I recently purchased a book about the old time talk show host Mike Douglas. The Mike Douglas Show started on December 11, 1961 in Cleveland Ohio. In 1965 the show moved to Philadelphia, PA and in 1979 to Los Angeles, CA. I thought the book would provide some interesting reading and it didn’t disappoint. He told about his guests on the show as he picked out memorable episodes from his vast memory of his unheard of 21 year run! Mike had the show to watch in the early afternoons on weekdays! I remember coming home from school and Mike being on. His show was always high in the ratings of most watched early afternoon shows. He had all of the big stars of the day on his show. From Bob Hope to Moe Howard and everyone in between, Mike made all of them feel comfortable and they opened up to him in ways they wouldn’t any other questioner. Mike also had a way of making people laugh as they recounted some kind of hilarious story he questioned them about. He could ask questions in such a way that they exposed some of themselves and we got to see the true person. It was fun for his guests too as they enjoyed showing the audience a different side of them that was never told in their Hollywood image!
There have been countless talk shows that have aired at the time and after Mike’s show. What made the Mike Douglas show so special? Why was it so popular in it’s long run? I think the answer to that question goes right back to it’s host. Mike was born Michael Delaney Dowd, Jr., in Chicago, Illinois. He began singing as a choirboy but in his teens he worked as a singer on a Lake Michigan Dinner Cruise Ship. He served briefly in the United States Navy near the end of World War II and was a “staff singer” for WMAQ-TV in Chicago, before moving to Los Angeles. Mike got a job on the Ginny Simms radio show before joining the big band of Kay Kyser as a singer. The Big Band Era faded after WW2 but Kyser’s band had to keep 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.” Kyser gave Mike his show business name but had to retire in 1951 because of health problems. One of Mikes big breaks came in 1950, when he was chosen to be the singing voice of Prince Charming in Walt Disney’s Cinderella animation!. In the 1950s, Mike tried to keep his singing career going, working as a house singer for a nightclub and going on the road to stay busy. By the mid fifties, rock-and-roll and doo wop had taken over the charts, which left Mike looking for other opportunities. In the leanest years, he and his wife survived by successfully “flipping” their Los Angeles homes.
A friend from way back was working for Westinghouse at the time. He remembered Mike from earlier days as their paths had crossed. Westinghouse was willing to sponsor a “new talk show” and they needed a host. A surprise phone call one day turned Mike’s world upside down as he was chosen to host the new show. Step by step the show increased it’s popularity. Mike tried to get interesting guests and the show took off! For quite awhile Mike wasn’t getting paid what a show host on TV everyday would normally get. Even though he was on every day and the show was in his name he seemed unappreciated in the financial realm. In the beginning Mike was just happy to be needed and to have a show. The producers must have felt delighted that they were able to get such a great host for literally nothing. Finally the discrepancy was made right and Mike’s salary began to match his contribution to the show.
At the start of his show the announcer would say “and here is the star of the show, Mike Douglas!” Mike would come on and usually use his great singing voice to croon out a beautiful tune. Even though Mike was introduced as “the star of the show” his desire was not to be the star of the show at all. His duty in his mind was to make his guests the stars of the show. He would have a different celebrity co-host every week. That in itself took some of the limelight off of him. Most of the time Mike engaged his guest in conversation but there were times he set up a demonstration of his guests skills. Whether it was singing, cooking, throwing pies, or dancing on stilts as one guest did it was all fun! When people watched Mike’s show they didn’t really think about Mike. Mike was the constant for sure but his guests were what people remembered! Mike was like a big mirror that reflected the attention off of him and onto his guests. The concept worked so well only because Mike was comfortable in his own skin. He didn’t feel like he needed to prove anything or become a star. He delighted in the stories his guests told and his questions led them into many more! It was this humbleness in Mike that stands out so fresh as I’m watching old reruns of the show! He probably wasn’t fully appreciated at the time, but looking back he was pure genius.
The stage on The Mike Douglas show was very simple. In fact there were chairs of all the same height lined up. Mike generally sat on the right side with his guests to his left. Just in the setup of the stage you could tell that Mike just wanted to blend in and not stand out. Think about the talk shows we see today. On shows such as The Tonight Show the host is generally behind a desk. To their right we see the guests as the host sits higher and talks down to them. You may not have thought about it before but take a look the next time you are watching a late night talk show. Positioning says a lot about how the show wants to be betrayed and that is to leave little doubt who the real star is. Mike was more of a director as he led his show in a direction and let his guests be themselves and enjoy the limelight! His big mirror reflected his guests talents and made his show so unique in the “Hollywood Star World.”
So I ask this question of you today “Who is the star of your show?” Are you the star? Do you sit on the higher chair and have all of the honors go to you? As Christians we are supposed to shine God’s light as we acknowledge the true star! The light is only on us because it is reflected from him! Like Mike Douglas we may not feel appreciated. We may not be getting recognized for all that we do. It will be a situation much like looking back on The Mike Douglas show that our lives will be remembered as special. Whether he was paid handsomely or barely survived Mike Douglas did not change. He was a big mirror that took the attention off of himself and onto others. In the end we look back and appreciate Mike’s gift much like when people will look back and remember our lives and reflect on who the real star was in our show!