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November 6, 2013 6:41 PM   Subscribe

For those of us who remember, it's hard to believe that the "Morton Downey Jr." show (and consequently the height of Downey's stardom) lasted just two years. A new documentary has attempted to fill in the blanks of his life before and after that very brief celebrity.

The son of a famous Irish American Tenor and a dancer/actress, Morton would try his hand at a number of different careers (including several stabs as a singer) before he fell into talk radio in the early eighties. Then, at the age of 53, he created the syndicated "Morton Downey Jr. Show" in 1987 and became a star virtually overnight. The documentary "Evocateur" (Trailer) attempts to make some sense as to how he came to create such an angry spectacle that went on to influence talk television, politics and certain dark corners of the Internet (Netflix currently has the documentary on streaming).

Also: The AV Club did an in-depth look at one episode of his show for their "A Very Special Episode" series a year ago.

Finally, one brave soul listened to his 1989 record album so you don't have to (and reported on what he found).
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI (28 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
There's a very, very small number of over-the-top right wingers whose schtick I found endearing. Downey was one of them.
posted by davebush at 6:51 PM on November 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


My exposure to him was limited to a Mad Magazine spoof. Getting my hands on a Mad Magazine was rare (the selection and availability at Waldenbooks in Helena, MT was sketchy) so I ended up being very overexposed. I had a very hard time believing that such a show existed.
posted by Brocktoon at 7:23 PM on November 6, 2013


I was in 10th grade or so when Morton Downey, Jr. hit his peak, and as a fifteen year old I found that show *amazing*. Dad was always watching Donahue, which I found dull, but this show was like your Id leapt out of your body and manifested itself as a TV show. These days that kind of shock TV is par for the course, but it was a very new thing at the time.
posted by zardoz at 7:28 PM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was a pablum puking liberal of a 17-year-old when he struck TV gold, but it was still a blast to tune in to Mort's hijinks. Documentary sounds ace. Thanks for the post!
posted by porn in the woods at 7:29 PM on November 6, 2013


I just remember some guy in the front row waving a giant American flag while Morton Downey was preaching.
posted by goethean at 7:30 PM on November 6, 2013


I wish I could find the comedy bit I remember about "Morton Downey Junior Junior", a pint-sized version of Downey even more racist, sexist, and in-your-face than his progenitor.
posted by ob1quixote at 7:34 PM on November 6, 2013


At the height of Downey's fame I was a shy, reserved, not likely to speak up in a crowd early teen. I was in awe of his abrasiveness and confidence. I think I started smoking at that age at least in part in imitation of Downey.
posted by The Gooch at 7:34 PM on November 6, 2013


Oh man the smoking. He lit the next cigarette off the last and I vaguely remember him having a fish bowl instead of an ashtray.

I was in like 5th or 6th grade, all the kids were obsessed.

The documentary is pretty good if a bit disjointed I thought.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:35 PM on November 6, 2013


Damn, do I remember Downey in High School.

I think I was in a cognitive dissonance kind of headspace; I was young and male and wanted to be all "GRAR, PACK SNARL" as I watched it, but the future West Coast liberal was even back then thinking "This guy ain't quite right..."

Great theater, tho. Look forward to the docu.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:04 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


If there was a channel that ran his re-runs back to back with the newest Jack Van Impe episodes, I would hand write a letter to my cable company begging them to start the feed at like 1:00 AM Central, and after 3:30 I could give a fuck.
posted by timsteil at 8:38 PM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


He's no Wally George.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:00 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I prefer Robert.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 9:07 PM on November 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


His show was before my time but after watching the documentary I know I would have loved it when I was younger. Hell, I watched some episodes and clips on youtube and I love it now.
posted by edeezy at 9:22 PM on November 6, 2013


He's no Wally George.

Why choose one or the other when you can have both?
posted by The Gooch at 9:29 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


He was Tomie De Paola's cousin (which the doc doesn't mention).
posted by brujita at 12:53 AM on November 7, 2013


Worst thing to ever happen to TV.

Seriously.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:14 AM on November 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


His show was very popular during my time at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. The campus would come to a stand still when it aired. Hundreds of budding fascists cheering him on (no matter what poison he was spewing on a given day) without a hint of irony. Good times.
posted by Optamystic at 4:43 AM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


A better person than I can find Ronald Ann's poem about Downey. I've spent the last fifteen minutes looking for it, but nothing has turned up.
posted by pxe2000 at 4:44 AM on November 7, 2013


Worst thing to ever happen to TV.

Seriously.


I think the case could be made for the current uselessness of the medium being rooted in this particular programming decision.
posted by mikelieman at 5:10 AM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I tend to associate Downey with the late eighties, which were a pretty depressing time for me personally (stuck in the same purgatory of minimum-wage jobs and underemployment that a lot of young people today are familiar with) and in general was a dismal time in America. Bush the Elder had been elected in an astonishingly cynical campaign involving race-baiting, which meant that Reaganism was going to continue despite scandals like Iran-Contra and the savings and loan crisis (which involved Bush's son Neil). It was easy to believe that the cyberpunk future of Robocop, in which some people had cool toys but the rest of the world went to hell, was just around the corner, which is why it was appropriate that Downey had a small role in Predator 2 (set seven years in the future) as a pseudo-muckraking, why-aren't-the-people-in-charge-doing-anything reporter.

I wasn't unhappy to see Downey's career implode, as it was fairly obvious that he was just a gasbag without a lot of substance behind his bluster, something that was confirmed by his staged "skinhead attack" stunt. Unfortunately, despite my hopes, Rush Limbaugh didn't have a similar career arc.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:11 AM on November 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


I tend to associate Downey with the late eighties, which were a pretty depressing time for me personally

Dude, The Reagan Administration sucked for EVERYBODY.
posted by mikelieman at 5:12 AM on November 7, 2013


It was easy to believe that the cyberpunk future of Robocop, in which some people had cool toys but the rest of the world went to hell, was just around the corner

Easy to believe and also true. Welcome in. Ain't it fun!
posted by billiebee at 6:21 AM on November 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am always happy to be reminded about a documentary I heard about months ago and am now able to find on Pirate Bay. Forget the article...
posted by Napierzaza at 6:42 AM on November 7, 2013


He was Tomie De Paola's cousin (which the doc doesn't mention).

That's so bizarre. How incongruous.

I loved the film, I thought it had a great stylistic approach to the story of his life.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 8:02 AM on November 7, 2013


I was always a Wally George gal myself, and I feel that the audio greeting on his website home page justifies that choice. Hi, Wally!
posted by queensissy at 8:44 AM on November 7, 2013


My exposure to him was limited to a Mad Magazine spoof.

Ah, yes. I believe they dubbed him "Moron Downer, Jr."

I wish I could find the comedy bit I remember about "Morton Downey Junior Junior", a pint-sized version of Downey even more racist, sexist, and in-your-face than his progenitor.

I vaguely remember something like that, but I definitely remember Chris Elliott, Jr. on Late Night w/ David Letterman.
posted by Atom Eyes at 8:58 AM on November 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't follow the whole Hollywood thing, so for years I got Robert Downey Jr and Morton Downey Jr mixed up. I notice their breakthrough into fame came pretty much simultaneously, so too.
posted by crapmatic at 9:43 AM on November 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


i was an oblivious child while morton downey jr was on television, i guess, because i don't remember ever being aware of him EXCEPT that i got a big book of secrets and hints and stuff for super mario bros. 3, and in addition to showing how to find all the warp whistles and a set of cheat-sheets for the patterns in the card-matching bonus screens, it informed me that the boss of world 2 was named morton koopa jr. if downey's tv show didn't involve him shooting magic projectiles out of a wand while jumping randomly around the stage then it just can't live up to its namesake
posted by titus n. owl at 10:07 AM on November 7, 2013


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