In his time, the late '80s, Morton Downey, Jr. was the hottest voice on television, loud and abrasive. For nearly two years, he brow beat and brawled his way to top ratings, ultimately alienating top tier guests, until his talk show devolved into something of a circus act, showcasing strippers and carnies, a precursor to Jerry Springer, and the in your face television of today. At the Paley Center on Wednesday night, television and media personalities: Donny Deutsch, Rosanna Scotto, Dick Cavett, Joe Conason, Dan Abrams, Peggy Siegal and others gathered for a screening of documentary Evocateur: Morton Downey Jr. As much as everyone knew about this chain smoking loud mouth, the documentary still held many surprises, including his anxiety of influence over his famous dad.
Filmmakers Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller, Jeremy Newburger, were kids fascinated by all this tumult, particularly the Tawana Brawley case which Downey got behind, along with a heavy and slick Reverend Al Sharpton who took a few punches himself. Not only was Morton Downey Jr. a champion of the Tawana Brawley case, but he staged his own hoax in an airport men's room claiming skinheads attacked him, chopped his hair and designed swastikas with black sharpies on him. The filmmakers said they knew they had to include that moment. American civil rights attorney Gloria Allred had a sympathetic view of Downey. At the Paley Center reception, she noted how hard it is to be successful in television. Shouldn't he have learned from the Tawana Brawley drama? Ultimately the truth would come out? Downey's story is particularly sad, his speedy downfall, his hybris, his tragic inability to stop even the smoking by which he would die of lung cancer in 2001.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.