The ultimate talk-show sidekick and a consummate showbiz pro, Ed McMahon appeared to achieve his enduring status as a pop-culture icon simply by being himself – a jolly good fellow with a knack for savvy sales pitches and a self-effacing sense of humor, who never minded making himself the butt of his own and other people’s jokes. Now, notice: I said “appeared.” It’s entirely possible that McMahon had to work extremely hard to make it look so easy, and maybe even harbored a few nettlesome resentments about being famous mostly as a second banana. Given the amount of TV viewing pleasure he gave me over the years, I would hope he was immensely pleased and satisfied with his career. On the other hand, I wonder if he ever wondered about roads not taken.
Scattered throughout McMahon's resume are some pretty damn respectable supporting performances in movies – most notably, in The Incident (1967), his portrayal of a harried family man who’s among the unfortunate passengers aboard a New York subway car terrorized by two knife-wielding punks (very young Martin Sheen and Tony Musante). McMahon also had memorable moments as a scenery-chewing bad guy opposite Jim Brown in Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off (1973) and a weaselly corporate executive in the original Fun with Dick and Jane (1977). Could McMahon have made it as a full-time character actor if he’d chosen that route? It’s hard to say. And, honestly, I doubt that he ever lost much sleep while pondering the possibility. But still, well, you never know…
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