Oprah Talks to Phil Donahue
Oprah: And that was one of your big interviews?
Phil: For a whole hour! How the hell did I do it? I did have on the Smothers Brothers once, right in the middle of their CBS controversy [over anti–Vietnam War jokes on their variety show]. A woman called in and asked Tom Smothers, "Do you believe in God?" and he said, "Yeah, but I don't know if he's still doin' such a good job."
Oprah: Wasn't your first show about atheism?
Phil: Yes—with [late atheism activist] Madalyn Murray O'Hair, whom I'd had on my radio show [Conversation Piece, which ran from 1963 to 1967]. In those days, I was learning what people were really interested in. That's also when I discovered gynecology.
Oprah: And what mattered to women.
Phil: Right. During my first year on TV, I realized how important the issues Dr. Phil McGraw talks about today were to our viewers, even back in 1968. A woman might say on the air, "My husband doesn't kiss me anymore," and the phone lines would sizzle. Everybody wanted in on it. People would say things like "Why does my husband always have to drive?" or "Every night I say to my husband, 'I love you,' and from the other side of the mattress I hear, 'Ditto.'" We also covered social issues, which I'd done on radio, too. On "Conversation Piece" we'd had Malcolm X and [then U.S. attorney general] Bobby Kennedy as guests, but only because they didn't have to come to Dayton. I arranged with the phone company to push two buttons and connect my caller to Bobby Kennedy in his office. So the Dayton housewife got to talk to Bobby and to Malcolm directly.
Oprah: Did the Dayton housewife know who Malcolm was?
Phil: Yes. And by the time I had a TV show, she was even more aware of the unrest in this country. During our first full year on the air, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were killed.
Oprah: Not to mention what was happening in the women's movement.
Phil: In 1967 your boss could look down your dress and there was nothing you could do about it.
Oprah: Your boss could even say, "I like your boobs," and there was still nothing you could do. Were you a natural feminist?
Phil: My God, no. After 16 years of Catholic education followed by [the University of] Notre Dame, this was essentially the idea I had: Find a good woman and marry her.