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Archive for the month “July, 2014”

The Star Of The Show!

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!

When The Snapshot Picture Lies

I’ve heard that there are three truths about who we are.  There is the person that we think we are, the person other people think we are, and the person we really are.  My brother in law Dick passed away last week.  Mike, his son, was asked to say some words about his dad as we celebrated his life and he brought up a rather confusing issue.  You see Dick had many passions in life.  He loved to race (he had a dragster and ran in events throughout the country), he loved drama (and acted in plays and skits in his church and community), he loved working with young people, he loved to cook, fish, and compete in dog shows.  He also was a salesman and he loved selling.  Besides all of that he was a loving husband, father, grandfather, family member, and friend to many.  As Mike was describing all of these things he questioned aloud “now how does all of that go together?”  For instance racing and dog shows were very competitive where fishing and cooking were more relaxing.  With drama, racing, and family he was acting in a team setting, while fishing and cooking he could do individually if he wanted to.  It was a wide variety of interests that Dick had that didn’t seem to have a common denominator.

1912 Brown Backgrounds (Red Cycle) Fred Snodgrass #169 Baseball Card

Fred Snodgrass was the centerfielder on the old New York Giants baseball team in 1912.  It was a spectacular year for the Giants as they made it to the World Series.  Their opponents were the Boston Red Sox and the series went eight games.  Now days eight games in the best of seven series would not happen, however that year game two was called a tie after ten innings because of darkness.  With each team winning three games (and one tie) game eight was the decider.  In the bottom of the tenth inning the Giants had a 4-3 lead.  The first batter Clyde Engle of the Red Sox hit a high fly between Snodgrass and the left fielder.  Fred called off the other fielder, settled under the towering fly and promptly dropped the ball.  Engle reached second base on the play.  Later another Boston player was walked and they both ended up scoring.  The Red Sox won the World Series and Snodgrass was blamed by the press.  Fred Snodgrass lived 62 more years and had much business success outside of baseball.  He also had a happy family life.  When he passed away in 1974 the New York Times headline was “Fred Snodgrass 86 Dead, Missed Fly Ball in 1912 World Series.”

Bill Wambsganss Unassisted Triple Play

Bill Wambsganss had the opposite experience in the 1920 World Series.  Wambsganss played second base for the Cleveland Indians and they were in the World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Dodgers had runners on first and second and the next batter hit a line drive that looked like a sure hit.  Wambsganss raced over and leaped high in the air.  He miraculously speared the ball.  Pivoting toward second base he easily tagged the base with his foot.  He was ready to throw the ball to first base when he noticed the runner from first was confused and standing near second base.  Wambsganss trotted over and tagged him out for an unassisted triple play!  The fans didn’t realize what happened until Wambsganss was running off of the field with his teammates.  All of the sudden a loud roar engulfed the stadium and hats flew on the field!  It was the only unassisted triple play in World Series history and Wambsganss was known for that play for the rest of his life!  When he passed away at 91 the headline was “Bill Wambsganss Dies, Made Unassisted Triple Play In 1920 World Series.”

Since we cannot know everyone we sometimes get a snapshot version of them.  It is a picture in our minds of what they are all about.  It seems our brains naturally like to categorize people especially if we don’t know them well.  The truth is that what we put in our mind sometimes is just a snapshot of a time (good or bad) that we define the person as being.  The fact of the matter is that nobody can be defined by one memory.  Our lives have so many different layers and when we actually know the real person we are able to see those layers.  We might have memories and even snapshots of that person, but it isn’t any of these snapshots that define them.

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Dick was a Christian and Christ was the most important part of his life.  There were many people that knew him as a racer.  Still others knew him from directing the church youth group, and others admired his acting abilities!  He had many different layers as we all do, but the one common denominator that Mike was looking for was Christ.  You see it is OK to be passionate about many things in life.  Getting involved in different things gives us opportunities to witness the love of Christ to more people!  By taking his faith with him Dick was able to maximize his opportunities to be a witness!  Life always has it’s ups and downs.  The sum of a life is somewhere between the muffed fly ball and the unassisted triple play.  God does not look at our lives from a snapshot view.  His is a movie camera that picks up all of our good times and bad as he wants to consistently navigate us through all of our situations!  Dick had years ago given up the driver’s seat and allowed Jesus to take the wheel of his life.  Many have a picture in their mind of Dick in his racing gear driving that powerful dragster toward the finish line.  Although it is a beautiful snapshot it fails to tell the whole story!  The movie shows that Dick won his race while sitting in the passenger seat!

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