Phil Donahue talks about his book "Donahue: My Own Story"
BROADCAST: Feb. 1, 1980 | DURATION: 00:56:30
Mr. Donahue talks about the audience and the guests of his talk show, and the changes that have come for the groups he talked with (women, homosexual persons, minorities, political freedoms).
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Studs Terkel I think the two interviewers I most respect working today are Oriana Fallaci and Phil Donahue. That sounds like a strange combination. Oriana Fallaci has a remarkable way of drawing out people in power, in fact, revealing them as they are. And Phil Donahue has a way of drawing out people, primarily powerless. You've probably heard of Phil Donahue and seen him, those of your who watch the "Today" show, and he's syndicated, too, on WGN in Chicago. He's my guest, and his book is a very endearing one, it's called, "Donahue: My Own Story", by himself and his colleagues who work with him. Simon and Schuster the publishers, and so we'll talk about Donahue and a way of reaching people and more than that, of drawing them out and perhaps revealing something to themselves about themselves. In a moment, after this message. You know, Phil, my first memory of you was an encounter. It was in 1972, around there, you were in Dayton and I was making a book tour, and you know what book tours are--you go from place to place and it's boring, it may not have any meaning at all, some are good, some have read the book, some haven't, but that's not the important thing. You're tired, and then I'm told by the public relations director I go to Dayton, Ohio with Phil Donahue, and I said, "Oh, Christ," and I come there and something quite remarkable happened to me. It was you and an audience of steelworkers. Do you remember that?
Phil Donahue I sure do. You remember the guy who stood up and said, "You know what bugs me is, that they put the time clock on one wall, and they make them punch out but he's got to put his card over on the other wall, and they got a whole wall there where they could put the rack, the envelopes where you put the card in the metal thing, but they put it in"--and you felt his frustration and if you, you know, if you had never been there, if you had never worked for a guy who wasn't discharging a lot of anxiety on top of you, you wouldn't have, you wouldn't have understood why this bugged him. But you understood it, and everybody else understood it.
Phil Donahue Really?
Studs Terkel K-E double E, N, I remember the name, remember the man, the furrowed face, the tall guy, the Hertz, which leads to you. How did you do this? It was a book on working, and here's this guy, he wrote it, and he's tired, now, who were these people? How did you know to get them? How--who were these--this was in Dayton?
Phil Donahue Well, we were looking for the kind of person you wrote about in that book, although I know, you know, you covered the whole social class. A lot of that book keyed on, you know the guy, the guy who's worried about whether or not he's going to be able to afford a college education for his, for his kids. And since our show had survived so long on listening to people talk, people in the audience, and giving them an opportunity to just vent their frustration, we thought you were the perfect person with the perfect book to--against which we could bounce off some feelings of middle-class people. Now
Phil Donahue Oh yes, my parents did, absolutely. And they felt it in the year of my birth in 1935. But nevertheless, my dad was working, and he was a furniture salesman and I guess I have to say that I was raised with the work ethic. When I look back on it now, I didn't realize how fortunate I was. But I worked for the nuns for 50 cents an hour when I was 10, 12 years old, you know, switching the mattresses around when the, you know, during the summertime there's a lot of shifting and change of residence for these nuns who taught in school and then had to go to retreats and so on. So we did all the--me and Tommy Mott did all the moving of chairs and mattresses for them. And then from there I graduated to caddying and just about everything else.
Studs Terkel Yeah, but why haven't you forgotten that? What I mean is, others have had a similar background and become successes, as you undoubtedly have. And why hasn't that been erased? Why are you still--remember that and when you talk to people, whether it's a 60-year-old woman in your audience, they call middle America, working-class woman, you still have that feeling.
Phil Donahue I don't see how anybody can forget it. Really, I mean it was my, it's my whole childhood. I don't think you can walk away from that. And also I see, I see all those, I see many of those feelings and attitudes in the faces of the people who come down and sit in that audience every day, and they're very much--those women are from my neighborhood, when I was growing up in Cleveland.
Studs Terkel But the questions you ask, or when you talk to them or to whoever the guest may be, is you are asking not as a wise guy. I mean, you're not the guy, there's no patronizing here at all. I'm even talking now about the well-meaning patronizing person, of which I'm guilty at times. But you never have that. That's what I'm trying to--you want to know, is that it?
Phil Donahue I do, I think that, you know, I think the country is nowhere without them. I think they're interesting. I think the squeeze is on, I think all those things that, you know, you've written about and we've all read about, that there is this broad hard-working collection of people who, I think, more and more are saying, "Wait a minute. What's going to happen to me? And why aren't my kids listening to me anymore? And why if my father was strict and I grew up okay, how come it doesn't work when I'm strict with my kids?" I think I feel those frustrations and I also, you know, money's come, money has come rather recently to me. I mean, it's just recently that I haven't had to worry about my, what my balance was on a checking account. You know, and remember it seems like yesterday that I had to go to the drugstore and say, "Gee, I'm really sorry. Here's the money, I'm sorry about the bad paper."
Studs Terkel This is [Red?] you're talking about, let's stick with this, because the opening chapter of your book, this memoir, is about being a celebrity and you describe an incident. We start with that, because you know this world today, what it is, the name celebrity, completely good, bad, and everything, and the other person, something happens to the other person who is, quote unquote, a "nobody" you describe this--you yourself, it's--I've never heard a self-analysis of this. Describe the scene when you made a sort of discovery made you uncomfortable.
Phil Donahue I got a name. So, he's going to take his '71 Camaro in to find out why this thing doesn't shift into third gear, and I went with him. And I felt a little guilty going with him because the, the reason I went with them was because I have certain power because I'm a recognizable face and I figure that those guys with the wrenches see you coming anyway, and I'm not sending my 18-year-old son into the service department of a dealership all by himself, because they'll see him coming and eat him alive. So I walk in and a guy comes over with his name on his shirt, you know, and he immediately does, I know he doesn't recognize me. Celebrities become, I think, expert at recognizing nonrecognition and the guy--
Phil Donahue A little bit, and it bothers me that I'm hurt, because remember that's the reason I went, see. And yet I'm feeling guilty about that. But nevertheless, I don't want Kevin exploited. And so the guy says, "That'll be $395." And I said, "What?" I said, "You haven't even seen"-- I called him Bob, you know, his name is on his shirt, I figure that'll help a little--and he said, "Well, you know you go in that transmission that's $395, any dealer will tell you." I said, "You don't even know what color the car is, you haven't seen the car, how do you know it's three hundred, how do you know you have to go in?" He says, "It's not shifting to third, isn't that what you said?" I said, "Yes," he said "$395." I'm about to give him the biggest, longest Ralph Nader speech I know, when a guy in a white shirt comes up and he says in a very loud theatrical stage whisper, "We can help Mr. Donahue here, can't we, Bob?" And the guy I don't, I still think the guy doesn't know who I am, but he figures Mr. Donahue, you know, I don't know, Mr. Donahue, the way the guy is acting, it's like I'm Arthur Wirtz or something. So he takes Kevin for a test drive, and I'm talking to Mr. White Shirt and saying, "You know, this is the reason you guys are held in such low esteem." I said, "You know, you're, you know." He said, "Yeah, but we're trying," and he's hangdog, and I said, "You know, $395, you don't want to fix this car, you want to sell me one, you don't want to fix it." Well, no, that's not true." Guy comes back, he says, "It'll be ready at 5 o'clock," and I said, "Fine," well, Kevin and I drive home in my car. Kevin goes back at 5 o'clock, comes home and says, "They fixed my car. It shifts into third gear, no charge." And I'm thinking, what about the guy who goes in that place who doesn't have the benefit of his own television show? What about all those people who went in there before me and after me, you know, who they don't know? And so I say to myself, "What should I do about this? Should I?" You know, Ralph Nader'd go back there with a Polaroid camera, three investigative reporters, and get it, the guy in the--would be on the front page of the "Sun-Times", right? I didn't do anything. You know, the place was closed, it was after five o'clock, the car is fixed, Kevin's happy. Michael wants to know if I'll go with him, my oldest son, when he takes his car in, and I'm, and I figure, score one more for celebrity blank-kissing and cronyism in Chicago.
Studs Terkel Two things come here. Two people are involved, that manager and you. First, the manager. So what happens? Suddenly everything changed, didn't it? Just a guy, take him, doesn't matter, but not a guy, now it's a name, a celebrity, a face,
Phil Donahue Yeah.
Phil Donahue There's, immediately the response is different. Being a celebrity is an interesting thing. Everybody remembers when they met you, yet you don't remember when you met them. People form lifelong opinions about you according to the moment they met you in the mood that you were in when they met you. They have no idea what happened to you that day, you could have lost your mother that morning. They met you and you were cold. For the rest of their life, you are a cold celebrity. People also, I think, bring a certain prejudice to celebrities. You know, if I wear sunglasses, people say, "Ahh, you're trying to hide." Well, maybe I'm trying to keep the sun out of my eyes. You know?
Studs Terkel This is something. So he is less because you are more. But now we come to you, you're the only one I know, this is interesting of your particular status, and that's quite a status now. You're analyzing yourself. You're not quite, you're not quite that comfortable.
Phil Donahue Yeah, you know, and I don't stay in regular rooms anymore, you know, I have hotel suites, you know, the French provincial chair, and the--well, they're usually imitation, but, and the imitation fireplace. And I'll tell you what else you get, and I don't, now don't lie to me, I know you get it, too.
Phil Donahue Well, no, you get, I tell you what it is, it's the, it's that cellophane basket with the fruit in it, you know, and the note from the manager of the hotel, and you get often a bottle of wine with two glasses and a corkscrew, and I kind of like it, you know?
Phil Donahue And I look around, and I'm saying, "What's the mat-- What am I, what's happening to me?" You know? And then the guy said, "Oh I'm awfully sorry, Mr. Donahue, I got a call," and they switched me to a suite, you know, with a mirror over the bed, and I walked in and I tipped the guy five bucks, I'm a big tipper, too, because I figure, you know, they're gonna remember me.
Phil Donahue you. I want them to like me, and I don't want them to talk about this TV guy who gives you quarters, you know? Yeah. So a fin, one suitcase. I gave a guy a fin. I poke through that cellophane basket, grab my apple, sit down on a wing-back chair, and I say, "What's happening to me?"
Studs Terkel Yeah. You know, the reason I'm emphasizing this, I think this is one of the most important phenomena in America today, this very subject, this very phenomenon, the celebrity, the face on TV, typically someone national. And the ordinary person, the watcher, the viewer, and I think this is devastating. You sense that, whoever that person may be, you happen to be, as far as I'm concerned, a highly enlightened and sensitive guy. We'll talk about this more. But it could be somebody who is not that. But, my God, the respect. He said, "What did Momo Giancana say?" I always tell this story. Momo Giancana comes to a cocktail party. "Who's that, that's Momo Giancana." "What did he say?" He said, "Bomb Hanoi." "What did he say?" He said, "Bomb Hanoi." "Momo said that." Well, that's kind of serious because a celebrity said it. He could be a killer, but he's a celebrity.
Phil Donahue I want to get this in, though. I don't think being a celebrity is the pain in the neck that a lot of celebrities would have you believe. You know, if somebody interrupts me in the middle of my salad, you know, I'm going to live. Come on. The only real--I don't think it's as frequent--Sinatra I'm sure has a problem. I don't have a problem. I mean, there are some--Elvis couldn't walk down the street. That's different. I think I'm going to live. I mean, I--if they're closing the plane door, I won't sign your autograph. But that's the only circumstance where, that I won't. I think every job has a certain amount of Mickey Mouse, too--salesmen have to fill out reports.
Studs Terkel I want to come back to that, your craft, your skill, whatever it is, with these people in this audience and that's come back to you and begin again, your own--in the book there's a lot of you talking about yourself, in which you--it's a confessional [book?] In the very best sense. You're a hotshot kid, you want to make it, you know, and so now you're going to be an announcer, and you are, [unintelligible] program, and you're, now you're on your way. And somewhere in Dayton, Ohio, you're doing certain things, and there's a certain, Patterson Air Force is there, you know.
Phil Donahue Well, it was in the early '60s and I was a reporter for a radio and television station, Cox Broadcasting, they own "The Atlanta Constitution", great big communications company. Since, it's since kind of sold off some of its broadcasting properties, but they own both newspapers in town, and as you know, in radio and television you've got to get your license renewed every three years. What I didn't know at the time is that one of the ways you do that is to make, you know, make the government agencies that are in your market very happy. And one of the biggest government agencies we had in Dayton was Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and once a month I would do a show called "Technology for Tomorrow" where I would, in a half-hour non-sponsored program, aired in primetime, show the Dayton community the wonderful things being done at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the development of the B-70 bomber. You can--you can drive a Jeep right through these intakes, I would say, as I stood in front of this huge bird, I mean, it was the most magnificent, far out--what I never did was question. "Why do we need it? Look, we got an F-100 fighter, why do we need a 101? How come a 104? And a 105? General, why do we need all this new hardware?" What I never really did was pursue those questions that I had. What I didn't really examine was that the money we were spending on this military hardware, often unnecessarily, could have reclaimed downtown Newark or Detroit, and instead we were blindly following each Century Series bomber with another bomber, and then we finally get the TFX, and what do you know, the wings moved on it, folks, and I'm in front of that thing and I'm showing the Dayton community what a wonderful job the generals are doing in cooperation with the civilian contractors, Boeing, General Dynamics, Lockheed, all of them had offices in Dayton and they always had expensive cigars for the generals. And when the generals retired from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, they always went to work for these prime civilian prime contractors. It never occurred to--I mean, it was Eisenhower himself, the military hero of the 20th century, who said, "Watch out for the military-industrial complex." Little Phil Donahue reporting in Dayton, Ohio never ever bothered to ask that hard-hitting question because my mission was to tell the folks in Dayton, Ohio what a wonderful job the folks at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base were doing and left unsaid was, "FCC, please renew our license." I didn't know it then, but I do now. And when I saw the CBS show "The Selling of the President"--
Phil Donahue "The Selling of the Pentagon", I said, "You got me. You got me. I was there. I did that." And I have to wonder how many of, how much of that sort of knee-jerk rah-rah cheerleading stuff goes on now.
Studs Terkel Oh, what do you think? Now we come back to you again. And that's it. How come--you sense this. Of course, you were going up all the way and you could have made it easily. You had these kids, you had your wife, family, difficulties, growing up, you were on your way. Now why didn't you--what made you--what happened to you along the line made you sense something is not quite right?
Phil Donahue Well, we had a number of skirmishes. I began to--I graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1957. You know, the guy--I had 16 years of Catholic education. You know, I had most of the answers. Who made me, God made me, why did God make me, I mean it was, I knew the answers to the toughest questions. And then in the '60s, you know, everything started to fall apart. They--you know, that somebody--they killed our president, the cities started to collapse. We began to realize that we really did have two Americas, a Black one and a white one, and the liberal guilt--my conscience began to manifest itself and I began to question the answers that had been given, and we challenged the church, and we began to appreciate that the church was as much a part of the establishment as any, as General Motors ever hoped to be. And suddenly my mind was racing, I guess I'd have to say, and I began to suddenly realize that just because a person is successful doesn't mean that he has all the answers or that he got there in an honorable way. Just because it's the church doesn't necessarily mean that it's right. The church is peopled by people who are imperfect, make mistakes, and why should we surrender as we did, surrender to all of the pronouncements, and we started to batter our head up against that. We tried to stop the construction of a million-dollar church in a white suburb. We-
Phil Donahue Well, there was a group of, yeah, it was a group of liberal dissidents, you know, who felt that, you know, that Jesus didn't mean stained glass windows, you know, that if he came back, you know, we'd put them in the limo or whatever he consented to drive in. You know, we would show him this wonderful church and he'd say, "Yeah, but this, wait a minute, what about the people?" And we began to look at the manner in which the church distributed its money. We had downtown Catholic schools that had 1953 textbooks that told about how--
Phil Donahue Yeah, Dayton. That told the children that the Jesuits and the missionaries came to convert the Indians, and that the Black man was really the white man's burden. We had leaky pipes and we called the attention of the church authorities to this inequity. We said, "Look, if you're going to be in the business of education, you have an obligation to make sure that those educational buildings, schools, are equally funded." Whether or not you got a good Catholic education depended on where, in what kind of neighborhood the school was located. And we said, "This isn't what God meant." Well, we lost. The church was built at a cost of a million dollars, including a bell tower, it is centrally air-conditioned, it stands today in Centerville, Ohio, I think, as a very hard, cold monument to what churches are everywhere: Almost always dark and empty. Who else would spend a million dollars on a building that is used about four and a half hours a week? And we were just, we were appalled at the inefficiency. We were appalled at the way we blindly surrendered to all the decisions that were made for us as we grew up as children. The women were up--I mean, there was a time when you had to go find a liberal monsignor to use, to get permission to use the Pill. And these--four couples, the core of this group, four Catholic couples had 20 kids between them. And suddenly we were saying, "Hold it. Hold it. Now, we've been listening to you. Now you listen to us." And then we criticized the nuns because we felt they were more concerned about the length of their habit than about the fact that Catholics were raising another generation of racists. So we went out and we also bused our kids, we bused them to, you know, which is a little--busing in Centerville is like flashing in Centerville. And we had all that--
Phil Donahue Yeah.
Phil Donahue Yes.
Phil Donahue Well, this was a time of tremendous growth for us. And suddenly one day I looked up and I said to myself--well, we all went to see the bishop and we tried to point out that, Look, you know, we don't need this building. We don't have to spend a million dollars. This is mis--, this is misdirected energy." And he said, at one point in that meeting he said something that I think has been a clarion call for inaction throughout the history of the church. It's the line that is used by all those who have ever batted up against the barnacled side of the church, and the line was, as the bishop looked at the dissidents, he said, "The poor we will always have with us." Translated: "Don't worry too much about this. We're always going to have poor people. And what does it matter because Jesus is going to take care of everybody anyway." And then we began to look at the way that the church acted on the minds of minorities, that maybe it was a sleeping pill, that maybe by keep--by giving oppressed people an opportunity to pray, it took away the energy and the drive they might have to do something about their own temporal well-being. And then we got, then we began to look around and we saw that all of the statues were white. We saw that all those people at The Last Supper were white, and they were men as well. We looked at the Blessed Trinity and discovered that even in the Blessed Trinity, you've got two men and a spirit. And as far as I knew as a child, those men were white. So we had sexism and racism pervading the Catholic fabric of our lives and the church was central to our lives and all of us. All these women had all these kids and they were mad, and they were getting, they were having their heads patted by the bishop, who was saying, "Oh, don't worry, the poor will always," and we were enraged, and we would return after all of these strategy sessions to somebody's house and drink a lot of beer. We started to swear then, too, we gave ourselves permission to swear, and we grew. We grew. But it was scary and we were asking questions for which there were no longer these Baltimore Catechism answers, and some of us lost our marriages over it. I don't know whether that was the only reason for it, but it was a very uncharted area for most of us.
Studs Terkel Uncharted area and that's so, you know, you, Phil Donahue, of a very traditional conventional background, going through uncharted area and this is all a part of the break. This is in Phil's book, "Donahue", his story, Simon and Schuster. He's very gracious in also paying tribute to his staff, speak of their relationship to him. But let's take a break for the moment, I want to come back to you and this growth and your look at management and yourself and those you call the gatekeepers and a matter of censorship, the time you encountered it, and thoughts about that that come up today. In a moment, after this message. Resuming the conversation with Phil Donahue who, you probably guess, I think is just about the best interviewer around and about, and my reason is very simple: he asks questions because he's curious himself, and the people he reaches are the people hardly anyone I know reaches, but I want to stick with that. There's something you do on, and I'll come back to the gatekeepers in a minute, and your book. There's something you do on the program. I'm thinking not simply of the people at home watching you, I'm thinking of the people in your audience. They're primarily working people, overwhelmingly, middle-America lower-middle-class working people, primarily women, though there are guys, too. You do something that no one's ever done. You make them aware of something they would not have thought about before, but in such a way they become aware of the, of some of the preconceived notions they might have had, and question it. Whether it be with gay people or with political dissidents or whatever it was, or someone outside their sphere of respectability. How do you do that? You know what I'm talking about? You make them aware. You make them question themselves and then sense ourselves, too.
Phil Donahue I think that, I think one of the ways to dispel or at least to get inside of fear and anxiety about issues that threaten us is to meet the people who personify them. You know, you know, I never hugged my kids when I was raising them because I was afraid if, you know, if a father touches his kids, his boys, they're going to grow up to be gay. And do you remember all those, you know, we really were just medieval in our attitudes, you know. Now, my kids are all 20 and older, taller than I am, and I hug them and they stand there like they're in the shower, you know, waiting for it to be over. But I'm trying. And suddenly, just to use this one example, you know, the best way to, I think, dispel or get rid of all those anxieties is to meet a gay person and I, because of my professional opportunities, did that early on. I remember in the late '60s how threatened I was, I thought everybody'd think I was. I mean, I had all the problems that anybody ever hoped to
Studs Terkel Let's stay with this for a minute. Macho guys. You are machos, deep down there may be that fear, that in them, if they show a tender some sort, people might think they are, and fear that something, so therefore the tougher you are--
Phil Donahue Absolutely.
Phil Donahue Absolutely. That's what "Me Tarzan, you Jane" is all about. And it also I think has a lot to do with why men seldom survive their women. I think what we're doing is we're huffing and puffing and trying to be oak trees, so--
Phil Donahue No.
Studs Terkel Quentin Crisp was a very noted homosexual, and he was quite remarkable. And it's about, so one time he's being beaten up by the macho guys and then he says something to them. "Oh, you guys really like me, don't you? You want to be," and of course they were furious, you see. He hit a certain truth meeting these tough guys. Go ahead, I'm sorry.
Phil Donahue So here we were with this audience from Greenville, Ohio, Arkanham, Dark County, Xenia, Dayton, Hamilton, and suddenly there sitting in front of them was a real live homosexual. And what do you know? In an hour exchange the guy came out sounding like a human being. And I think they took away from that experience at least a heightened understanding of appreciation for the fact that this particular minority was made up of real people and maybe we had burdened ourselves unnecessarily with fears of these folks simply because we've never had a chance to chat with them. And the same could be said of people who opposed the war. You know, even Jane Fonda at the time, the late '60s was the biggest shock wave that we could have, next to Madalyn Murray O'Hare, when it was over you had a sense that maybe we ought to take a look at what Jane was saying, maybe she isn't spoiled, maybe all the psychiatry we were doing on Jane Fonda was unnecessary, if not invalid. So, I think it was the face-to-face encounter with the people that heretofore had been held in--we thought of all of these people as Attila the Hun and now we knew them.
Studs Terkel With fears and you help them overcome, all of us, you help yourself, too, in this thing. Now, the audience. How do they know? I'll come back in a moment to the gatekeepers, also a certain woman who you write about here. How do you, how audiences chosen, this is interesting to me, for a certain program. How do you do that?
Phil Donahue Well, we don't allow the audience to choose a show. If you write for a ticket, there's a two-year wait, and you get a ticket with a date stamped on it. It could be Bert Lance, could be Burt Reynolds. Could be Bert from Sesame Street. Could be anybody. That ensures that the audience is pretty representative of a cross-section of the public as it relates to attitudes about the issue that we may be discussing on that day. And I did write a chapter about a woman that I see often in my audience, just about every day.
Phil Donahue "She is in the next to last row of my studio audience, seated with her hands folded in her lap, a little overweight. She is in her early 60s and her hair has been carefully set and sprayed. Her coat rests either on her shoulders or on the back of her chair, and she stares straight ahead. At some moment during my warm-up when I am moving about the audience, touching, joking, teasing, I will approach her and grasp her warm dry hands and say, "Are you going to help me? I'd help you if you had a show." The people around her laugh and she smiles and turns her head and eyes away from me and I see her body retreat tightly within itself at just the thought that I might ask her to stand and take part in our program. I have seen this woman thousands of times in my studio audience, and I know there is no chance in the world that she will participate. She is a spectator and she always will be. She is millions of American women who grew up with their legs crossed and their minds closed by a culture that featured loud, intimidating men and silent, obedient women who wash, and can, and sew, and pray."
Phil Donahue "She functions in a society that bewilders her with its change since she went to church as a child, hat placed securely on the back of her head, white gloves in place, she has stoically lived through the fighting '40s, the developing '50s, the angry '60s, and the exhausting '70s. She knows there are dirty movies, pot, teenage pregnancies, and people living together without marriage. And she wonders when it will all end. She likes the pendulum metaphor, which says reassuringly it'll swing back to the center again. But she's not so sure." One more paragraph. "When she leaves I say goodbye to her, and if she says anything at all, she says, "How do you stand here everyday with all these women?" Her feeling about women and her own self-loathing are apparent to me but not to her. Her spirit has been smashed. It was smashed a long time ago before she could know what happened."
Studs Terkel Let's take off from there. You've just described a woman who is millions, of course. The woman at which so many commercials are named, you know, aimed, a woman at whom almost everything is directed. In fact, the American mother, a wife, to a great extent. This is her, not thinking too much of herself, really.
Phil Donahue Never. She's, from the earliest moments she was, the message was, "Be long-suffering. Be nurturing. Care for other people. Take care of the men. Make sure this"--she on Thanksgiving was up early to begin the preparation of the turkey. Do you remember you had to pull out those little feather stubs, you remember you had to do that one at a time? And then you put it in the oven and it cooked for whatever it is, two, three hours, four, and then you set the table and you made sure that the sweet potatoes were moist, and you made sure the other potatoes were ready, and then you had to have a gravy because turkey, and then after everybody sat down and Daddy said grace, you dined and you had the wonderful turkey. And when it was all over with, the pumpkin pie and the coffee, who cleaned the dishes? And who went to the living room to smoke long cigars and watch a football game? And by the time it was seven-thirty or eight o'clock, she was still in the kitchen and no one ever challenged this.
Phil Donahue Oh, she did. She did. And she hung the Gold Star sometimes, though often the Blue Star, sometimes the Gold Star in the window that told passersby that she had a boy overseas. You know, we almost never sent men overseas. We sent boys. Our boys overseas.
Phil Donahue We
Phil Donahue I think there are a reassuringly large number of women like this who are saying, "Hold it. Hold it." A lot of them got smart in widowhood. It's a shame that was their vehicle of consciousness-raising.
Phil Donahue Well, I think there are millions and millions of women who for the first time in their lives are doing something for, of all people, themselves, and not feeling guilty about it. I do, however, think there are women out there who watch my show every day and see a feminist and say to themselves under their breath, "She has no children," and then they are angered often by what they perceive to be as a feminist message which says to a housewife, "You been had, woman. You been had." And they resent that and they are writing letters to me and they are saying, in large letters, underlined in crayon, "I'm happy. I'm happy. I'm happy!" And in that protest, they give themselves away.
Studs Terkel You know, a number of years ago with women's liberation day, I forget when it was, and Gloria Steinem was here, and a number of other women talking out in the square, and I had a tape recorder, going around interviewing people. There was a middle-aged woman, definitely a working woman. You could see she was tired and worn and she's, "I hate them. They're no-good, rotten tramps."
Studs Terkel Yeah. "Why?" "They're no good." "Well, don't you think you have as much right as the guy"--"He and me are equal, except he's got the last say. He's the boss. We're equal, he's the boss. I worked hard all" and here comes the part, "I worked hard all my life and I'm working now and I get home, prepare the meal for him, and by God, that's the way," and then you realize, her own--
Phil Donahue Anger.
Studs Terkel Loss and frustration. Well, it's a natural thing. I remember talking to some of the women who spoke and they completely understood her, sympathized with her, even though she was calling them names, because they said, "Of course it's difficult, her whole life is shot. Here is something of which she may not be part. It's late." And so this is what we're talking
Phil Donahue It is really hard. I think that the feminists' message has been so very misunderstood by people that it seems to threaten the most. Feminists aren't--feminists are not saying that housewife responsibilities are unimportant, they think that they're terribly important. They also think raising children is a near-sacred responsibility. It can be very challenging and exciting, and so challenging, in fact, and so exciting, they wish more men would take greater advantage of the opportunity. All feminists are saying is, "Parenting should be a shared experience." You know, I mean, is that going to bring an end to this culture? I mean, I don't understand why buildings fall down when they make that point.
Phil Donahue I sure do. I mean, can--just think of my high school experience and being a high school kid today. You know, when I was in high school, the big thing was whether or not she was going to kiss you goodnight and, you know, the St. Christopher canteen on Saturday night with the ball, the mirrored ball in the center of the floor, Guy Mitchell singing "My Heart Cries for You", you know, well if she said, "Yes" when you asked her to dance, which was a very risky thing anyway, because you set yourself up for rejection and it could have happened in front of all your buddies. It was really risky to ask a girl to dance because she didn't always say "Yes." But if you got past that, you know, and she said "Yes," and you got out in the middle of that dance floor and you put your arm around her back, you know, and as you drew her to you, I remember you could tell immediately whether she was wearing a stiff wire bra or a soft one. And as I recall, it was the soft ones that gave me the most bad thoughts. But in the middle of that dance floor with Guy Mitchell singing "My Heart Cries for You", surrounded by all those other couples, that was as warm as you got in 1953 in Cleveland, Ohio as a Catholic boy coming out of Our Lady of Angels School. Now, I mean now, if we danced to "A penny a kiss, a penny a hug, I'm going to save my pennies in a big brown jug" again, I danced to that song. Today, I mean, think of Donna Summer against that. "Baby, I want to kiss you all over," think of the lyric, just--the change is so staggering, yet it makes me wonder--
Studs Terkel You're talking about a crazy moment of transition, a wildest moment of transition I, possibly because of technology and everything else in history of the world. This moment we live in is challenging and dangerous, of course, at the same time. So, we have gays, Blacks, women of course, old people, there's an old people's power movement, too, as you know.
Phil Donahue Oh, I think it's, you know, it's easier to go along in some way. But it's not as exciting. I think I would never want to go through life without making a wave. Show me somebody who's beloved and I'll show you somebody who's not doing
Studs Terkel Now, wait. Loved, and not now, you said not making a wave. Now we come back. Now we come to power. We talk to people who are powerless asserting their grievances and feelings. Now power. You were taught to make it, not to make waves. Your first look as a chapter, your first look at management.
Phil Donahue The guy with a three-piece suit, he used to have a watch fob, I mean this guy knew everything. Little gray hair. Called me "son." And I thought, "Wow. Brilliant! Owns the store. My dad works for him, reports to him." All of a sudden, you know, I'm in my late 20s and I'm beginning to think, you know, I'm beginning to wonder how these guys got their jobs that I'm working for. I suddenly began to realize they're not so smart, that they're insecure. They're threatened. Some of them are there from nepotism. And I also began to learn about apple-polishing or I began to learn that getting ahead does not always have anything to, have something to do with ability. It often has to do with not offending the people who make the decision about whether or not you get ahead. And then I began to think about all those people who have all their job eggs in somebody else's basket. How many people do you know? There are people, there are millions of men, especially, women too, whose entire future professional life is dependent upon the decision of one man. There are people who can terminate jobs while they're shaving in the morning. "We've got to replace Donahue." Now, when you realize how beholden some people are to one other person--
Phil Donahue So how much whistleblowing can we expect from these people? You know, if you've got three kids and a mortgage, just how courageous are you supposed to be? And if this is, and I don't know, I'm not smart enough to know what to do about this. But when you examine this, when you examine it, is it any wonder we've got the Pinto?
Studs Terkel Which is something--leads to something very exciting, because you had several people on time to time, something new: The whistleblower. Now this takes incredible amount of guts, doesn't it. These are people have blown, the guy who did it against what, General Motors, cereals, Ernie Fitzgerald, you name them and you've had them. Now this
Phil Donahue Yes. Yes. Well, of course we've never had so much to blow whistles about as we've had recently. But I began to say to myself when people started to lean on me, "How courageous am I going to be?" You know, I already had five children.
Studs Terkel Talk about that leaning on you. This be, where there was a certain moment. This is, was this Dayton? You wanted Nicholas Johnson, who was the dissenting member of the FCC, the consumer man, advocate on, well, tell about that, you and the leaning.
Phil Donahue I had never had any interruption or any interference with producing our program. I mean, we had bragged about the political freedom that we had. I mean, it just was magnificent. We could put anybody on. We put on Jerry Rubin. You know, all these anti-establishment people, and I had never been interfered with, and we'd had sponsors cancel, I had a lot of support from management. Suddenly one day I was called to Cincinnati and I was told that I could--we had already booked Nicholas Johnson, a member of the FCC, for our show and I was told that we didn't, management did not want Nicholas Johnson on the "Donahue" show. And I said, "Why?" "Because he just wants a name for himself and because we don't"--well, Nicholas Johnson was one of the first really independent members of the FCC we ever had. As you know, part of the criticism of regulatory agencies is that they're all in bed with the industries that they're supposed to regulate. And in some sense that's certainly true with the FCC. But Johnson, on those occasions when broadcasters would be meeting in conventions, Johnson'd be across the street in another hotel telling Blacks how to file against the television station, how to--women, minority, how to demand television stations live up to the stewardship of the airwaves. And of course, he made broadcasters hysterical. "He doesn't understand us. He's just out for a name for himself." And I drove back to [station? Dayton?] that day thinking, "I can't let this happen," and I began to think, you know, "This is a duly authorized member of the United States government, to deny him access to the airwaves is unfair. We've had Ralph Nader on, why shouldn't General Motors cancel Ralph Nader? Why shouldn't, if we put on Robert Choate who criticized the cereal industry by saying that cereals don't have the nutrient value of a shot of booze, then how is it that we cannot possibly put someone on who criticizes our own industry? How hypocritical can we be?" And I could hear the applause as I stood on my soapbox and when I looked down at my speedometer I was going 80 miles an hour.
Phil Donahue Right. So I got home and I thought, "I got a mortgage." My mortgage at the time was $25,000, I had five children. How courageous am I going to be? So I went back and I said, "Look, I can't live with this." I said, "I cannot, if you don't put Johnson on, then I quit." You know, I thought, "Well, I'll be a dead hero."
Phil Donahue It was very, yeah, it was a risk. "We'll get some guy who has less gray hair, a larger vocabulary, and doesn't rock as many boats." I mean, I figured that's what they might do. But I knew that I couldn't live with this. I mean, this wasn't even gray. You know, it wasn't gray. You could argue against Jerry Rubin, he might say blow up your local post office or do some irrational thing, you could argue that. But my goodness, a member of the FCC. How can you argue that? Well, the compromise was--and I also played my ace--I said, "What if the newspapers would hear about this?" And that scares them more than anything. Well, they decided to put Lee Levinger on with him.
Phil Donahue He was a member, he was a former member of the FCC, who after resigning from the FCC after his term was up, went with the law firm in Washington that was on retainer for Avco Broadcasting, the company for which I worked, which also was part of the conglomerate which made bombs in its ordnance plant in Richmond, Indiana which makes you wonder how objective Avco's broadcasting properties were regarding the Vietnam War. We also made Lycoming helicopter engines and sold a lot of them during Vietnam. And these were all the things that were coming down on my head, the connections, the incestuous relationship between some defense properties and broadcasting and you know, today the ca-- How, with how much vigor, for example, will General Electric and Westinghouse stations explore the nuclear dilemma? Nobody's saying they're going to kill the story, but how much are they going to pursue it? I think these are fascinating questions and in the '60s the curtain was just going up for me on all these questions.
Studs Terkel You were, you're about the only guy I know who asked these questions and it's on a daytime show. Women audience, I'm saying that--have you heard a journalist yet on the vaunted Sunday morning "Meet the Press" ask any of the politicos about "What about our military expenditures?" It's never asked, is it? Questioning that? I've never heard anyone question--they question health, education, welfare, never the military expenditures.
Phil Donahue Yeah, one of the problems is, I guess you're right, I don't recall any specific examples, one of the problems is, how the hell do you make sense with a $140 billion dollar budget, though? And, you know, and if I say, you know, if I'm a candidate I've got to say, "I believe in a strong military," you know, it's a knee-jerk thing, you've got to say it, and "I do believe we should have cuts," well, where? Well, I mean, come on, 140 billion, I don't know where, but I'll think of something, elect me. Also, if you put especially now, the budget, the defense budget, to the national referendum, it would win. In fact, most people would want to spend more.
Phil Donahue Well, we put Lee--it was a half-hearted compromise. I agreed to placing Lee Levinger on the air with Nick Johnson. Now remember, General Motors, remember nobody, General Motors wasn't able to demand that one of its people go on with Ralph Nader. Kellogg's wasn't able to demand that somebody appear with Robert Choate, but Broadcasting Avco was able to demand that one of its spokespersons appeared with--so, when it was over, I felt half good, and I kept meeting my mortgage payments.
Studs Terkel We're talking to Phil Donahue and the book that we're talking about, in which this appears in extended form, too, very moving, too, I think, "My Own Story", Simon and Schuster the publishers, and we haven't talked--what about censorship problems today?
Studs Terkel You do. Isn't one of the reasons for your relative independence is that you began--now you're on "Today", but you're syndicated. And therefore there is no one guy shaving can knock you off.
Phil Donahue Oh, listen, you know-and also I like the system the way it works. If you're the general manager in Dubuque, and I send you a show that you don't think is very fair or whatever, you can cancel it. You are a check and balance against me. I mean, there's no losses--
Phil Donahue These are the people who play this multimillion dollar Super Bowl game of win and lose and numbers with very expensive television programs. They're also general managers of television stations who often will cancel a local show in order to carry another half-hour of "Another World". And as each local show in each local market goes dark, the number of opportunities for future Studs Terkels and others diminishes. There's no more triple A, there's just big league. The amount, the numbers of opportunities for people to grow and be innovative and do something different has diminished because so many, I'm afraid, of America's 700+ television stations look to the big nipple of the network to feed material down the line. It's a hell of a lot easier to run reruns of "Sanford and Son" than it is to produce your own local live show. It's a lot easier. And it's a lot less trouble, and I just lament in the book that feature of our business which makes it so difficult for anybody to get on the air.
Studs Terkel You know we're talking about control, really, aren't we? And that's something we haven't talked about, self-censorship. You don't, you're one of the few who doesn't, self-censorship. Or do you? do you wear that at times?
Studs Terkel I think everybody does. But something, that question, well, it's too long ago to go into now, the question of why the military expenditures are never raised, a part of that number one thing again. It goes 'way back to your memory of yourself at Patterson when you were plugging those things, and he said, "We gotta beat them. Beat them."
Phil Donahue On the other hand, I have to be sensitive and so do you, Studs, to the guy who says, "Look, you know, you liberal people, naive guys. What do you want to be, in a bread line? And you know, you're the ones that telling us that Russia had all these problems, we didn't have to worry about them," we used to pray for the conversion of Russia after Mass, you know, I'll never forget that. And yet, you know, I mean, it's embarrassing what the Russians did in Afghanistan.
Studs Terkel Oh,
Studs Terkel I'm talking about, we can knock them off ten times and they can knock us off ten times. Now why must it be 20 times if we can knock them off ten times? That's what I'm talking about, I'm talking about something called insanity on both sides.
Phil Donahue I know. And it was late in life that I began to realize how wealthy men get wealthier on war, too, and the fact that you cannot, as long as it's profitable, that's got to be a feature of what's making us, what's moving us to all these decisions.
Studs Terkel Your having people a sense because of, I think what you do, these people the great many, many of us, who don't ask questions are asking questions what it's about. Asking questions, isn't it?
Phil Donahue Hype is what you get if you're connected to a large public relations agency or if you're part of a system that has to sell a ticket, an album, or a book. And what I'm saying in the book is that too many talk shows, "Dinah", "Donahue" included, "Griffin", "Tonight", "Tomorrow", yesterday, Thursday morning, whatever you want, are featuring guests who have no business being there, and not only that, most of the guests that appear on these programs are people who are trying to sell something. And that what we may be watching between all those commercials is another commercial and that local producers who are responsible, and national, and producers of national talk shows are, I think, in many ways, answering the phone from all these publicists in New York and elsewhere and booking the show through public relations firms and losing their initiative and their zeal to go out and find fresh original material. We have to wonder who is not getting on the air because someone has already taken the spot in order to plug breathlessly their next movie with the incredible director and incredible script and the incredible cast and I'm incredibly excited.
Studs Terkel So we're thinking of those who are not on the air, and all the dreams and grieving not heard because of hype. That's part of, does it sell, you know. Well, Donohue's book is "My Own Story" and it's Simon and Schuster. Any thought before we say goodbye for now?
Studs Terkel I'm a radical. Don't you want --A radical conservative. Let's say it that way. Radical, I get to the root of things. I like to get to the root of things, conservative, like to conserve: The Bill of Rights, fresh air, rights of people to be themselves and speak their minds, I'm a radical conservative and that should take care of all the labeling there is, I think. And as for you, thank you very much, indeed, for the work you're doing.