Judge Victor Valdivia once dreamt of appearing on The Mike Douglas Show. Sadly, "talking smack about guys who get more girls than you" doesn't really count as a talent.
"If you take a look at those old shows, something about them is a slice of Americana that stands the test of time."…Gene Simmons on Mike Douglas
Mike Douglas: Moments & Memories compiles classic moments from Mike Douglas' daytime talk show of the '60s and '70s while also giving a look at the life of Douglas himself. Since Douglas' show has become increasingly forgotten in recent years, it's a fitting and welcome introduction.
Facts of the Case
Between 1961 and 1982, Mike Douglas (1925-2006), a singer and sometime actor (Walt Disney's Cinderella), was hired to host a daytime talk show that would air in Cleveland and later Philadelphia. During those 20 years, Douglas would present a variety of guests, from political figures and newsmakers to Hollywood stars, musical artists, athletes, and comics. Included here are clips from some of the show's most notable moments, as well as reminiscences from Douglas' wife and various guests who appeared on the show.
Considering that he was never a comedy icon (like Johnny Carson), a hip intellectual (like Dick Cavett) or a Hollywood power broker (like Merv Griffin), Mike Douglas was able to put on one of the most extraordinary talk shows in television history. It lasted two decades and hosted some of the most remarkable talent of the era, both at the height of fame or as virtual unknowns. The reason was simple: All Douglas asked for was that his guests be entertaining. What they did to entertain was up to them. It didn't matter if his guests were Hollywood royalty, ultra-hip rock icons, controversial political figures, or up-and-coming comedians. What mattered was keeping the audience watching.
Such open-mindedness resulted in some incredible TV moments, several of which are captured on this DVD. Roots author Alex Haley talks about racism with an enthralled Dom DeLuise, Alfred Hitchcock discusses suspense with Joan Rivers, and KISS frontman Gene Simmons banters with comedienne Totie Fields. What makes these scenes all the more fascinating is that they are not train-wreck moments. Instead, each guest manages to bring out the best in the other, resulting in enjoyable discussions. All the while, Douglas subtly but carefully focuses and shapes the conversation through thoughtful yet simple questions. That was the secret of Douglas' success: the show wasn't about him, but about people and subjects that interested him. He correctly assumed that his audience would find those interesting as well. Though the show's daytime slot meant that the audience was frequently dismissed as "bored housewives", Douglas never talked down to his viewers or felt the need to air fluff or titillation, unlike a lot of today's daytime talk shows.
Because Douglas got his start as a singer, he had an especial affinity for singers. He would sometimes sing on the show (and enjoyed a Top Ten hit in 1968 with "The Men in my Little Girl's Life"). There are snippets of Douglas singing with Bobby Darin, Vic Damone, and Louis Armstrong and Pearl Bailey. He would invite Della Reese, one of his favorite singers, to not only sing, but also co-host and sing duets with him. This, in itself, was fairly groundbreaking. Back in the mid-'60s, it was unheard of for black singers to co-host shows with white hosts, and it was even more unusual to sing duets, although Reese does note ruefully that censors would not allow the two to duet on songs that had any romantic overtones.
In fact, Douglas was never afraid to court controversy if it meant an interesting show. Perhaps his most famous moment came in 1972, when he invited John Lennon and Yoko Ono to co-host the show for a week. Not only did Lennon and Ono explain their anti-war views in detail, they also brought on various counterculture icons like George Carlin, Ralph Nader, ex-Black Panther Bobby Seale, and Jerry Rubin as guests. Similarly, Douglas himself had no problem inviting Dr. Martin Luther King on in 1967 to explain his vehement opposition to the Vietnam War at a time when such sentiments were rarely heard in the mainstream media.
Douglas also had a special interest in breaking new talent. The disc includes the Rolling Stones, in 1964, performing their first hit "Not Fade Away". It was only their second appearance on TV, and the song is included in its entirety without interruption. There are also clips of a pre-Tonight Show Jay Leno, a pre-Late Night David Letterman, and a very young (and very shaggy) Billy Crystal. Crystal recalls how Douglas, unlike Carson, would frequently invite even first-time comics to sit on the couch and chat. And Tiger Woods, then all of two years old, appears to demonstrate his golfing prowess to goggle-eyed Bob Hope and Jimmy Stewart.
Mike Douglas: Moments and Memories is a superb look at Douglas' life and show. In addition to the clips, Douglas' wife Genevieve Purnell gives a brief biography of Douglas and recalls how he launched his career and how he approached his interviews and bookings. Guests such as Reese, Crystal, Simmons and Paul Stanley, and Bill Cosby talk about how much they enjoyed their appearances on the show. There are numerous clips from throughout the show's history. In fact, one quibble is that the clips are not identified by year, so while it's fascinating to see several stars during different eras, it's a bit frustrating to have to guess when certain interviews were conducted. Are Marlon Brando and Francis Ford Coppola promoting The Godfather? When is the interview with Muhammad Ali from? A simple subtitle identifying the date during each snippet would have been most helpful.
The disc contains almost an hour's worth of extra interviews in addition to the ones in the main feature. There's an expanded biography of Douglas, with more details into his start in radio and television, and more interviews with his wife as well as his daughters. There are also interviews from the show with such notables as Ingrid Bergman, Alex Haley, Tim Conway, Paul Newman, Johnny Cash, Ron Howard, and Mother Theresa, as well as more footage from the John and Yoko episodes and more Alfred Hitchcock stories. The old shows are, of course, in variable quality, from grainy black-and-white to less grainy '70s video. The full-screen transfer and stereo mix are both clear enough.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Really, apart from the lack of dates, the only other slight criticism is that this just doesn't go far enough. The main feature lasts just 58 min. and the extras are only another 57 min. It's possible to argue that SRO Entertainment isn't a big company, and wants to test the waters first with a small sampler before trotting out a larger set. Plus, there were no doubt rights and clearance issues that needed to be dealt with just to get this disc out. Still, Douglas' show had such rare musical guests as Sly Stone, Frank Zappa, and Wishbone Ash, guests who rarely appeared on TV in the '70s (especially given Johnny Carson's well-known antipathy towards rock music). That's not to mention such political and cultural figures as Richard Pryor, Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, and Charles Schulz. None of these are included, and some of the choices that are (like Conway and Howard) are pleasant enough but hardly illuminating. Hopefully, some of these appearances (and many others) will be included on any possible future releases. There are so many more nuggets from this show stored away that should be rediscovered.
There is literally something for anyone here who has any interest in popular culture of the 1960s, '70s, and even today. SRO Entertainment has done a commendable job of assembling a history of this show, and TV and pop culture junkies should definitely snap this one up.
Not guilty by a long shot. SRO has handled this property with care and is encouraged to release even more from the Mike Douglas Show vaults.
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