Radio star slams double standards
Alan Jones has an ally in John-Michael Howson, who like the Sydney shock jock, has found trouble on the airwaves after saying the wrong thing.
A sprightly Howson, 83, told news.com.au at his Melbourne bayside home that he feels sorry for Jones after the recent furore at his comments directed at New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Jones has been given one more chance by Macquarie Media bosses after he suggested Prime Minister Scott Morrison should "shove a sock down" his New Zealand counterpart's throat last month.
Howson was given the flick from his long-term employer 3AW in Melbourne, also owned by Macquarie Media, in December 2017.
Never short of a controversial opinion, at the time Howson told Greens voters who were celebrating the Northcote by-election win in November 2017 they were "nut-jobs," and "idiots" and that they should "go out to the barn and hang yourselves".
After that, 3AW management parted ways with him after a long association.
"I think it is all manufactured nonsense," he told news.com.au of the Jones drama, and what happened to him.
"I think using racial slurs or calling people vile names if they are a certain race, that is horrible, nobody should do that. But if you make a joke like 'jump in a lake' or 'put a sock in it,' or 'take a long walk on a short pier,' I mean that is what people say.
"That's part of their language. I have sympathy for Alan. I don't think he meant anything malicious by it."
Howson also believes there is a double standard when it comes to men and women in power, and what is said on air.
"If he had said that about a male politician, they probably would not have said anything," he said.
"But if you say it about a female, it's like 'well the poor little darlings can't put up with it,' it's not like she doesn't have any power, she's the Prime Minister.
"I think she had the perfect reply when she said revenge for her is winning the Bledisloe Cup."
Howson also believes that on social media, there are rules for some, and rules for others.
"I mean, people are frightened to say anything," he said.
"Alan Jones can't say anything but someone like Clementine Ford, or any of those people, can say the vilest things they like. They get a free pass to say the most vile and disgusting things and nobody says anything to them.
"But Alan Jones, it is because he is very powerful that this happens."
Howson says he has a lot of gratitude to 3AW for the career he had, but he said it was the right decision for him to leave.
"I don't miss the radio at all," he said. "I felt I had reached the end of the line.
"The management at 3AW were always very good to me, but we had reached the end of the line."
He does sometimes believe the loudest critics are often keyboard warriors that are sitting at home, pointing towards organisations like Sleeping Giants.
"The people that write to the advertisers are usually sitting at home living on an unemployment cheque," he said.
"I say to them, 'get stuffed,' people have to start to stand up to this."
Sitting with Howson in his home in Melbourne is an entertaining experience; he is never short of something to say.
The sprawling house is full of artwork and there are two light shades that belonged to the late Hollywood superstar Bette Davis that take prime place on the mantelpiece of his front living room.
He bought them at a sale at her house in Hollywood after she died in 1989.
Howson suffered a stroke in early 2017 and now walks with a limp and a walking stick, but his mind is as sharp as a tack.
He spends his time writing musicals, and is working on a script about famous US singing group The Andrew Sisters.
While many Australians know him as an entertainment reporter by the moniker "Hollywood", he is an accomplished scriptwriter and musical producer, most famously the man behind Dusty The Musical about Dusty Springfield, and Shout, the legendary Australian musical which told the story of Johnny O'Keefe.
He wrote Dream Lover with his cousin Frank Howson.
The show with David Campbell in the lead as Bobby Darin last year broke records at Melbourne's Arts Centre.
He believes the show should still be going.
"David had other commitments, but instead of getting another leading man, which God knows in Australia, there are enough of them, they closed it down," he said.
Howson spent a lot of his career living in the Los Angeles, from 1988 to 2004, when he moved back to Melbourne.
He said he had a wonderful time living in Los Angeles, and he believes the Americans have a certain energy that attracted him to the country.
"I think people in Australia have a sort of work-to-live attitude, whereas Americans live to work," he said. "It's highly competitive and I got used to that.
"I came back to Australia and it took me a while to slow down, but I love it now.
"We have got this nice house, a beautiful pool and a lovely garden."
As well as interviewing and being a confidant for many Australian celebrities, Howson has interviewed - for Australian television - all the big guns in show business, including many celebrities who have passed away.
A number stand out for him, including Bette Davis, Barbra Streisand, Dustin Hoffman and Sean Connery.
"I've interviewed a lot of stars that are no longer with us," he said.
"With Bette Davis, she had a stroke and she still had her cigarette during the interview, but it was only for show.
"She still looked marvellous and she was all done up and she had great wit."
With Hoffman, the pair bonded over musical theatre.
"Dustin said it was one of the best interviews he'd ever given," Howson said. "He had just done Tootsie, and we were talking about cross-dressing in the theatre.
"You know back in the day it use to be men who played female roles, we were talking about that."
Sean Connery, who can be tough to interview, bonded because they shared a mutual friend.
He interviewed Connery at one of the famous Hollywood movie junkets.
"He said, 'Sit down and have a cup of coffee with me,' and here I am with this person who is supposed to be notoriously difficult, having a wonderful chat and a cup of coffee," he said.
"All the other people were thinking, 'What does he know?' but it was because we shared a mutual friend."
While he may not be on radio anymore and it's unlikely he will return, Howson says he will never retire, or stop saying what he thinks.
The focus for him now is on getting The Andrews Sisters musical done, and then on to the next project - whatever that may be.
Luke Dennehy is a freelance entertainment reporter. Continue the conversation @LukeDennehy