Sad to see that TV talk show host Mike Douglas passed away Friday at age 81 at his home in North Palm Beach.
His 30,000-plus guests included Mother Teresa, Malcolm X and seven presidents. In 1962, he introduced a 20-year-old singer named Barbra Streisand. He once did a reunion with almost all of the actors who had played Tarzan up to that time. (photo above, with Totie Fields)
I got to spend some time interviewing him at his home in 1998, where he lived with his lifelong love, his wife Genevieve. I interviewed Rosie O'Donnell and Howie Mandel for the story about their affection for him and the ground he paved (they were both doing daytime talk shows at the time).
This was the lede of the story I did:
Genevieve Douglas walks to a corner of the walnut-paneled den in her North Palm Beach home and randomly pulls a gold-covered scrapbook from a shelf. There are dozens more stacked side-by-side, reaching to the ceiling, making the wall glimmer amid the dark woodwork.
"Which one is this, I wonder?" she says softly, almost to herself. She gently peels the binder open and the first page is filled by a black and white photo of her husband and his friend. She calls to him.
"Mike ... this one is of you and Marlon."
Marlon. Brando. With her husband, Mike. Douglas.
"Oh, yeah," he says. "Greatest actor there ever was, in my opinion."
This is the kind of scrapbook collection you accumulate when you host 6,000 episodes of a TV talk show over 23 years.
The scrapbooks were his wife's idea. Every celebrity who spent a week co-hosting The Mike Douglas Show got a copy of photos shot on the set. Didn't matter if you were Sammy Davis Jr., John Lennon or Wayne Rogers, everybody got one. And, since he was the host, Douglas got one, too.
And another excerpt:
The Douglas' golf course house, with marble floors, grand piano near the entrance and azure pool out back, is impressively extravagant but homey nonetheless. It's a fraction of the size and price he paid in the '80s for a $2.3 million Beverly Hills mansion, but it's more than comfortable.
"You know, we looked at that place Donald Trump owns now, before he bought it ... beautiful place," Douglas offers. "We decided not to."
"Yep. Beautiful place."
Even at his age and with all this domestic bliss, you get the sense he could don the jacket, grab the microphone, belt out a tune and start all over again without missing stride. He could make it on recollections alone.
Point to any photo on the wall of his den or in a scrapbook, and invariably an entertaining yarn is attached. As he sits on the end of an expensive leather couch, he casually but proudly talks about the five Emmy awards or his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Dressed in gray slacks, black loafers and a light pink Oxford button-down with his initials stitched on the pocket, the memories spill forth.
"Ray Charles?" he says, as a smile sneaks into the corner of his mouth. "We got Ray Charles to ride a motorcycle. He wanted to do it. He had a blast."
Point to the photo of Barbra Streisand. "The purest voice I've ever heard. We had her on the show several times when she first started. She walked around backstage pointing at her throat and not talking. We started to panic until we realized she was just saving her voice for the show. She was magnificent."
Point to the photo of Mike and actor Wayne Rogers standing with... Mother Teresa?
"I had the feeling I was in the presence of somebody very, very special. I was so in awe of this woman. I had difficulty doing that interview. Wayne was co-host that week."
I used to watch his show on Channel 13 in Tampa when I would get home from school in the afternoon. The best part, to me, was that he would always invite the most disparate guests onto the show and see how they would mix - or not.
He didn't hide behind a desk; he was a guest just like the stars on the show. But he asked the questions everyone wanted to ask without being - as Cher called David Letterman - an asshole. He was gentle and polite, but he knew he was the medium through which the audience would hear the questions they wanted answers to.
And although he was a terrible singer and one of the biggest, um, squares on the planet, you always liked the guy. He was just a regular Joe.
I also remember I really liked that he did the show not in New York or L.A. but in Philadelphia. You got the sense that the stars on his show wanted to be there because they had to make an effort to get there.
If you never got to see the show, there are some great clips on YouTube, including:
John Lennon performing "Imagine."
Tiger Woods at age 2, with Bob Hope and Jimmy Stewart.
Gene Simmons with Totie Fields and Robert Klein.
Frank Zappa with Jimmy Walker and Kenny Rogers.
Judy Garland singing "Over The Rainbow" as Peter Lawford and Johnny Mathis look on.
Jim Henson and Frank Oz from "The Muppet Show."
Johnny Cash, with Don Rickles.
John Lennon performing with Chuck Berry.
Aretha Franklin singing, "Baby I Love You."
Shaun Cassidy singing "Hey Deanie."Posted by Jeff at August 12, 2006 08:48 AM | TrackBack