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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 19, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 29
Buried LGBT treasure - My search for an historic episode of Phil Donahue
Section One
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Buried LGBT treasure - My search for an historic episode of Phil Donahue

by Mark Segal - Philadelphia Gay News

For all of us, there is a precious item that brings back pleasant memories. Just the thought of it brings joy. For me there is such an object, but, you might be surprised to know, I've never seen it.

From 1973 to 1975, yours truly was most likely the nation's most well-known Gay rights activist. Coming off of my disruptions of countless live TV shows, a series of reports on police departments and elected officials, and my work with then-Pennsylvania Gov. Milton Shapp, I was on almost every TV talk show at the time.

But one show stands out, and that's The Phil Donahue Show. Not just any episode of Donahue, since I did do three of them. No, this is the one that was taped in February 1973 and not only was I the guest, but my whole family appeared as well. That made us one of the first families of an out Gay person on TV, preceded only by An American Family on PBS a year and a half earlier.

Phil wanted to show a typical Gay family and have his audience dialogue with them. So there was my father, mother, and Phillip, my partner at the time, along with me for an hour of fun. Yes, fun. Every other time I did the Donahue show it was work, and involved lots of heated Bible thumpers, but this time with my family I actually enjoyed it, and it brings back fond memories - from what I can remember. I don't have a copy of the tape.

NO EASY FEAT
See, at that time there were no home video recorders - let alone Internet or YouTube - and to get a copy of a TV show, you had to buy it from the production company. The price was $100, and since Gay activists did not earn any sort of living in those days, I couldn't afford it. So I never got that tape, and now with my family all gone, it's the one item that is the golden grail of treasures for me.

When I ran across Phil Donahue a while back, he told me that many of his tapes from that time were lost in a fire. I've searched television museums and private collections, but it remains elusive.

I was telling this story to a few of my friends at the last Comcast Joint Diversity Council meeting, when some of the Comcast staff agreed to see if, through their connections, they could see if it still exists.

For weeks, I dug through boxes of memorabilia and finally found the official letters from Donahue, and even the TV release forms signed by my mother and father. The search continues, but I have a sinking feeling that the tape is one of those items that will live only in my memory. But to see my friends at Comcast so taken by the story and the adventure of the search has added a delightful ending to my quest, regardless of its outcome.

Mark Segal, PGN publisher, is the nation's most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. He can be reached at mark@epgn.com.

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