Monday, after I had finished my usual chores, I was trying to decide what to do with the afternoon. Suddenly, I remembered the old talk show, Donahue, which aired the whole time I was growing up in the 80s. Hosted by the follicle blessed Phil Donahue, husband of actress, Marlo Thomas, this was a show I heard a lot about in those days, but never watched. It was a precursor to Maury Povich and Geraldo Rivera, and even Oprah Winfrey and her protege, Dr. Phil. But, as I was a child in the early 80s, I wasn’t interested in watching talk shows. I do remember the theme music, though, because I think my mom was a fan, even though Donahue was pretty liberal for those days.
Anyway, I went searching on YouTube, and sure enough, someone had posted episodes of Donahue that dated to the early 80s. The first episode I watched was particularly engrossing, as it aired on November 17, 1982. I was ten years old, and AIDS was becoming the latest public health terror. Prior to that year, AIDS existed, but rank and file Americans didn’t hear about it, because people mainly got it in Africa. On that November 1982 episode of Donahue, there were several fascinating guests. There was, Dr. Dan William, a doctor who was one of the pioneers in treating AIDS. Phillip Lanzaratta, man who had Kaposi’s sarcoma was there to talk about the then rare cancerous lesion he had because of AIDS. And there was also, Larry Kramer, a leader of a gay men’s crisis organization. All three of these guests are now dead, although Larry Kramer died fairly recently– in 2020, I believe.
What really struck me about the AIDS episode of Donahue is just how new and terrifying the disease was, and just how little we knew about it. I grew up in the time when kids who were unlucky enough to get HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, were not allowed to go to school. Ryan White was one of my contemporaries; he was six months older than me. Years later, I also read the heartbreaking story of Ariel Glaser, daughter of actor Paul Michael Glaser (Starsky and Hutch) and his late white, Elizabeth Glaser, who started hemorrhaging when she was giving birth in 1981. She was given a blood transfusion that, sadly, was contaminated with the virus. She breastfed Ariel, who contracted the virus that way. Elizabeth didn’t know she had the virus until 1985, when she and Ariel both mysteriously got sick. Ariel died in 1988, and her mother helped found the Pediatric AIDS Foundation. Elizabeth, who died in 1994, also had a son with Paul Michael Glaser, Jake. Jake was born with HIV, but has survived into adulthood. Before she died, Elizabeth wrote a book called In the Absence of Angels, which is a great read. I read the paperback version years ago. Maybe I should try to read it again.
Since I had nothing better to do, I watched the next episode of Donahue that came up on YouTube. That episode, which aired October 14, 1981, had to do with homosexuality. The episode’s title was “Are Gays Born This Way?” I don’t think Lady Gaga was yet born when this show aired. 😉 The guests were Alan Bell, Ph.D. (author of “Sexual Preference”) and Lawrence Hatterer, M.D. (Professor of Psychiatry at Cornell University), each of whom came to their respective conclusions in different ways. I was particularly interested in Dr. Bell’s comments. He was very emphatic about his conclusions. He also reminded me of an old soap opera actor I used to enjoy on Guiding Light, Ron Raines, who played Alan Spaulding in the later years of the show. Interestingly enough, he took over a role that was played by the late Christopher Bernau, who was gay and died in 1988 of a heart attack that was brought on by AIDS. Bernau was only 49 years old when he passed– same age I am now.
I got caught up in the commercials, too, which were very different back then. They were longer, involved actual acting, and often starred people who went on to big fame. For instance, during the Donahue show, the actor Ian Ziering (of the original 90210 fame and a former Guiding Light alum) is in an ad for Scott paper towels. I’m pretty sure I saw Shelley Long, before her film and Cheers days, hawking furniture in another ad.
I looked up Alan Bell, and learned that his son, Joshua, is an incredibly gifted violinist. Much to my shame, I had no idea. He’s a few years older than I am, and very cute. Joshua Bell’s mother, Shirley Bell, worked as a therapist, and his father, Alan Bell, was a highly regarded psychologist at Indiana University. Shirley Bell’s mother was from Minsk, in Belarus, and her father was from Palestine; hence, she was Jewish. Bell was of Scottish descent. No wonder Joshua Bell had such great musical chops. 😉 The story goes that when Joshua was very young, he used rubber bands to make strings across the nine knobs on his dresser. His mother caught him plucking out music he’d heard her playing on the piano. Being a savvy sort of mom, Shirley Bell found her son a violin teacher. Now, Joshua Bell plays a Stradivarius and makes absolutely beautiful music. Seriously, I’m listening to him play as I write this… he really is extraordinary, and he doesn’t just play the classics.
I also learned that Joshua Bell had a touch of his dad in him. Some years ago, he conducted an experiment for the Washington Post, donning a New York Yankees baseball cap and playing 45 minutes for free in the Washington, DC metro station. He earned $32.17 from passersby, not counting the $20 someone who recognized him gave him. Three days prior to his “free” concert in the metro station, Bell earned a whole lot more money playing for paying customers at a concert. Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing for his article about the experiment.
As an aside, I always make a point of giving money to buskers. I know how much goes into learning how to play music, and I appreciate the ambiance they contribute, especially in Europe. There have been a few occasions when I’ve even cried listening to some of the more talented street players. Like, for instance, a certain Polish guitarist Bill and I met last time we visited Florence (in 2013). We will be going back to Florence at the end of this month. I hope I run into Piotr again… and I’m so glad we bought his beautiful CD.
My friend Donna used to work at a classical radio station when she was a teenager. She said she had a huge crush on Joshua Bell back then. I’m ashamed to say that I simply hadn’t heard of him until two days ago, but last night, I bought several of his albums not having heard them before. I am listening to them now, and I’m not sorry I bought them. And to think I have Phil Donahue to thank for this! Who says you can’t learn from TV? Or from YouTube, for that matter?
Speaking of YouTube… about a month ago, some people on RfM who had endured some of my videos told me that I should try singing on camera. I don’t typically do that, because I get very self-conscious about my appearance. Also, I don’t put on makeup or regular clothes unless I’m going out in public, which I don’t do very often these days. But one poster was pretty adamant that I should try it. He also looks forward to seeing me play guitar and sing at the same time on video. I decided to buy a mic stand after that discussion, but only got around to making an on camera video yesterday. No, I’m not quite ready to play and sing at the same time, but yesterday I decided to record my version of an Alison Krauss cover of “Dreaming My Dreams With You”. I got notified by my favorite karaoke track vendor that the recording was available, so I downloaded it… and since yesterday, it was chilly and cloudy and I wanted to stall walking the dogs, I decided to try it on camera. I kind of cringe watching it, but the music turned out nicely, I think.
I don’t know what today will hold. Wednesday isn’t a big household chore day for me, so I’ll probably watch more Donahue. He does seem to be pretty interested in homosexuality… or at least he was in the 80s. But what really blows me away are some of the comments from the audience members. Listening to some of these folks is a reminder of how different society was in the early 80s. It’s a poignant look at what people who weren’t (or aren’t) straight had to deal with in the days before many people started to accept that not everyone is cisgendered. I generally have a lot of compassion for people who are different, but I am especially compassionate towards people who grew up at a time when it was especially difficult to be who they really are without risking huge consequences. And listening to some of the callers and audience members talk about homosexuality really just drives home what a challenge that must have been for so many people. My heart goes out to them.
Well, so ends another blog post. I’m going to practice guitar and maybe walk the dogs… and then I might look for another rabbit hole to fall into. Later, y’all!