When I was in college in Chicago, I would listen to Downey on WMAQ, the AM country station that had recently flipped to talk and had hired the onetime singer-songwriter, then in his 50s, to stir things up. Downey had arrived by way of Sacramento, his latest stop in a long and bumpy broadcast career. He'd been fired from KFBK in 1983 for referring to a Sacramento city councilman as a "Chinaman."
As I recall, he didn't meet with much success at MAQ. But like Rush Limbaugh — who was hired as his replacement in Sacramento — the chain-smoking, sneering Downey just needed the right conditions in order to launch into the media stratosphere.
That turned out to be "The Morton Downey Jr. Show," taped in Seacaucus, N.J., and a sensation in the late 1980s. Why then? Why him? Why the conditions just ripe for a Morton Downey to invade the media space with his yelling, his insults, his insane studio audience and over-the-top daily confrontations?
That's the subject of "Evocateur," from the filmmakers behind"The Linguists,"
a documentary that's about as far removed from the study of a raging media cartoon bully as one can imagine. Here's the trailer. Speaking of language, note the phrase the Rev. Al Sharpton uses on an alleged homosexual guest of the show:
Downey got so famous so fast, you could see the flameout coming a mile away. But before the Nazi face-scrawl and the plummeting Nielsens, he made such a lasting impression that, in this age of cable screamers, he's long overdue for a re-evaluation.
I was trading emails earlier this month with Seth Kramer of Ironbound Films, the three-man team behind "Evocateur," when I mentioned that I thought the Morton Downey-George H.W. Bush fusion piece "Bushwhacked!" was possibly one of the most inspired pieces I'd ever seen on "Saturday Night Live."
"Amazingly, we just screened 'Bushwhacked' today," Seth wrote back. "'SNL' doesn’t make them quite like Dana Carvey anymore."
Sad to say, the NBC meanies have kept that parody off the interwebs, but we do have Chris Elliott Jr.:
A release date for "Evocateur" hasn't been announced.