November 11, 2002 at Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium in Denver, Colorado. Madden announced his retirement from broadcasting on April 16. (Photo by Craig Sjodin/ABC via Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 85970668 GTY ID: 20D_0206

Hank Williams Jr. redid his song, “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight” for the theme. When the last show aired on ABC, the song was switched to “Turn Out the Lights, the Party’s Over.”

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In addition to the sportscasters who man the booth, many special guests have appeared on the show. Vice President Spiro Agnew, President Bill Clinton, California governor Ronald Reagan, Placido Domingo, John Lennon, and Kermit the Frog are a few of them.

When ABC first acquired the rights to air MNF in 1970, it did not include any playoff games. The network was eventually allowed into the rotation of channels airing the Super Bowl, starting with Super Bowl XIX in January 1985. When the league expanded the playoffs from a 10-team to a 12-team tournament in 1990, ABC was then given the rights to air the first two Wild Card Playoff games. Originally, ABC’s college football crews would call the first Wild Card Game.

The show would air on Monday nights on ABC until 2005. In 2006, the series moved to ESPN. The show has not been as successful as its earlier days.

In the past fourteen years, there has been a bit of a revolving door to the booth. Showing up on Monday nights we saw Mike Tirico, Tony Kornheiser, Joe Theismann, Suzy Kolber, Michele Tafoya, Ron Jaworski, Jon Gruden, Lisa Salters, Sean McDonough, Joe Tessitore, Jason Witten, and Booger McFarland come and go.

In an article titled “Monday Night Football’s Mid-Life Crisis: From Monopoly to Monotony” by Michael McCarthy in December of 2018, he laid out the current problems.  “As it nears its 50th season, ESPN’s venerable Monday Night Football is struggling with a mid-life crisis. Yes, Monday Night Football changed the face of television. Yes, it can still dominate the sports conversation when it has great games like Rams vs. Chiefs. But Monday Night Football is bad. Too often, the game match-ups are not marquee. The football is not as exciting. The new announce team—featuring three Monday night rookies in Jason Witten, Joe Tessitore, and Booger McFarland—is a work in progress at best, a train wreck at worst. The most famous broadcast booth in sports no longer boasts legendary announcers like Howard Cosell, Dandy Don Meredith, Frank Gifford, John Madden, or Al Michaels. Instead, this season’s crew of Witten, Tessitore, McFarland and Lisa Salters has been roasted by fans and critics.”

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I could not find any announcement of who will be in the booth when football returns. (Note: This came out right before I published my blog this week: A three-man booth of play-by-play man Steve Levy and color commentators Brian Griese and Louis Riddick — who all called the back half of the 2019 Week 1 MNF doubleheader — have been upgraded to the top team for 2020. They replace Joe Tessitore and Booger McFarland. Lisa Salters remains the sideline reporter, a role she has had since joining Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden in 2012. Retired official John Parry returns for a second season as the rules analyst.)

Now ESPN has the added pressure of the Covid-19 virus.  No one knows if there will be a football season or what it will look like if there is. You would think if a show like Monday Night Football lasts for fifty years, they would have it made.  Never take anything for granted. At least ESPN has some extra time to try to figure out a better crew for the next season.

On a lighter note, here are some fun facts about the series. The most Monday night appearances belong to the Miami Dolphins with more than 80. The San Francisco 49ers are the most winning team with 49 wins. The Broncos have played the Raiders 19 times as of 2019 and The Cowboys have faced off against the Redskins 17 times. Candlestick Park in San Francisco, no longer used for the team, hosted the most wins, coming in at 36 including its final Monday night game in December of 2013. The highest-rated Monday Night Football telecast on ABC was the Miami Dolphins’ victory over the previously undefeated Chicago Bears on December 2, 1985, which drew a national Nielsen rating of 29.6 and a share of 46. ABC’s lowest-rated MNF game was the St. Louis Rams’ defeat of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on October 18, 2004, which drew a 7.7 rating. Regardless of the technical difficulties, watching Monday Night Football is always a win if you’re a fan of the sport.

Everyone’s Favorite Mother: Rosemary DeCamp

Rosemary DeCamp played the American mother in a variety of films and television series. I remember her as both Ann Marie and Shirley Partridge’s mother. She was born in November of 1910 in Arizona. Her father was a mining engineer and the family relocated often for his job. Her younger brother was 14 years younger than her, so they were both raised almost like only children.

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Rosemary began her radio career in 1937 playing the role of Judy Price, a nurse to Dr. Christian on the long-running show, Dr. Christian. From 1939-1941, she appeared a syndicated soap opera, The Career of Alice Blair.

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1941 was a memorable year for her for several reasons. It was also the year she married John Ashton Shidler, a local judge. The couple were married until his death in 1998, and they raised four daughters.

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When that soap ended, she accepted her first film role in Cheers for Miss Bishop. She worked for a variety of studios. Many of her pictures were made by Warner Brothers. In 1942 she played the mother of George Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy. In 1943, she took the role of Ronald Reagan’s mother in This is the Army. In the early 1950s, she portrayed Doris Day’s mother in On Moonlight Bay and its sequel, By the Light of the Silvery Moon.

 

In July of 1946, she and her husband had a close call. They were in their Beverly Hills home when an aircraft crashed into the house next door. The wing cut into their roof and landed in their bedroom. The plane just happened to be an experimental one piloted by Howard Hughes. Hughes was rescued by a bystander before the plane exploded. He was very lucky, receiving only a few broken bones and cuts and abrasions. He paid for the repairs for all the homes involved, and luckily, no one else was hurt.

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She appeared in 38 films during her career, including The Life of Riley with William Bendix as her spouse. In 1949, she again played Peg Riley, this time in a television show with Jackie Gleason. Her husband worked in an aircraft plant and they had two children. Of course, Riley was a bit of a bumbling father and husband, but she loved him and put up with his ineptness. His catchphrase was “What a revoltin’ development this is.”

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She continued with her film work, mixed in with a few television show roles until 1955 when she played widow Margaret MacDonald on Love That Bob/The Bob Cummings Show. Her brother Bob was a photographer and play boy and she lived with him, raising her son Chuck and trying to get her brother to settle down.

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After her role as mother Peg in the 1940s and Margaret in the 1950s, from 1966-1970, she had a recurring role on That Girl as Ann Marie’s mother Helen. She was the voice of reason when her husband got upset about something, typically having to do with Ann’s boyfriend Donald or her living alone in New York.

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Coincidentally, in 1968 she also played the role of Helen on Petticoat Junction. She was not Helen Marie though, she was Kate’s sister who came to help take care of the girls when Bea Benardaret who played Kate was ill in real life.

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It was also in the 1960s that she was the spokesperson for 20 Mule Team Borax, a laundry detergent.

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She continued accepting roles on a variety of television shows from crime dramas to westerns to Love American Style. Continuing her mother-a-decade role, in the 1970s, she showed up as Shirley Partridge’s mother on The Partridge Family. Again, she had to deal with a husband who usually needed some mediation with the family.

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DeCamp continued to take on miscellaneous television roles. In 1989, she filmed an episode of Murder She Wrote. After the taping, she suffered a stroke, and decided to retire from acting.

In 2000, she published her memoir, Tigers in My Lap. The following year she died after contracting pneumonia at the age of 90. I could not find any information about any of her hobbies or interests, but she was an active Democrat all her life.

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She will always be remembered as a caring mother. The Institute of Family Relations granted her its “Mother of Distinction Award,” because they felt she did “more to glorify American motherhood through her film portrayals than any other woman.”

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1917 Was A Very Good Year

This week I was inspired by the blog “Once upon a screen . . .” to take a look at television pioneers who were born in 1917. (For some great articles on pop culture, movies, and television, check out her blog at aurorasginjoint.com.) Let’s get to know 17 of the stars who helped shape the direction of television during the golden age.

Herbert Anderson. Best known for his role as Henry Mitchell on Dennis the Menace, Anderson began his career making movies.  He transitioned to television in 1953, appearing on 61 shows over the years.  He appeared in episodes on such shows as Gunsmoke, Petticoat Junction, Batman, I Dream of Jeannie, Man from U.N.C.L.E., My Three Sons, Bewitched, and The Waltons.  One of my favorites is the first season of The Brady Bunch.  The kids are sick and both parents call a doctor.  The girls were used to a woman played by Marion Ross while the boys always had a man, Anderson.  After weighing factors to pick one of them, the family decides to keep both doctors. He died from a heart attack in 1994.

Carl Ballantine. Ballantine began his career as a magician and inspired many famous magicians since.  He began working in Las Vegas and on television as a magician.  Eventually he transferred to movie roles and after appearing in McHale’s Navy on the big screen, took on the same role of Lester Gruber on the television series. He went on to appear on 33 additional tv shows including That Girl, Laverne and Shirley, Trapper John MD, and Night Court. He passed away at his home in 2009.

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Earl Bellamy. Earl Bellamy directed episodes for 101 different television shows.  He is best known for The Lone Ranger and The Tales of Wells Fargo.  He directed 82 episodes for Bachelor Father, one of my all-time favorite sitcoms.  In the 1960s he specialized in sitcoms including That Girl, The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, and My Three Sons while the 1970s saw him transition to dramas including Marcus Welby MD, The FBI, Medical Center, and Eight is Enough. In 2003 he passed away from a heart attack.

Ernest Borgnine.  Best known of his Oscar-winning role of Marty in 1955, Ernest enlisted in the Navy in 1935 until 1941.  In 1942 he re-enlisted and served until 1945.  After doing some factory work, he decided to go to school to study acting and began his career on Broadway.  He was also in the movie McHale’s Navy and went on to tackle the role in the television series.  He loved working with Tim Conway and in later years they did the voices for Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy in SpongeBob SquarePants. He appeared in 47 different shows over the years, including the series Airwolf which he starred in. Borgnine appeared in the final episode of ER which he won an Emmy for. He was married five times, including a 32-day marriage to Ethel Merman.  His last marriage to Tova lasted 39 years. He died of kidney failure in 2012.

Raymond Burr. Best known as Perry Mason, Burr started his career on Broadway in the 1940s and then appeared in 50 films from 1946-1957. In 1956 he auditioned for the role of Hamilton Burger, the DA in Perry Mason.  He was told he could have the starring role if he lost about 60 pounds which he accomplished. He later starred in Ironside, another crime drama and appeared on a variety of other shows.  Burr had many interests including raising and cross-breeding orchids; collecting wine, art, stamps and sea shells; reading; and breeding dogs.  He was extremely generous, giving away much of his money over the years.  He passed away from cancer in 1993.

Phyllis Diller. Known for her wild hair and clothing, Diller was one of the pioneering stand-up female comedians.  She appeared in films in the 1940s, worked in radio in the 1950s, and began her stand-up career in 1955. Her first television appearance was in You Bet Your Life.  She appeared in 40 shows including Batman, CHIPs, Full House, and The Drew Carey Show.  She had her own show titled The Pruitts of Southampton, and in reruns The Phyllis Diller Show that ran from 1966-67.  She recorded comedy albums in the 1960s, wrote several books during her career, was an accomplished pianist, performing with symphony orchestras across the US and taught herself painting which she continued throughout the 1960s and 70s. Her husband Fang was not real, but she used him in her comedy routines.  She died of natural causes in 2012. My first memory of Diller was in the movie Boy Did I Dial a Wrong Number with Bob Hope which my parents took me to at the drive in.

Ross Elliott. A prolific actor on stage, film, and television, Elliott appeared in 184 different shows from sitcoms to westerns to medial dramas, all between 1951 and 1983. He passed away from cancer in 1999.

June Foray.  One of the greatest voice actors ever, Foray has been active in the industry since she had her own radio show.  She did off-air voices for many sitcoms including I Love Lucy, Father Knows Best, Jack Benny, Rawhide, Get Smart, Lost In Space, and Bewitched.  She also appeared in more than 76 animated series.  She is perhaps best known as Rocky in Rocky and Bullwinkle and as Cindy Lou Who in How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Karen and other voices in Frosty the Snowman. Foray is still alive today.

Zsa Zsa Gabor.  Unlike her sister Eva who became known as Lisa Douglas on Green Acres, Zsa Zsa seemed to make a career out of playing herself.  Of the 80 appearances she made in film and television, 20 of them were as herself. She was a true celebrity.  Crowned Miss Hungary in 1936, she came to the US in 1941 and began her career.  She was known for her extravagant lifestyle and many marriages: 9 with 7 divorces (including one to Conrad Hilton) and 1 annulment.

Sid Melton.  Known to most viewers today as handyman Alf Monroe on Green Acres, Melton began as a film star and went on to appear in 71 shows including Topper, Bachelor Father, Make Room for Daddy, That Girl, Petticoat Junction, I Dream of Jeannie, and Empty Nest. He died from pneumonia in 2011.

Alice Pearce. Although her career was cut short due to illness, I included Alice Pearce because her role as Gladys Kravitz in so memorable.  After spending her childhood in Europe, Pearce started on Broadway and after appearing in On the Town, she was brought to Hollywood to reprise her role in the movie version. She began specializing in comedy in the 1940s. In 1964 she turned down the role of Grandmama in The Addams Family and shortly after was offered the role of Gladys in Bewitched. She was already diagnosed with ovarian cancer when she began her role but didn’t tell anyone and was able to act for two seasons before she passed away from the disease. She received an Emmy for her work on Bewitched.

Gene Rayburn. One of the kings of game shows, Rayburn began his career as an actor, taking over for Dick Van Dyke in Bye Bye Birdie when Van Dyke began his television show. While he was on numerous game shows as a panelist or host over the years, Rayburn is best known for Match Game which first ran from 1962-69. It was revived again in 1973 and took several formats in the following years.  He died from heart failure in 1999.

Isabel Sanford. Best known as Louise Jefferson, she grew up in Harlem and performed in amateur nights at the Apollo Theatre. Her Broadway debut was in 1965.  After appearing as a maid in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, she was cast by Norman Lear in All in the Family which led to the series The Jeffersons.  When the show ended in 1985, she appeared in a variety of other shows until 2002.  She passed away from natural causes in 2004.

Sidney Sheldon.  A writer and producer, Sheldon created The Patty Duke Show, I Dream of Jeannie, and Hart to Hart, writing many of the scripts for all three series. After he turned 50, he began a career writing romantic suspense novels.  He died from pneumonia in 2007.

Robert Sterling. A clothing salesman before getting into acting, Sterling was best known for his role as George Kerby in Topper from 1953-55.  His wife, Anne Jeffreys played his wife in the show. From 1943-49 he was married to Ann Sothern. He appeared in 36 shows between 1951 and 1986. He passed away from natural causes in 2006.

Jesse White.  While White was a hard-working character actor, he is best known for his commercials as the Maytag repairman from 1967-88. After appearing in films for many years, he transitioned to television in the 1950s.  His daughter Carole Ita White also became an actress best known for Laverne and Shirley. White appeared in 113 shows, never receiving a regular series.

Jane Wyman. Wyman began working at Warner Brothers at age 16, claiming to be 19. Although she was a successful film star and began in television in 1955 with her own show, Jane Wyman Presents Fireside Theater, she is probably best known for her role on Falcon’s Crest from 1981-90 and her marriage to Ronald Reagan. She died in her sleep from natural causes in 2007.

These are just a handful of television mavericks that influenced television as we know it today.  I was amazed at the variety of different talents each of these stars displayed.  In comparing their television appearances, it’s surprising how many of them overlap and worked on the same shows.  What I found most surprising was that Ballantine, Diller, Melton, Sanford, Sterling, White and White’s daughter all appeared on Love American Style while Bellamy, Borgnine, Burr, Diller, Gabor, Rayburn, Sanford, White, and Wyman all guest starred on The Love Boat.  During my research, I ran across many shows that will become future blog topics.

Another fun fact about celebrating stars born in 1917 is that this week we are traveling to Pennsylvania to celebrate my grandmother’s 100th birthday who was also born in 1917.  Happy Birthday Mamie.