A 10-year-old boy was on stage doing his song and dance routine in front of an audience in the basement of St. Bernadine School. He was not particularly nervous, neither was he particularly good. But he got better-a lot better.
The kid, Mike Dowd, a.k.a. Mike Douglas, was born in Chicago in 1925 and moved to Forest Park at the age of 3 or 4. Outgoing and upbeat, he melded into his new neighborhood nicely as did his Irish-American family. But on the day of his 81st birthday-Aug. 11-Forest Parkers joined the nation in mourning Dowd’s death.
“He was a warm and wonderful uncle, and a model family man,” Mary Hart of Riverside said.
Hart is the daughter of Dowd’s now deceased brother, meaning that her uncle was the man that millions of television viewers tuned in daily as the host of “The Mike Douglas Show.” At its peak, Dowd’s daytime program attracted more than 6 million viewers each day.
Hart, of course, remembers her uncle for some of his lesser known accomplishments.
“When I was about 12-years-old, he took me to see and hear “Porgy and Bess,” Hart said. “At another performance we went backstage to meet a crush I had back then. The actor, Jeff Chandler. You can imagine what a thrill it was to get his autograph.”
When Dowd moved to Forest Park the country was six years into the Great Depression, the Cubs were locking up the second of three pennants in the 1930s, J. Edgar Hoover was solving crimes and Woody Guthrie was singing about them.
At a young age in Forest Park, Dowd demonstrated a love for performing. With his older brother Bob he would impersonate performers like the Ink Spots in two-part harmony. The love of performing stayed with him and Dowd continued to entertain in school, at church programs, local events and even minstrels.
Gradually weaning his way out of Forest Park and the Midwest, Dowd honed his relaxed and humorous style as a staff announcer and singer at radio station WKY in Oklahoma City. There, he met and fell in love with Genevieve Purnell, his wife of 62 years. But World War II was being waged and Dowd served two years on a munitions ship in the Pacific, according to Hart.
Returning home after the war, Dowd and Purnell married. He then landed a job as a featured performer on the “Kay Kyser” radio and television shows, out of which came a couple of hit singles. In the late 1950s, as rock music established itself and Dowd’s style became less marketable, his engaging affability helped him land a gig as the host of “Hi Ladies!,” an afternoon program on WGN-TV.
Larry King, host of Larry King Live on CNN, was quoted by the Chicago Sun-Times shortly after Dowd’s death.
“He was a genuine nice guy,” King said. “It was easy to be around him. He had a relaxed measure about him, and he also had an incredible ability to get great guests.”
In 1962, Dowd was recruited to do another network television talk and entertainment show, this one bearing his name. For two decades the syndicated telecast of “The Mike Douglas Show” rode high in the ratings. Some 260 stations carried the kid from Forest Park.
Dowd traded quips and exchanged comments with stars like Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope and Grace Kelly. He switched gears with the princess, taking his staff to Monaco for a week of telecasts out of Rainier’s castle.
By 1981 Dowd retired from show business to inflict upon himself the popular punishment known as golf-his passion away from the stage. He and his wife retired to West Palm Beach in Florida where Dowd often golfed with Jackie Gleason, Burt Reynolds and Perry Como.
“My Uncle Mike’s passion was golf,” Hart said. “His father’s passion were the ponies.”
Dowd was family man, according to his niece, and didn’t fall victim to many of the stereotypical vices that seem to plague Hollywood stars.
“He was good to the whole family,” Hart said. “He bought his parents a beautiful home in Greyslake. Though he wasn’t at all keen on gambling, he was always there to take his dying dad to the race tracks.”
Pretty good for a Forest Park kid who, in 1935, was no great shakes on the stage in the St. Bernardine school basement.