You mess with Harpo Marx, you get the horns.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Last Hey-O into the Sunset

Ed McMahon has passed on at age 86. R.I.P. He was a gregarious first among second bananas and a veteran U.S. Marine pilot to boot*, not to forget the long running announcer for Jerry Lewis's annual Muscular Dystrophy Telethon here in the States. He seemed a decent chap.

He did have a reputation as a bit of ...well, a lush, although this was probably played up for laughs on The Tonight Show. There is absolutely no way Ed drank as much as Johnny Carson said he did, unless he had a piston engine for a liver. He was the long-time spokesperson for Budweiser and people understood that no only did he hawk the product, but he used it in excessive moderation. He likely had a Clydesdale to pull around his personal stash of grog. OK, Ed probably drank more in a week than most human beings do in 20 years of Spring Breaks. Still, he held his liquor much better than say, someone like Dean Martin or Foster Brooks.

Also, you just had to love the way Ed graciously slid down the couch as the show went on and the guests piled up. No one really does that type of thing anymore. I mean, maybe Jay did it and maybe Conan will include it, but no one really has that show where the guests are all hanging out with one another and the star is more like the host of a party than a television programme. Ed was the guy at the end of the room, tossing back some liquor (with Bud chasers) and laughing along with everyone without getting in anyone's way.

He also hosted Star Search, a program that paved the way for American Idol, Britain's/America's Got Talent, and countless other contemporary reality talent shows. So, nobody's perfect.

I'm kidding of course. Ed brought a bit of show-biz gravitas to the programme. Without him, it would have felt like one of those 50's American TV programmes, more noted for being sponsored by Texaco or Esso than for any talent on it. Ed was the stately old pro overseeing the big contest and encouraging the motely crew of contestants. His connection to The Tonight Show always gave people the impression that a win on Star Search could just possibly lead to that big visit to Johnny. Ed was kind enough to not discourage such loopy dreams. It was a completely different vibe than the one Simon Cowell plays on Idol. If Cowell had hosted Star Search, losers would have been greeted with lines like, "I'll let Johnny know how disappointed you are," or "Johnny would have just hated that act."

Stew and I once wrote a book about Ed and Dick Clark**. Well, it wasn't really about Ed and Dick as much as it was an excuse to write really silly things, put words in people's mouths, observe how ridiculous some celebrities and politicians can be (not Ed and Dick), and make up bizarre situations that bore only a slim connection, if any, to reality.

In other words, it was the warm-up for this site. Pity we couldn't find an agent or publisher (though we'd stil consider it!) I may set up a blog for the book one day. I expect Stew will have some remarks as well, as another Ed fan.

Anyway, cheers Ed for the inspiration for the book and for all the laughs, both the ones you elicited from us and the ones you offered along with us.

* He was a Brigadier General in the California reserve. Not wine reserve, the military reserve. Imagine that, "General Ed McMahon."
** ...entitled It All Started with Ed or A Yeti in Times Square.