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Don Lane (13 November 1933 22 October 2009), born Morton Donald Isaacson, was an Americanmarker-born Australian entertainer, talk show host and singer.

Early life

Lane was born in New York Citymarker to a Jewish father (Jacob) and a Catholic mother (Dolly), who later converted to Judaism. He had two siblings. He was raised in The Bronxmarker, where he attended DeWitt Clinton High School and was classmates with Judd Hirsch and Garry Marshall.

Early work

Lane began his working life as a nightclub performer and singer, usually doing a mix of comedy and singing. He appeared at many clubs in Hawaiimarker, Los Angelesmarker, Las Vegas and New Yorkmarker. He briefly appeared on one episode of the Ed Sullivan program in the late 1950s as one half of a double act. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in the early 1950s and was commissioned as an officer and served in the artillery. Lane later toured for two years entertaining the troops.

He says that he took his stagename 'Lane' from Frankie Laine. He worked alongside Johnny Carson, Sammy Davis, Jr., Wayne Newton and others.



Irish comedian Dave Allen presented a talk show on Sydneymarker television for TCN-9marker in 1965. He was sacked, some say for his trademark anti-Catholic humour. Nine producer John Collins looked for replacement hosts to fill in for the rest of the season, and found Lane working in the well-known nightclub the Copacabana in Hawaii. While in the United States, John Collins asked Las Vegas performer Wayne Newton if there was anybody he should consider as a replacement; Newton's answer was "Don Lane".

Lane was given the host's chair for six weeks. He planned to base his version of the show on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. Lane's run was variously referred to as The Tonight Show, Tonight with Don Lane, and Sydney Tonight. Within a month, Nine settled on Lane as permanent host, with the result that his initial six-week contract was extended to forty weeks.

Work on a coaxial cable linking Melbourne with Sydney had begun in June 1959, and was completed on 5 February 1963. On 7 July 1965 Lane appeared on a then-innovative live split-screen link with Graham Kennedy via the cable.

Don Lane and Graham Kennedy split-screen via co-axial cable

In March 1968, Lane was charged with importing marijuana into Australia, and was remanded in custody. He strenuously protested his innocence, claiming that the drugs were planted into his jacket pocket by a former business associate who wanted revenge, and was found not guilty, being defended by barrister Marcus Einfeld.

He returned to nightclub work in the United States, including stints at Las Vegasmarker.


While back in the U.S. Don Lane played Professor Harold Hill in the Las Vegas production of The Music Man. Lane also appeared in the U.S. sketch comedy series Wow, hosted by Ken Berry, which also featured Cheryl Ladd and Steve Martin. He came back to Australia in 1975 to appear at a benefit concert for the victims of Cyclone Tracy.

While in Sydney in 1975, Don Lane was chosen to replace Ernie Sigley as host of the Melbourne-based The Ernie Sigley Show. The night before, after filming for the first show of the season was completed, Sigley had criticized Nine Network boss Kerry Packer. Packer contacted Lane, and the two flew down to Melbourne. Sigley was fired that afternoon and Lane took his place. The show was renamed as The Don Lane Show, and it ran until 1983. In absolute terms, Lane's stint on The Don Lane Show was to make him the most highly paid performer on Australian television, and The Don Lane Show was and still is the highest rated variety program in Australian television history.

Lane's replacement of Ernie Sigley was to result in ongoing resentment, culminating in a stoush where Lane punched Sigley at the Logies ceremony in 1988.


Uri Geller, Doris Stokes and broadcaster Kevin Arnett regularly appeared on The Don Lane Show discussing psychic and paranormal themes. On one occasion, the skeptic and debunker James Randi was invited onto the program. A heated exchange occurred at the end of the interview, which led to Lane saying, "we're going for a commercial break and you can piss off. We'll be back with Diana Trask". Lane then walked off the set, sweeping the props from the small table, to audience applause. The aftermath of the event led to a national and personal apology to Randi, which was televised through the Nine Network.

The Don Lane Show ended on 13 November 1983, his 50th birthday. His final episode ran for two and a half hours and featured such stars as Sammy Davis, Jr., Phyllis Diller, and David Bowie as well as musical appearances by John Farnham and Colleen Hewett. After the conclusion of The Don Lane Show he moved back to the United States for two years, living in Los Angeles.

By 1987 he was back in Australia as a personality for Network Ten, hosting programs like You've Got to Be Joking, Late Night Australia and the 1987 presentation of the TV Week Logie Awards.


In 1993, Lane made a guest appearance on the very last episode and closing segment of the comedy program The Late Show on Australia's ABCmarker network. He also hosted American NFL broadcasts, which included live broadcasts from Super Bowl XXVII and Super Bowl XXVIII. Don also covered NCAA basketball for the ABC and was a colour commentator for the NBL on Foxtel.

In 1994, Lane hosted two specials for the Nine Network, The Best of The Don Lane Show. Each special was two hours dedicated to the most memorable moments from The Don Lane Show.

Don Lane was honoured in a 1996 episode of This Is Your Life dedicated to him and his career in television. The episode featured tributes from John Farnham, Billy Connolly, Bert Newton, and Garry Marshall.

He was also involved in a special entitled Don Lane's America, and hosted such programs as The Mad Mad World of Sports and 40 Years of Television.


In 2003 Lane was inducted into the TV Week Logie Awards Hall of Fame.

In 2007 Don Lane released his "tell all" auto-biography entitled Never Argue With a Mug. The book follows Lane's career and explains show-business scandals in detail that he had personally experienced.

In June 2008, it was announced that Don Lane was suffering from Alzheimer's Disease and had been living in a care facility. News of Lane's condition was saddening for the entertainment community in Australia who viewed him as a TV legend. The news explained the lack of public appearances Don had made since his induction into the Logie Awards Hall of Fame.

Personal life

He married Jayne Ambrose, a talent agent, with whom he had a son, PJ Isaacson (also known as PJ Lane). PJ moved to the United States to further his basketball career, although he became an entertainer in his own right. He moved temporarily to Sydney in 2009 to look after his ailing father.

Although Lane and Ambrose divorced later, they remained good friends and Ambrose was his agent for the rest of his life.

Don Lane and Bert Newton

Lane forged an enduring partnership with Bert Newton, an Australian comedian and entertainment personality. Newton had hitherto been strongly identified with Australian TV icon Graham Kennedy. Both Lane and Newton maintain that the first time they met was on-air, during the first episode of the Don Lane Show. Each describes that there was instant 'chemistry', and that they never made any deliberate attempt to build the relationship; it just happened.

It is widely believed that Lane christened Newton Moonface. However, Newton later claims that Lane asked writer Mike McColl-Jones for Newton's childhood nickname, and McColl-Jones tipped Newton off about this; Newton and McColl-Jones then made up the nickname and McColl-Jones fed Lane the false information. In any case, the nickname stuck.

Newton took much pleasure in sending up Lane's singing, sometimes by playing his records at half-speed while miming Lane's performance. Lane sometimes responded in kind by "sending up" Newton's own record, The Bert and Patti Family Album.

Logie awards

Logie Awards were made in each state separately during the 1960s and early 70s, since it was technically difficult to broadcast live programming interstate. Don Lane performed in Sydney, while Graham Kennedy held the same timeslot in Melbourne.

New South Walesmarker Logies: Milesago

  • 1966: Most Popular Male and Most Popular Live Show (Tonight with Don Lane)
  • 1967: Most Popular Male and Most Popular Live Show (Tonight with Don Lane)
  • 1968: Best Male Personality and Best Show (Tonight with Don Lane)
  • 1969: Best Male Personality and Best Show (Tonight with Don Lane)
  • 1970: Best Male Personality and Best Local Show (Tonight Show with Don Lane)
  • 1974: Most Popular Male and Most Popular Show (The Don Lane Show)

National Logie awards:

  • Gold Logie
  • Most Popular Male Personality
  • Victoria: Most Popular Male
  • Most Popular Show


  • Don Lane was the head basketball coach at Sydney's St Aloysius' Collegemarker from 1989 to 2001, earning a CAS (Combined Associated Schools) Championship in 1999.


Lane died from a dementia-related illness caused by Alzheimer's disease on 22 October 2009. where during the last eighteen months of his life, due to his deteriorating health, he was forced from his Sydney apartment into Montefiore Nursing Home in Randwick in Sydney's east. A private Jewish funeral ceremony attended by close family and friends was held at Macquarie Park Cemetery a day after his passing.

Further reading



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