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Douglas in 1966.
|Born||Michael Delaney Dowd, Jr.
August 11, 1920
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Died||August 11, 2006
Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, U.S.
|Cause of death||Prostate cancer|
|Occupation||Singer, entertainer, talk show host|
Early life and career
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Douglas was born Michael Delaney Dowd, Jr., in Chicago, Illinois, and 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 WWII 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.
He 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-TV. 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 1982. 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.
Other notable achievements
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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.
Douglas sang the "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.
Death and legacy
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 his 86th birthday, 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 had become dehydrated while golfing a few weeks earlier on a blazing hot Florida summer day. Douglas had been treated at a hospital following this episode, but was apparently unable to make a recovery. 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.
Other TV appearances
- 1969: The Mike Douglas Christmas Special
- 1981: Greatest American Hero; guest appearance in the season two premiere
- 1982: Knots Landing; episode: "Svengali"
- 1983: The Love Boat as Marv Mason
- Cook County Birth Certificates, file number 6053268
- Social Security Death Index, Michael D. Dowd, Jr., accessed 27 June 2013
- US Census 1930 (April 14, 1930): Proviso, Cook County, IL, Precinct 36, Block 12; Line 94: Michael Dowd-age 9
- "The Mike Douglas Show". Archive of American Television. Retrieved 2012-12-30.
- SSDI, August 11, 2006, Michael D. Dowd, Jr.
- Mike Douglas profile, broadcastpioneers.com; accessed August 9, 2015.
- Mike Douglas at the Internet Movie Database
- Obituary, billboard.com; accessed 9 August 2015.
- WKYC-TV – Talk Show host Mike Douglas remembered, wkyc.com; accessed 9 August 2015.
- Profile, cbs3.com; accessed 9 August 2015.
- Mike Douglas interview video at the Archive of American Television