Phillip John Donahue (born December 21, 1935) is an American media personality, writer, film producer and the creator and host of The Phil Donahue Show. The television program, later known simply as Donahue, was the first talk show format that included audience participation.
The show had a 29-year run on national television in America that began in Dayton, Ohio in 1967 and ended in New York City in 1996.
His shows have often focused on issues that divide liberals and conservatives in the United States, such as abortion, consumer protection, civil rights and war issues. His most frequent guest was Ralph Nader, for whom Donahue campaigned in 2000.
Donahue also briefly hosted a talk show on MSNBC from July 2002 to March 2003.
Donahue is one of the most influential talk show hosts and has been called the "king of daytime talk".
Oprah Winfrey has stated, "If it weren't for Phil Donahue, there would never have been an Oprah Show." In 1996, Donahue was ranked #42 on TV Guides 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time.
Donahue was born into a middle-class, churchgoing, Irish Catholic
family in Cleveland, Ohio; his father, Phillip Donahue, was a furniture sales clerk and his mother, Catherine (McClory), a department store shoe clerk.
[Timberg, Bernard M. et al. Television Talk, p.69. University of Texas Press, 2002, ] [Manga, Julie Engel. Talking Trash: The Cultural Politics of Daytime TV Talk Shows, p.28. NYU Press, 2003, ]
In 1949, he graduated from Our Lady of Angels elementary school in the West Park neighborhood of Cleveland. In 1953, Donahue was a member of the first graduating class of St. Edward High School, an all-boys college preparatory Catholic private high school run by the Congregation of Holy Cross in suburban Lakewood, Ohio. He graduated from the University of Notre Dame, which is also run by the Congregation of Holy Cross, with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in 1957.
Donahue began his career in 1957 as a production assistant at WTAM
when that station was in Cleveland. He got a chance to become an announcer one day when the regular announcer failed to show up. After a brief stint as a bank check sorter in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he became program director for WABJ
radio in Adrian, Michigan, soon after graduating.
He moved on to become a stringer for the CBS Evening News
and later, an anchor of the morning newscast at WHIO-TV
in Dayton, Ohio, where his interviews with Jimmy Hoffa
and Billie Sol Estes were picked up nationally. While in Dayton, Donahue also hosted Conversation Piece
, a phone-in afternoon talk show from 1963 to 1967 on WHIO radio. In Dayton, Donahue interviewed presidential candidate John F. Kennedy, late night talk show host Johnny Carson
human rights activist Malcolm X
and Vietnam war opponents including Jerry Rubin
In Chicago and New York City, Donahue interviewed Elton John
heavyweight boxing champions Muhammad Ali
and Joe Frazier
and author and political activist Noam Chomsky
The Phil Donahue Show
On November 6, 1967, Donahue left WHIO, moving his talk program to television with The Phil Donahue Show
on WLWD (now WDTN
), also in Dayton. Initially, the program was shown only on other stations owned by the Crosley Broadcasting Corporation (which would later take the name of its parent Avco
), which also owned WLWD. But, in January 1970, The Phil Donahue Show
entered nationwide syndication. Donahue's syndicated show moved from Dayton, Ohio, to Chicago in 1974; then in 1984, he moved the show to New York City, where the show was shot at a studio at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, to be near his wife Marlo Thomas
In 1988, from the Rainbow Room, he presented a special honoring Mary Martin, with Steve Leeds and the Rainbow Room Orchestra, with guest vocalists Michael Feinstein, and Nancy Wilson. Bandleader Leeds sang the final number "Isn't it Romantic".
After a 29-year run—26 years in syndication and nearly 7,000 one-hour daily shows, the final original episode of Donahue aired on September 13, 1996, culminating what as of 2015 remains the longest continuous run of any syndicated talk show in U.S. television history.
While hosting his own program, Donahue also appeared on NBC's The Today Show as a contributor, from 1979 until 1988.
U.S.–Soviet Space Bridge
In the 1980s, during the Cold War
period of Glasnost
, Donahue and Soviet journalist Vladimir Posner co-hosted a series of televised discussions, known as the U.S.–Soviet Space Bridge, among everyday citizens of the Soviet Union
and the United States.
[ Phil Donahue: "We reached out instead of lashed out" Russia, Beyond the Headlines, http://rbth.ru, December 6, 2012.]
It was the first event of its kind in broadcasting history: Donahue hosted an audience in an American city while Posner hosted an audience in a Soviet city, all on one television program. Members of both audiences asked each other questions about both nations. While the governments of both nations were preparing for nuclear war, Donahue said: "We reached out instead of lashed out." From 1991 to 1994 Donahue and Posner co-hosted Posner/Donahue
, a weekly, issues-oriented roundtable program, which aired both on CNBC
and in syndication.
His wife Marlo Thomas created a children's version in 1988 entitled Free to Be... A Family and just as Donahue and Posner have been friends ever since, Thomas and Tatiana Vedeneyeva have also enjoyed a long and fruitful friendship.
In July 2002, Phil Donahue returned to television after seven years of retirement to host a show called Donahue
[Sherman, Gabriel, "Chasing Fox," New York magazine, October 3, 2010.]
On February 25, 2003, MSNBC canceled the show.
Soon after the show's cancellation, an internal MSNBC memo was leaked to the press stating that Donahue should be fired because he opposed the imminent U.S. invasion of Iraq and that he would be a "difficult public face for NBC in a time of war"
[Poniewozik, James, "In the Obama Era, Will the Media Change Too?" Time, January 15, 2009.] and that his program could be "a home for the liberal anti-war agenda". [Naureckas, Jim
"MSNBC’s Racism Is OK, Peace Activism Is Not" FAIR, April 1, 2003.] Donahue commented in 2007 that the management of MSNBC, owned at the time by General Electric, a major defense contractor, required that "we have two conservative (guests) for every liberal. I was counted as two liberals". [Poniewozik, James, "Watching the Not-Watchdogs," Time, April 26, 2007.]
Body of War
In 2006, Donahue served as co-director with independent filmmaker Ellen Spiro
for the feature documentary film Body of War
. The film tells the story of Tomas Young
, a severely disabled Iraq War veteran and his turbulent postwar adjustments. In November 2007 the film was named as one of fifteen documentaries to be in consideration for an Oscar nomination from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
[Melidonian, Teni. 15 Docs Move Ahead in 2007 Oscar Race Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences official website. 2007-11-19. Retrieved on December 3, 2007.]
Donahue was awarded 20 Emmy Awards
during his broadcasting career, 10 for Outstanding Talk Show Host, and 10 for The Phil Donahue Show.
He received the Peabody Award in 1980, and was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame on November 20, 1993.
In 1987 he received the "Maggie" Award, highest honor of the Planned Parenthood Federation, in tribute to their founder, Margaret Sanger.
Donahue's first marriage, to Margaret Cooney (1958 to 1975), ended in divorce. His first union produced five children: Michael, Kevin, Daniel, Mary Rose, and James. The family lived in Centerville, Ohio, across the street from Erma Bombeck
, a comedian who would become one of his contemporaries as a national voice in the 1970s and 1980s.
Donahue is married to actress Marlo Thomas
. They married on May 21, 1980, and live in Manhattan
[Ravo, Nick, " Eyesore or Landmark? The House Donahue Razed", The New York Times, July 10, 1988]
Donahue has admitted he's not "a very good Catholic" and did not think it was necessary to have his first marriage annulled. He has elaborated that "I will always be a Catholic. But I want my church to join the human race and finally walk away from this antisexual theology."
[ Questions for Phil Donahue. By David Wallis. The New York Times. Published April 14, 2002.] In the 1980s, Donahue was the first national television program to reveal widespread child molestation by Catholic priests, something for which he was widely criticized. [ The Sins of the Fathers Berry, Jason, Chicago Reader, May 23, 1991] In 2002 he told Oprah Winfrey, "I once did a priest pedophilia show on St. Patrick's Day, and a priest called in and said, 'How am I supposed to work on a playground with children?' When I was a kid, we used to have a sin called 'giving scandal' which meant criticizing the church. And that's exactly how we got where we are now." [ Oprah Talks to Phil Donahue O, The Oprah Magazine, September 2002.] He has expressed admiration of Pope Francis.
In June 2013, Donahue and numerous other celebrities appeared in a video showing support for Chelsea Manning.
Also in 2013, he was interviewed for the film Finding Vivian Maier, as he once hired the photographer Vivian Maier to nanny his children. On May 24 and May 25, 2016, Donahue spoke at Ralph Nader'
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