LENNON, ONO, AND...MIKE DOUGLAS

By Mike Flaherty
Updated June 12, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

Somebody like that comes along once in a lifetime,” recalls a wistful Mike Douglas of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s weeklong stint as his cohosts in February 1972. ”I knew I was in the midst of something quite wonderful.” And just plain weird, as evidenced by The Mike Douglas Show With John Lennon & Yoko Ono (1972, unrated, $99.95), Rhino Home Video’s unabridged five-tape boxed set of the landmark shows.

Although the ultra-mainstream Douglas, now 72, was known to book the occasional rock band and regularly used cohosts, Lennon and Ono were another matter entirely. They fully exploited the shows as a forum for some of their favorite musicians (including the Chambers Brothers, Asian-American singer-songwriter duo Yellow Pearl, and Lennon’s first-time meeting and performance with his idol Chuck Berry) and, more strikingly, as an envelope-pushing means to turn America on to their countercultural convictions, among them environmentalism (with a little help from guest Ralph Nader), women’s lib, and biofeedback therapy.

”Let’s face it, John was off-the-wall,” Douglas says. ”Many of the things he said I totally agreed with, like his views on the Vietnam War. But at the time, you just couldn’t get on the air and say it.” Yet Lennon — who was already on shaky ground with U.S. immigration authorities — did.

Attempting to use the shows as an unthreatening way of exposing middle America to his politics, he booked Black Panthers chairman Bobby Seale and Chicago Seven activist Jerry Rubin. Instead, the latter appearance caught the FBI’s eye and resulted in the feds’ classifying Rubin as ”an extremist” and Lennon a ”Security Matter, New Left.” Coincidentally or not, he and Ono received deportation papers the following month.

Ever the affable host, Douglas played along (though he didn’t sing a duet with Lennon). A couple of flakily hysterical flower-power moments seem like Letterman precursors — John and Yoko phoning random people simply to say ”I love you,” the duo exhorting Douglas to join them in wading through the studio audience to touch as many people as possible.

”Ever bump your head and there’s that feeling you’re dazed?” asks Douglas, trying to recapture the shows’ vibe. ”That was what went on in my head: What are we doing here, and is this for real? And the audience just sat there with their mouths open.”

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