Phil Donahue — Transformation, On-Screen and Off
December 12, 2013

Talk show pioneer Phil Donahue opens up on his remarkable perspective on the last half century of America and who we are now. He shares his personal transformations on race, gender roles, and parenting in the dramatic era he captured on television.

Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

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Producer Phil Donahue answers a question during a screening of the film Body of War in Hollywood, California.

Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

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Good to see Phip Donahue is doing good. I hope his wife Marlo Thomas is doing great, also.

I listen to every interview you do Krista - this with Phil was just so thoughtful and provocative. I also grew up with The Phil Donahue Show... although young, and not so aware of the ground breaking interviews he presented. Listening to him again, now, as I am an adult - oh, I realize what a treasure he was, and is, to our country - and the thought leaders in any country.
Krista-I agree with Phil's comment in the end about your questions and intelligent interview style.
You too, are a treasure - of my age.
Thank you.

I agree. I never knew how ground breaking he was back then. I just turned 50, am a feminist. I am also a high school teacher who is distraught with how are girls allow themselves to be treated and controlled by fashion.

Love the choice of Phil Donahue for this program.

CAPS = BAD EYES. SORRY. I'M SURPRISED NO ONE ELSE WAS COVERING THE ANTI WAR MOVEMENT IN '67. IN CHAPEL HILL, NC, MY BROTHER WAS AMONG THOSE FASTING. THERE WAS A SILENT VIGIL ON FRANKLIN ST. ALL THIS AFTER WHITE SOUTHERNERS FROM EVERY SINGLE SOUTHERN STATE, YES, ALABAMA AND MISSISSIPPI, TOOK PART IN THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT IN CHAPEL HILL. WHERE WE SAT IN AT THE MAIN CROSSROADS, A QUARTER IS NOW MLK BLVD. NOT IN MIDTOWN MANHATTAN. TWO BOOKS TO READ: "THE FREE MEN" BY JOHN EHLE, STILL ALIVE. AND I'LL GIVE YOU MY NUMBER IF YOU CALL ME AT 212 580-7O96. THE OTHER IS NEW: "LIBERATION IN BLACK AND WHITE: southern student activism in the 1960s". BY A PROF AT NYU AND ANOTHER FROM USC - SOUTH CAROLINA. THE THESIS IS WE WERE AHEAD OF THE MOVEMENT IN THE NORTH. MY HIGH SCHOOL WHICH I LEFT A YEAR EARLY, I THOUGHT WOULD BE EASILY INTEGRATED BUT THE ONE AFRICAN AMERICAN, THEN NEGRO, YOUNG WOMAN WHO CAME WAS HECKLED. TWO PEOPLE I LIKED, AMONG ALL THE OTHERS, HELD HER HAND AND SAT WITH HER ALONE IN THE CAFETERIA. I WAS APPALLED TO HEAR THAT. TO GET A LOOK AT NC NOW GOOGLE:
youtube/democracynow/reverendbarber/moralmondays . I DIDN'T FEEL EVERYONE WAS A BIGOT. I MARCHED, PICKETED, BUT DIDN'T SIT IN BECAUSE THE COPS HAD MY FINGERPRINTS FOR STEALING BOOZE. WHEN I PICKETED A SEGREGATED MOTEL ALONE, AND WAS CURSED, SPAT AT, AND THINGS THROWN AT ME, IT FELT GREAT TO DO THE RIGHT THING. WAYNE KING, WHO WAS EDITOR OF THE DAILY TAR HEEL, WROTE THE BEST COVERAGE OF THE MOVEMENT. HE'S STILL ALIVE AS WELL. USED TO WORK FOR THE NY TIMES BUT MOVED BACK TO N.C.

RACISM IS STILL A TERRIBLE SCOURGE ON THE WHOLE COUNTRY. ROSA PARKS.IN A BIOGRAPHY IS QUOTED AS SAYING, "I LEFT THE JIM CROW SOUTH FOR THE JIM CROW NORTH." WE NEED ANOTHER MOVEMENT FOR ECONOMIC EQUALITY. BREAKS MY HEART.

THANKS FOR YOUR SHOW.

You are among many of us. Thank god there are others besides myself. I agree we need a big movement to get people back on track.

One of my favorites - a great show!

Mr Donahue spoke of income inequality growing BUT did not question the how or why. A good place to start would be the failure of public education. Might start with WAITING FOR SUPERMAN.

Phil, you've traveled the long road from the Gibbons Hotel morning coffee debates. Kudos!

I heard you talking about the existence of God - here is my experience.
Religion - My Faith
God is not a physical God but a spiritual God composed of the thoughts and actions of man – how we treat others.
I am having trouble believing in God & Christ. I spent 2 semesters at Bible College to learn some of the ideas which follows.
Point 1 - In the days that the bible was written, writing was new and anything written down was considered believable. Anything anybody took the time and effort to write down was a major task. Hence, the emphasis of the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone and Christ’s moniker as the Word of God.
Point 2 - Moses came out of Egypt with the idea of One God because the Egyptians had multiple gods. So the Bible did not begin with Creation of the World and Man, it began with Moses.
Point 3 - Birthright was a major issue in those days. The Hebrew saw that no matter how well a man obeyed the Law of Moses he could not be considered a child of God because of his birthright.
The 12 apostles may have been answering the problem of the non-Jewish believers by creating a God (Christ) who could accept anyone who believed.
Point 4 - The Hebrew were like Rocket Scientist when it concerned matters of religion. It was no problem for the writers of the Old and New Testaments because they did not have modern media such as TV and Radio to occupy their time. And 12 apostles working together would have no problem coming up with the idea of a Christ who could bring religion to the non-Hebrew believer.
Although my belief in God & Christ is shaky I do believe in some Higher Power. I can feel it when I do something wrong and when I do something right. But apparently this Power does not have much influence on my life. I can tell by the bad stuff that happened to me as a child and every time I see or hear about a child who is retarded or badly deformed from birth. That God would allow such things to happen to the innocent is not acceptable.
I used to drive a School Bus for the special-ed and handicapped. This sounds crude but my dog has more cognitive ability than some of those kids. Does God have no power or is He just unfair and without compassion? The Bible does not have anything to say about why these children are like this. Why the emphasis on Christ as a healer and compassionate Being? One 4th grade little girl was like God’s little angel but she and her mother burned to death in an apartment fire.
I want to believe in God but when I pray nothing happens that I can say is definitely from God. But I still pray anyway because I have nowhere else to go and it makes me feel better. I refuse to play what I call the Guilt & Blame Game because of something I did wrong or I am not praying hard enough.
God’s Love My Love
God’s Love is like Fire
When kindled can penetrate anything
My love is like glass
Is solid but is seen through and breakable
Life
I Love Life but I also Hate Life.
My normal frame of thought is, I will be glad when it is over.

Thought: Jesus said, “Father forgive those who don’t know what they are doing”. He did not say Father forgive those who know what they are doing.
One word in interpretation can make a difference.
When Jesus walked there were no critics to inspect what was truth, so that may not have happened. How can we believe in something we can’t prove?
I have a problem believing in the bible.
But I do believe that God is within us, and He is stronger when we are together in peace & love. Thus, the Holy Spirit.
So, we are God. He is not a physical being but a spiritual being made up of the thoughts of man. We are not the creation of God, but God is the creation of man.
But I still consider myself a Christian because of my association with the Church of Christ and how my life has changed since.
I can’t prove my thoughts and ideas but nor can the Bible be proved. We can’t go back in time to prove it.
We have plenty of evidence that God does not exist – Why can’t we have some evidence that he does exist.

Phill Donahue, what a fabulous guest! I, too, was born in 1960 and remember, even as a young kid, being fascinated by his show. His shows made me think, inquire, ponder and feel. Many fond memories of great discussions (albeit heated sometimes) with his guests and audiences. He really did help open up the world to me. Thanks for having him on the show, Krista and crew!

Thank you so much for featuring Phil Donahue. I didn't realize it back in the early '80s, but he helped save my mind during a time I was unemployed and marginalized (which, sadly, I am again now). His program, which I watched "religiously" for a time, when I could, was so mind-expanding ... and I realized he didn't pander to his chief "audience," that is, stay-at-home moms and unemployed women. His show was so intelligent, provocative and exciting, so unlike most other pap on TV. As a feminist, humanist and atheist, his show fed my "soul" and my mind, and I have completely loved and honored him as a real TV pioneer.

It was wonderful to hear Phil Donahue again. I'm a "cradle Catholic", born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Catholics are a minority. I attended Catholic school through the eighth grade, then public school till my high school graduation in 1971. I can identify so well with Mr. Donahue's thoughts and feelings and that Catholic guilt. All three of my husband's and my sons, the oldest of whom is thirty, attended Catholic school from kindergarten through high school, and none of them are practicing Catholics today. I'm a liberal and have not attended Mass at my parish in over a year because I do not agree with the Church's treatment of gay people and also due to my disagreement with how the Church has dealt with the child molestation by priests. I'm still nostalgic, though, for the beautiful ceremony of the Catholic Mass. I just attended a funeral Mass this past week, and the incense and the priest's wonderful eulogy of the 24 year old son of a friend just felt like home to me. Thank you, Krista, for what you bring to me each week.

Of course we enjoyed Phil Donahue, but be careful: if I remember, he is a liberal Catholic at odds with Church teachings. Most Catholics love the Church. I hope he has reformed.

Of course the Church didn't take a position on the Viet Nam war, and is generally against war (Pope Paul VI at the U.N. in 1964 "Never more war!"). Why blame the Church?

As far as I can tell, everyone can speak with the pastor.

He put an abortion on TV - if they were killing other people, would he put that on the show? Or just decry it?

All that I love about radio was taken to another level today via your conversation with Phil Donahue. For you to interview one of the all time masters of that process, to so successfully engage him in the manner you did, was nothing short of brilliant. It's an absolute art, that not many possess, to be able to quietly inquire, to allow the subject to be just that, the subject, and not let your ego get in the way. As you do every week, you gave us the gift of insight into the character of the person, his life, his story, and did so with so much understanding and respect. I was left with not only wanting to meet and talk to Phil, but also very much wanting to meet and talk to Krista Tippett. Just a great job; love your show.

I remember seeing portions of two Donahue shows on television in the 1980s and thinking "This guy is a shallow pretty boy entertaining feminist radicals and housewives, pandering to the crowd." Having never again watched Donahue I've held that opinion of Donahue since the 1980s....until I heard this interview. Only now do I begin to understand the revolution that was taking place in race and sex in the 70's and 80's and 90's, and needed to take place, and that Donahue was sensitive to and trying to understand, explain, perhaps mediate. Your interview with Donahue was fascinating and enlightening. I remember another interview aired on On Being months ago where Abraham Heschel was discussed. You have a great program and excellent guests.

Good to know that Phil Donahue is alive and well. He was such a great personality; larger than life and yet facilitated otherwise tense conversations with grace and poise while honoring his audience and guests alike. Krista always does good interviews, and has many fascinating guests, but this one was special. Wish that the interview had gone deeper into his Catholic upbringing as well as his current position on faith and belief. Would think that someone who spent thirty years digging into others belief systems, would certainly have important insight to share regarding followers of organized religion, agnostics and atheists.

These days, I fall asleep with NPR every night, so the greatest things wake me up early. When I was in high school, trying to figure out who I'd be someday, one thing I learned from PD was the whole "facing difficult issues with honesty" thing. No one can resist that. Not even me. I'm still working on who I am and what I'm all about, but I've had the honesty thing locked down for some time now. Thank you.

And Krista - if I ever want to learn more about anyone or any topic, I'll save time and check w/you first. Amazing interview.

Huge fan of Krista Tippet. What a thrill to hear the conversation with Mr. Donahue. Brilliant discourse. Thank you!

Fabulous show! I was riveted. What a wonderfully human and thoughtful person Phil Donohue is. I am so grateful to have heard this inteview. At first, I wondered how this show biz personality would fit in to your spiritually themed show, but right away, with the beautiful story of the preacher to the rescuing miners, I understood. What a thoughtful and probing mind he has. And what a great heart!

Thank you so much, Krista, for sharing him with us.

I was a teenager who watched The Phil Donahue show every day after school. I remember a particular show when Mr. Donahue interviewed a woman who had written a book titled something like "Father's Day" - a recounting of sexual abuse by her father. Like his interview with the gay man, this interview was a bold move to bring an issue in the shadows into the light. It was so uncomfortable a subject, so unlikely a subject, I remember a woman in the audience who immediately got up to reassure everyone "this isn't going around." Meaning, sexual abuse by family members is rare. Yet, in that audience member's demeanor I sensed she was more trying to reassure herself. And, as came to be ... sexual abuse was not at all as rare as we'd like. In his television show, Mr. Donahue exhibited and continues to exhibit now courage not only in the face of hostility but in the face of passivity, inaction and apathy. Thank you for this important interview. You and Mr. Donahue show us how one person can make a difference just by having a conversation.

Oops, I thought they meant a live abortion. But about the gay issue, the Church teaches that they deserve special care and attention, and condemns discrimination, etc. Why criticize the Church?

Listening to Krista interview Phil Donahue was such a wonderful walk through the activist archive. What a great and refreshing show. He is terrific still and Krista's interview was incisive and probing, as always.

This was a lovely show and when it was over, I couldn't believe the time had gone so fast. Well done, Krista and Co. My dad is about the same age as Mr. Donahue, and grew up in Cleveland. I was struck by how similar their speaking styles are.

Loved your show with Phil Donahue . In the late 70s he did a show with adoptees who were searching for their parents. These people were hiring private detectives, spending all kinds of money in their quest. I am a birth parent who gave a child up for adoption in 1966. The show really got me thinking. When I had my son out of wedlock births were shameful. I went to a home for unwed mothers inChicago. We went by our first name and last initial to protect our identity. As a result of the show I wrote to the adoption agency and asked that my case be opened to my son after he was 18 years old should he choose to look for me. Long story short, my Son Steven are good friends, his adoptive mother, Judy and I are good friends. I have two great grand kids and a wonderful daughter in law. I've attended, their wedding, christening a, and a first communion. I owe this all to Phil Donahue.

Great show–I look forward to your program every week and enjoy digging up gems from years' past. I knew Phil Donahue had had a very famous talk show, but I am impressed by what a self-aware individual he has been. Few people (anyone?) are today willing to talk about how personal biases and stereotypes were (and are) challenged and transformed.

Donahue's assessment of the evolution of the human rights' activist is right on. Very wise man

Does anyone know what he meant by "that it was the Rock of Gibraltar and you were the feather?" This reference is lost on me; I tried googling it to no avail.

Thanks!

I love this show, and have listened to nearly all of the broadcasts, at least once. I have to say, however, that this was my least favorite interview I have heard on On Being.

I love, love, love Phil Donahue! Was very excited to see him on your show (which I also love). I grew up watching his program and am inspired by his politics. A favorite memory from his show was when he said, "God Bless You" to Madaline Murray O'Hair. I appreciate a good sense of humor!

Voices on the Radio

was the host of the daily talk show Donahue from 1967 to 1996. He's also an author and the producer/director of the documentary film, Body of War.

Production Credits

Host/Executive Producer: Krista Tippett

Head of Content: Trent Gilliss

Senior Producer: Lily Percy

Technical Director/Producer: Chris Heagle

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