Oprah Talks to Phil Donahue
Oprah: And what was your definition of a good woman?
Phil: Cookies and Betty Crocker. Women on the show would say, "Children in this culture get too much mother and not enough father," and I remember the cold wind coming at me. That was certainly true in my house.
Oprah: In your first marriage, were you the traditional workaholic guy who had traditional expectations of your wife?
Phil: Sure. And I was very ambitious. In the early days of the show, I knew we couldn't be ponderous—we had to enter screaming. We had all the nervousness that, in the long run, ensured we didn't get too self-conscious. On the show with Madalyn, we burned the town down immediately—kaboom! Then I put a gay guy on in 1968—a real, live homosexual sitting right next to me. I was terrified.
Oprah: You were terrified?
Phil: Yes. I'm from Notre Dame. And believe me, the one thing you didn't want to be doing at Notre Dame was hangin' with gay people. Sure enough, during that show, the third caller said, "Birds of a feather...." Then another caller said to the guest, "How does Phil look to you?" The guy said, "That's an irrelevant question."
Oprah: I would love to see that tape!
Phil: If you don't understand those feelings, then you don't understand homophobia. There's a reason for the closet. As the years went by after that show, I got involved in gay politics. And through my activism, I began to realize what it must be like to be born, to live, and to die in the closet. I can't even imagine it. Gayness is not a moral issue, yet no institution on earth has promoted homophobia more than the church. That's what's so ironic about the scandal in the Catholic Church. Here you have the most homophobic institution in the world with the largest closet of homosexuals.
Oprah: You spoke out not only on gay rights but on civil rights. Wasn't Jesse Jackson on your show more than anyone?
Phil: I wanted to exploit the wonderful platform I had. I didn't want to do people favors to the point where everybody looked soppy and we'd die of bad ratings—but we didn't have to: Jesse drew a big crowd. All those shows about issues had a great audience. Muhammad Ali is a good example. A woman in the front row said to him, "Why are you always throwing your blackness at us?" He said, "Why are you always throwing your whiteness at me? Take that white Jesus off the wall. I know a lot of black women who are prettier than these white Miss Americas. And how come devil's food cake is black and angel food cake is white?" Ali was returning every serve. It was fabulous! I was running around the audience like a madman because I couldn't get to people fast enough. Nobody was doing this on TV, and certainly not in the daytime. It was a wonderful odyssey that I'd wish on anybody.