Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ed McMahon R.I.P.

Long time announcer for The Tonight Show, Ed McMahon died today at the age of 86. He was the announcer on the show for thirty years, the longest tenure of any announce on The Tonight Show. He was also well known as the host of the original Star Search.

Ed McMahon was born on March 6, 1923 in Detroit, Michigan. As his father was a vaudevillian, his family moved frequently. By the time he graduated high school, McMahon had attended fifteen different schools. He wanted to be an entertainer from a very young age. After he moved in with his grandmother in Lowell, Massachusetts, he served as a travelling bingo announcer around New England. He took lessons in elocution at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. During World War II he served as a U.S. Marine fighter pilot, although he spent much of his time as a flight instructor and test pilot. Following World War II he attended Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. and majored in speech and drama. After graduation he was an announcer at a Philadelphia radio station and made his first appearances on local television. He was called back to service in the Marines during the Korean War.

After the Korean War McMahon once more returned to the Philadelphia television market. He eventually moved to New York in hope of breaking into national television. He made his first national appearance on television as a clown on the show Big Top in 1950. In 1952 he became an announcer for Bandstand, later to be known as American Bandstand. He held the position for eight years. His big break came as the announcer on the daytime game show Who Do You Trust, hosted by a young man named Johnny Carson. McMahon narrated the movie Dementia in 1955, then served as the announcer on the game show Do You Trust Your Wife (1957-1962).

It was in 1962 that Johnny Carson was picked to succeed Jack Paar on The Tonight Show. McMahon introduced Carson with his catchphrase, "Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeere's Johnny!" McMahon was also joking called "the Human Laugh Track" for his tendency to laugh out loud at Carson's routines and jokes. Over the years McMahon would do other jobs in addition to The Tonight Show. He was a spokesman for products including Alpo, Budweiser, Breck Shampoo, Mercedes Benz, and Sara Lee foods. He also promoted the now defunct American Family Publishers magazine subscription service and its sweepstakes.

Ed McMahon was the host of the game show Missing Links in 1963 and a regular on Match Game from 1967 to 1968. In 1969 he was the announcer on Concentration; Johnny Carson was the host. From the Sixties into the Nineties McMahon also appeared on such TV shows as What's My Line, Here's Lucy, Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, The Johnny Cash Show, The Flip Wilson Show, The Sonny and Cher Show, Hollywood Squares, Hee Haw, Alf, The Cosby Show, The Larry Sanders Show, The Simpsons, and Scrubs. From 1983 to 1992 he was the host of Star Search. He also a regular on The Tom Show.

McMahon also appeared in many movies. including The Incident, Slaughter's Big Rip-Off, Fun with Dick and Jane, and, most recently, Jelly (to be released later this year).

Ed McMahon may well be the most famous announcer of all time. There is a good reason for this, as he was one of the best in his profession. He had a stentorian voice that could be heard clearly. He was also the perfect sidekick, not only laughing at Carson's jokes and routines, but setting up jokes for Carson. He was the perfect straight man to Carson's gag man. Carson's thirty year tenure on The Tonight Show was not due simply to Carson's talent, but McMahon's as well.

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