For Laughing Out Loud: My Life and Good Times [NOOK Book]

Overview

A humorous, anecdote-filled, behind-the-scenes look at the life of a television icon.

In this story-filled autobiography, the man who made it all look so deceptively easy talks about the brightest stars, the zaniest bits, and the most embarassing moments on Johnny's couch and backstage. He also looks back fondly the early years of a career that started in radio and spans half a century. Co-authored with David Fisher. (October 1998) ...

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For Laughing Out Loud: My Life and Good Times

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Overview

A humorous, anecdote-filled, behind-the-scenes look at the life of a television icon.

In this story-filled autobiography, the man who made it all look so deceptively easy talks about the brightest stars, the zaniest bits, and the most embarassing moments on Johnny's couch and backstage. He also looks back fondly the early years of a career that started in radio and spans half a century. Co-authored with David Fisher. (October 1998)

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
James Brown may be the hardest-working man in show business, but surely McMahon ranks a close second. In addition to his lengthy stint as Johnny Carson's sidekick and designated chortler on The Tonight Show, he has also been, at various times, a bingo caller, a boardwalk pitchman, a nightclub entertainer, a commercial spokesperson, and host in his own right of any number of successful television shows. In his new autobiography, For Laughing Out Loud, McMahon looks back at a long, rich life and career.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
McMahon is known to the televiewing public for having excelled in two roles: as second banana to Carson on the Tonight Show for three decades and as the pitchman par excellence for dozens of products, especially magazines for American Family Publishers. Indeed, he has been so visible on TV for 50 years, i.e., from the very start of the medium, that it has been difficult to avoid him. In his time he has hosted Snap Judgment and Star Search, been the permanent spokesman for Budweiser Beer, worked with Jerry Lewis on the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon for 30 years and sold everything from kitchen appliances to Jenny Craig diet programs. There is no doubt he was a born salesman: on his first day peddling magazine subscriptions as a kid he sold three, and he financed his college career by selling, with a little help from the G.I. Bill, since he was a Marine Corps aviator in both WWII and the Korean War. In between pitches and punch lines (many cribbed from on-the-air performances), we see him give time and money to various charities, get married three times and raise five kids. The relentlessly upbeat tone falters only in discussions of his two divorces ("Imagine, me, hiring a private investigator to follow my wife" ). While it is difficult to imagine a true fan of McMahon, readers with a high tolerance for the ever-unctuous announcer will find this memoir every bit as lively as its subject. Photos not seen by PW. Author tour. (Oct.)
Kirkus Reviews
The ubiquitous TV emcee (his occupation: personality) presents a prototypical show-biz autobiography with the significant help of a seasoned amanuensis (All My Best Friends, with George Burns, 1989, etc.). McMahon (Here's Ed, 1976; Ed McMahon's Superselling, 1989; etc.) invented a character of a hearty, bibulous Irish salesman and straight man named Ed McMahon and played it to the fullest. He has appeared on the small screen for an amazing half century. (Somehow, it seems longer.) Before he was a second banana, he performed as bingo caller, door-to-door vendor of pots and pans, and boardwalk pitchman. The carney talent for hokum that he perfected then has endured. The justifiable pride he earned as a marine fighter pilot has also lasted. He has always worked at his profession and now clearly enjoys his perhaps exaggerated fame. (Surely, not everyone in the world knows Ed McMahon?) The core of the book, naturally, is the 30-year gig as a very obsequious Falstaff to Carson's Prince Hal. He says that much of their repartee was unrehearsed. (Why, then, did it often seem like a slick routine?) Old gags and adventures with Carnac and Aunt Blabby are recalled. There developed a wary fellowship as the two performers went through myriad marriages. McMahon describes his three uxorious escapades and the resultant family relationships. He talks of show-biz folk with an encomium for each (there's "the great" Dick Clark, "the brilliant" Freddy de Cordova, "the incredible" Jonathan Winters, and "the legendary" Bob and Ray), and there's a persistent lunge for a one-liner at the end of each paragraph. It's all in character, like the fabled imbibing. Now, at 75, Ed has cut downto one glass of red wine a day, though he may "cheat a little: it's still one glass, but I fill it twice." A gregarious hustler's autobiography, pure theatrics for those who take a rousing call of "Hi-yoooo!" for wit.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780759520738
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 1/1/2001
  • Sold by: Hachette Digital, Inc.
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 423,571
  • File size: 375 KB

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I will never forget the very first time I met a young man named Johnny Carson. The producer of my good friend Dick Clark's famed American Bandstand had heard Johnny was looking for an announcer for his new afternoon quiz show, Who Do You Trust?, and had recommended me. Johnny's office was in the Little Theatre, on West Forty-fourth Street, directly across from the Shubert Theatre. As I entered his office, Johnny was standing at a large window, watching as four huge cranes raised the Shubert's new marquee. I watched this from the other window as he interviewed me. "It's nice to meet you, Ed," he said.

I laughed.

"Thanks for coming up from Philadelphia," he said.

I laughed just a little louder.

"Tell me a little about what you're doing down there," he said, with that little boy twinkle in his blue eyes.

I laughed even louder, and longer.

"So, Ed," he asked in that friendly voice, "have you spent much time in New York?"

I laughed so loud and so hard tears formed in my eyes.

"Okay," he said, nodding, "you got the job."

Well, maybe that's not exactly the way it happened. But just in case Johnny Carson decides to come out of retirement, I'm not taking any chances.

• • •

Recently my beautiful young daughter, Katherine Mary, came to me with her electronic pet, her Tamagotchi. "It's broken, Daddy," she said, handing it to me. "Can you fix it for me, please?"

I didn't have the slightest idea how to fix it. "I'm sorry, darling," I said. "That's not what I do. I do 'Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, there they are, weren't they wonderful, let's hear it for them.' I do, 'How's your Aunt Ida, did Uncle Joe get out of jail yet?' I'm the guy who says, 'Heeeeere's Johnny' and 'Hi-yoooo!' and 'You are correct, sir,' and 'How cold was it?' and 'Everything you ever wanted to know about mosquitoes is in that thin little book?' and 'I hold in my hand the final envelope, which has been hermetically sealed...,' and 'Once again let us welcome the seer from the East...' I'm the guy who says, 'You may have already won ten million dollars,' and 'Budweiser, the only beer that's beechwood-aged,' and 'You cannot be turned down...,' and 'I've lost twenty-nine pounds by following the Jenny Craig diet...'"

Katherine Mary sighed deeply, then sat down.

"See, sweetheart, I'm the guy who says, 'Our spokesmodel champion has owned the stage for two weeks, but her challenger intends to...,' and 'Jerry, our new total is forty-one million, seven hundred thousand dollars,' and 'Dick, this next practical joke is based on the fact that celebrities usually get...,' and 'The next giant balloon coming down Broadway on this magnificent Thanksgiving Day is our old friend...'"

Katherine Mary yawned.

"I'm the former marine combat pilot who served as the grand marshal of the Indianapolis 500 and the king of Bacchus at Mardi Gras, and played the secret Santa Claus at the White House. I'm the former host of Snap Judgment who used the great W. C. Fields line ''Twas a woman that drove me to drink, and I never had the decency to write and thank her' in my nightclub act. I'm the guy who used to work in bingo parlors announcing, 'Under the B, it's fifteen,' and the guy who promised on an infomercial, 'With this incredible cooking device you can make french fries, fried shrimp, crispy onion rings without any fat or grease in your oven or microwave.' I'm the guy who works for wonderful charities like St. Jude's Ranch for Children in Boulder City, Nevada, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and the United Negro College Fund. And I'm the guy who's made movies, recorded albums, and written books. The guy who worked with Johnny Carson for thirty-four years and Jerry Lewis for thirty years and Doc Severinsen and Frank Sinatra and John Wayne and Dick Clark and Don Rickles and Bob Newhart and Sammy Davis and Rosie O'Donnell and Coolio and Sinbad and the magnificent Tom Arnold. I'm the guy who pitched the incredible Morris metric slicer on the boardwalk in Atlantic City by telling people, 'with the blade in the lower position, just look how thin you can slice a tomato. You could read a newspaper through that tomato slice. I know a lady in Bayonne, New Jersey, who had one tomato last her all summer long...'"

Katherine Mary stood up. "Oh, that's okay, Daddy," she said. "I'll ask Mommy."

My given name is Edward Leo Peter McMahon. And I am one of the very fortunate people who grew up to do exactly what I spent my whole childhood dreaming of doing, even if no one is quite sure exactly what it is that I do. One night, for example, I was having dinner with the brilliant producer of The Tonight Show, Freddy de Cordova, at Chasen's Restaurant. We would do that periodically. We each had one of Pepe's flaming martinis, we discussed the show, what had happened recently, what was going to happen, then we each had a second flaming martini, and finally Freddy looked at me and said warmly, "Ed, I want to tell you something. I've been producing this show for twenty years and I still don't know exactly what it is that you do, but whatever it is, you're the very best at it."

My lovely daughter Linda often complained that the most difficult question to answer on an application was "Father's Occupation?" I think that what I do might best be described as a host or master of ceremonies, or maybe a second banana or a sidekick or a straight man. Certainly I'm a well-known television personality, an entertainer, a spokesperson, a pitchman, and a salesman. I'm definitely a broadcaster, but I'm also an actor and a comedian. I'm a performer.

That's what I do. But I'm still trying to figure out what my good friend the great Dick Clark does.

Many people have told me that the thing I do best is make it look as if I'm not doing anything. My talent is making it seem that I have no talent. That just about anybody could get up there on the stage and do what I do. But believe me, that's not an easy thing to do. It took me years of hard work to be able to convince an audience that I wasn't working. So when it looked as if I wasn't doing anything, I was actually doing it very well.

Even more difficult than making it look as if I was doing nothing was knowing when to say nothing. The most difficult thing for me to learn when I began working with Johnny Carson, for example, was when to say nothing. There were many nights when I was sitting next to Mr. Carson and I wanted to say a line but didn't. Believe me, at times saying nothing was tough. But I got very good at nothing.

I take after my father. Edward Leo Peter McMahon. It was never very easy for me to figure out what it was he did either. It's probably simplest, and kindest, to describe him as...a promoter. He was an entrepreneur, a traveling salesman; he raised funds for charities and hospitals and clubs by selling punchboards and running bingo games; he operated carnival games and owned a boardwalk bingo parlor. For a brief time when he was starting out he even ran away and joined a minstrel show as the interlocutor, the man who stood between the end men -- Mr. Tambo, who played the tambourine, and Mr. Bones, who rattled the bones -- hosted the show, and told the jokes like, "Did you hear what Mr. Mason said to Mr. Dixon? We've got to draw the line somewhere!" It was a very early version of a talk show.

Sometimes my father did extremely well, and we were rich. I mean very rich. How rich were we?

Thank you for asking, but I'll do the straight lines.

I'll tell you how rich we were. We were so rich that for a brief time we lived in a large suite in the luxurious Top of the Mark Hotel in San Francisco. I would wake up in the morning and call down to room service for breakfast. I thought every kid in America lived that way. Later we briefly lived in London Terrace in New York City, an apartment complex so fashionable that the doormen were formally dressed as London bobbies. We were so rich that once, during the depression, my mother bought me a thirty-two-dollar leather cap -- that hat cost more than most people paid monthly for rent. We were so rich that my father drove a Hupmobile, a beautiful sedan with a picnic compartment built into the backseat. And for a time in the 1930s he and a business partner even leased a six-passenger airplane, complete with two pilots and a stewardess. Can you imagine how many punchboards he had to sell to lease an airplane?

But more often he did not do very well. I vaguely remember there being some problem with oil leases in California, and we lived in a cold-water flat in Bayonne, New Jersey, or a dingy walk-up on East Fifty-fifth street in New York. But even when we were struggling he always acted as if he were the most successful man in the whole world. As the great radio newsman Gabriel Heatter used to say, "He could look at a brick and see a house."

My father traveled on business and the advice of counsel. He never cheated people or did anything illegal, but he had a way of making things seem better than they actually were. He was a great salesman. In his carnival booths, for example, he would always put the least expensive prize or the lamp with a scratch on it in the most prominent position on the top shelf. It looked as though it was supposed to be overlooked, which of course immediately made it the most desirable. When a winner asked for it he would try to talk them out of it. When they demanded it he would make a big show of climbing to the top and hauling it down -- thus ensuring that the customer would never complain about the scratch on the base or the fact that it was falling apart.

My father used to tell a story about a friend, a close friend, who would buy a broken-down thoroughbred racehorse for a few bucks and sell fifty-cent chances on him at county fairs. A lot of people would take a chance sight unseen on winning a throughbred racehorse. He could often sell two hundred dollars' worth of tickets on a ten-dollar horse. If the winner was less than satisfied when he finally saw his prize "racehorse," and admittedly that was often the case, this friend would simply give him back his fifty cents.

The three things I inherited from my father were his size -- he was a big, broad man as I am -- his work ethic, and his ability to tell a story. Oh, Eddie McMahon could tell a story. That was the Irish in him. On occasion my father and several friends would go away for a weekend on a fishing trip. This was about as much a fishing trip as the great El Moldo was a psychic. He knew nothing about fishing. I never saw him take a fishing rod or reel with him, or a tackle box. Worms had nothing to fear from my father. The guys never came home with a fish. But inevitably something funny would have happened during the weekend -- something that they could talk about -- and each of them would start to tell his version of the story. But then they would pause and agree, "Let Eddie tell it." Because Eddie McMahon could tell a grand story. He was a charmer, and he was known for his ability to improve upon the truth.

It was my father who told me about my great-great-great-grandfather, Patrick Maurice Mac-Mahon, the president of France. General Patrick Mac-Mahon was an Irishman, but according to my father, Napoleon III loved him and was instrumental in his becoming the president of France in 1873. And according to my father, in his honor his favorite sauce was named Macmahonaise, which was eventually shortened to mayonnaise. People have sent me cookbooks that seem to confirm this derivation of mayonnaise. It's possible we really were related to the Irish president of France. But like many of my father's stories, it doesn't matter if every part is true. It's a story that belongs in the most prominent position on the top shelf.

I always felt this incredible need to prove myself to my father. That's probably what gave me my drive. One night, for example, he was running a Monday night bingo game at a Moose hall. It was a big room; hundreds of people would play for money and prizes. Bingo cards were ten cents each, three for a quarter. I guess I was about twelve years old. I hounded my father to let me put on an apron and sell cards. My mother worked on him too, and finally he agreed. He gave me a stack of cards and two dollars in nickels and dimes so I could make change. I was very excited, but as I turned to start selling, I overheard him tell someone, "There's two dollars we'll never see again." I mean, can you imagine that? Hearing that insult just set me on fire. I had to prove him wrong. So instead of selling three cards for a quarter, I sold each card for a dime. I sold every card that I had. If the cards I had should have been worth ten dollars, I handed the cashier twelve bucks. I remember my father congratulating me, putting his arm around me. That part isn't so clear; the insult, I'll never forget.

My mother taught me ethics and manners. Her name was Eleanor Russell and she was a dark-haired beauty. She was Pennsylvania Dutch, a German-English mix. I called her "Muth," short for "mother." I probably got my love of performing from her. She had been raised in her grandmother's theatrical boardinghouse. I know my mother acted in a few local productions, but she surrendered whatever dreams she once had to the charms of my father.

My mother insisted that I use proper manners. She was the only person who called me Edward; even today when I hear someone use that name I straighten my shoulders. She would always warn me, "Edward, you must do this or you'll displease me." "You'll displease me" was the biggest threat she would make, and most of the time it was enough. Occasionally she would punish me, but I knew her heart wasn't really in it. I was her only child at a time when big families were quite normal. But she had almost died giving birth to me. I weighed nine pounds ten ounces, and she was told by doctors it would be best not to have any more children.

I was closer to my mother than to my father; I felt very protective of her, and I pretty much knew how to get whatever it was I wanted from her. As a parent, I think I've always been a lot like her. Once, for example, when Katherine Mary was about nine, she came running into my office and said excitedly, "Daddy, I have to ask you...," and then she stopped and frowned. "Oh, I can't start with you," she said with all the wisdom of a nine-year-old, "because if you turn me down, there's nowhere else to go."

My mother and father did not have a happy marriage. They lived on the road, following the carnivals and bingo games and fundraising jobs. Eventually they separated. At times my father lived with us, and then one day he would be gone again. They never divorced, I don't know why, maybe because they were Catholic and at that time Catholics did not get divorced. But they were always civil with each other. I was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1923, when my parents stopped there on the way to a fundraising job for the Shriners or the Rotary Club or the Kiwanis or the Elks Club or the Moose in Peoria, Illinois. My mother stayed in Detroit six weeks, not even long enough for me to get to know the kid in the next crib very well. We must have liked each other, though, because he cried when I left.

I refer to Detroit as my hometown, pretty much by default. We never stayed anywhere for more than a few months. As my idol, W. C. Fields, would have said, "My dear, we changed towns more often than a nervous pickpocket." By the time I was five years old I'd probably been through forty states. We lived in New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Muskogee, Peoria, Bayonne, East Hartford -- wherever there was money to be made. It was a terrible way to grow up. I had a lousy childhood. I attended several schools before I started high school -- and then I went to three different high schools. When we lived at London Terrace I walked down the block to P.S. 23. When we couldn't afford that apartment anymore and were forced to move across the Hudson River to Bayonne, New Jersey, I wanted so desperately to continue at P.S. 23 that I commuted by Greyhound bus every day.

I had no friends. None. We never stayed in one place long enough for me to get to know anyone. Most of the time we didn't stay long enough for the kids to even know my name, so they referred to me by the town I'd come from. I wasn't Ed McMahon, I was, "Hey, Lowell," or "Peoria." I was also painfully shy, and just to make things a little worse, I had bad acne. I'll tell you how bad it was for me: little Donnie Rickles probably had more friends than I did.

I think it's pretty easy to figure out that the reason I wanted to be an entertainer gets right down to my desire to be accepted, to be needed and loved. That need was instilled in me very early in life. And when you combine that need with the exhilarating feeling you get when someone laughs at something you say, you're hooked. That feeling of pleasing people is addicting. The first time you do it is amazing, so you try to figure out how to do it a second time. And if somehow you can figure out how to do it a tenth time, well, then you're in show business.

The happiest moments of my childhood were the summers I spent with my grandparents at their home in Lowell, Massachusetts. Joseph F. and Katherine Fitzgerald McMahon had emigrated to Lowell from Ireland during the potato famine. My grandfather became a master plumber and founded the J. F. McMahon Plumbing Company. He could walk into a building and determine at a glance exactly how many BTUs of steam would be needed to provide adequate heat and how much it would cost. All my uncles worked for him. For a few summers I worked with my Uncle Artie as a plumber's helper, the worst job I've ever had. I used to have to crawl underneath the Elks Club in Lowell to unclog the soil pipes, the pipes that drained the bathrooms. That turned out to be a very important job for me, because whatever I did after that, no matter how tough it was, it wasn't as bad as unclogging the soil pipes. Compared to that, listening to the unusual tones of Tiny Tim singing "Tiptoe through the Tulips with Me" was a great pleasure.

My grandmother was my best friend. The proudest day of my life was the day I came home from flight school and pinned my Marine Corps pilot wings on her. I knew that my success was the greatest gift I could give to her. She died three months later. She was buried in a plain black dress bearing a single decoration, my gold wings.

Katie was a member of the Fitzgerald clan of Boston. Her cousin, Rose Fitzgerald, married into the Kennedy family. At that time Joseph Kennedy was one of the richest and most powerful men in Massachusetts. He was a politician and a bootlegger, and of those two professions I think we respected him more as a bootlegger. I grew up knowing that the Kennedy children were my cousins. I don't think the Kennedy brothers knew Ed McMahon was their cousin. Joe Kennedy Jr., the oldest son, was a naval aviator who was killed flying an extremely dangerous mission. I knew he was a pilot and I desperately wanted to be one too. But I don't remember if my passion for flying originated with him. My own kids grew up knowing they were related to the Kennedys. In fact, my beautiful daughter Claudia often told people that the only reason she and John Kennedy Jr. weren't married was because they were cousins.

My grandfather designed and built a six-bedroom house in Lowell, the only place in my entire childhood that I ever considered home. The six upstairs bedrooms opened to a central hall, but there was only one bathroom. My grandfather was a master plumber, but there was only one large bathroom. Downstairs was Katie's kitchen, the most important room in the house. I never needed an alarm clock because at five each morning I would be awakened by the most wonderful aromas of the bread and fruit pies she was baking in the wood-burning stove. I learned work ethics from my father and good manners from my mother. But from Katie I learned how to eat. Breakfast consisted of two pork chops, home fried potatoes with gravy, whatever fried cabbage was left over from the night before, apple pie with a wedge of cheese, and a small loaf of bread baked especially for me. That usually kept us full at least until lunch.

Because Joe and Katie had survived the potato famine, potatoes were served at every meal. We had baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, home fries, cottage fries, potatoes O'Brien. And I always had to finish every last bite on my plate. "Finish your plate," Katie would tell me. "There are people starving in..." My grandmother had people starving in countries that hadn't been named yet. Iran was still Persia, but she already had people starving in Iran.

To me, the most impressive room in the entire house was a tiny bathroom right off the kitchen. It wasn't even a full bathroom, it was just a john with a pull chain, but to me it represented real status. I'd never known anyone who had a bathroom in their kitchen. The house also had a dining room that sat twenty people, although it was used only on Thanksgiving and Christmas. I remember the lovely french doors with mullioned windows that led into the parlor were always closed; the parlor was used only for weddings and wakes. But it was in that parlor that I dedicated myself to broadcasting.

I don't remember how old I was the first time my grandfather put his heavy crystal set headphones over my ears and I heard an announcer speaking clearly from station KDKA in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. But I know that changed my life. It was absolutely astonishing to me that someone could be speaking hundreds of miles away and his voice would travel through the air right into our house at 452 Chelmsford Street. Sometimes it's pretty hard for me to believe that in my lifetime I've gone from listening to that single voice on a crystal set to appearing live and in full color in homes around the world standing next to a skinny guy from Nebraska who is dressed as an old woman and keeps hitting me in the crotch with a cane. Now that's progress.

My grandfather had the very best, if not the first, crystal radio in Lowell. But rather than putting up a very tall antenna on the roof to catch the signal, he wrapped aerial wire around the house. Fifty years later auto manufacturers began doing the same thing. If you didn't live through the birth of radio it isn't possible to appreciate its impact. Radio changed the way we lived. For the first time we were able to learn what was happening anywhere in the world almost immediately; we were able to hear the actual voices of the president of the United States and the most famous performers, people like Al Jolson and Rudy Vallee, and we were able to be entertained in our own homes.

Cigar box crystal set radios very quickly evolved into beautiful pieces of furniture. They were built into elegantly carved wooden cabinets. The radio became the focal point of the room. At night I would lie on my stomach on the floor and look at the radio and imagine what I was hearing. Sound effects were used to replace pictures. A whole new form of entertainment had to be created to fill the needs of radio. Amos 'n' Andy, with white actors playing black characters, became the very first situation comedy. It was so popular that when it was being broadcast live, entertainments like vaudeville and moving pictures would stop and a radio would be wheeled onstage so the audience could listen to the show. Otherwise no one would leave their homes when these shows were on the air. That's how powerful radio was.

Comedians like Jack Benny began using the people who worked on their shows as comic foils: Benny's cast of characters included his bandleader, Phil Harris, who was supposedly a big drinker and party guy; Dennis Day, the boy singer who was always impeccably dressed; his large-sized announcer, Don Wilson, who laughed too loud at the boss's jokes and ate too much; and Rochester, Benny's chauffeur and valet, who was constantly insulting him. Apparently while I was lying on the floor of the house with my chin propped in my hands in Lowell, Massachusetts, listening to The Jack Benny Show, Johnny Carson was lying on the floor of his house with his chin propped in his hands in Lincoln, Nebraska, doing exactly the same thing, because years later he created his own broadcasting family. I was the character who drank too much and ate too much and laughed loudly at the boss's jokes; when Skitch Henderson led the orchestra he was our well-dressed dandy; Doc Severinsen wore the wallpaper; and bland Tommy Newsom was the man who did so much for the color brown. Johnny Carson learned from Benny that it didn't matter who got the laughs on his show. One night Rochester might have had the best lines, but Benny knew that in the office the next morning people would be talking about The Jack Benny Show. And one night on The Tonight Show Doc might have gotten the biggest laugh or Tommy Newsom might have gotten a big...well, maybe not Tommy. But the next morning everybody would be saying, "Wasn't Carson funny last night?"

I loved radio, I just loved it. The first person in my life I ever asked for an autograph was Joe Penner, a radio comedian who became famous for asking, "Wanna buy a duck?" Of course, that phrase doesn't have the same beautiful grace and rhythm as "You may have already won ten million dollars," but it was the first national catchphrase. Everybody knew it and said it.

But the biggest stars of early radio were the bandleaders. Frank Sinatra was the boy singer with Harry James, but Harry James was the star. Peggy Lee was the girl singer with Benny Goodman. Doris Day was the girl singer with Les Brown and his Band of Renown. Tommy Dorsey, Fred Waring, Guy Lombardo -- the leaders of the great big bands were the stars. Glenn Miller was on three nights a week for fifteen minutes. Whatever I was doing I would stop and run home to hear his show. To me, listening to Glenn Miller on the Zenith was like being with a beautiful girl in the backseat of a car. Not that I had ever been with a girl in the backseat of a car, I just had a great imagination.

For a time I tried to be a musician, just like these men I admired so much. The only thing that held me back was a complete lack of musical talent. I played the cornet. A cornet is a trumpet that never grew up. The truth is that I spent more time cleaning my instrument than playing it.

Now there's a straight line for you.

My father was in the American Legion, so I signed up to be in the Sons of the American Legion Drum and Bugle Corps. I marched in one parade, but I was just so awful that they drummed me out of the Drum and Bugle Corps. I was summarily dismissed. Marched out to the parade grounds at dawn and stripped of my epaulets! Not a pretty sight.

I still wanted to lead a band, though, so I tried to become the drum major for the Lowell High School marching band. The drum major is the person who strides proudly at the head of the band, kicking his legs high into the air, thrusting his baton up and down to set the rhythm for the entire band. I practiced by myself in my grandmother's backyard, marching back and forth with no one behind me, singing loudly. I wasn't very good at it, though. Even when I was marching all by myself I was out of step. I never led the band.

The people I most identified with on radio were the announcers. The only thing they had to do was speak clearly. And I could do that. The announcers introduced the songs, did the commercials, and bantered with the host. Men like Don Wilson, Harry von Zell, Bill Goodwin, and Norman Brokenshire were almost as well known as the orchestra leaders and the performers. "And now, ladies and gentlemen," they'd say smoothly, "from high atop the Taft Hotel in the heart of beautiful Manhattan, we are pleased to bring you the romantic renditions of Enoch Light and his Light Brigade....And as we dance to the melodies that have haunted us so..."

When I was about ten years old I decided to be an announcer. While other kids played baseball or football or cowboys and Indians, I played Broadcaster. I practiced doing commercials. I guess even then I knew where the big money was in show business. I would go into Katie's parlor with my dog, Prince Valiant, close the french doors so no one could hear me, and practice. I'd create my own shows. I'd hold a flashlight under my chin as if it were a microphone, cue up records on my grandfather's classic RCA Victor phonograph, and announce, "The Ed McMahon Show." I even had my own theme music, Benny Goodman's "Let's Dance." I'd pretend I was broadcasting from one of the grand ballrooms high atop one of the great cities. That sounded a lot more impressive than "I'm here in the parlor of my grandma's house in Lowell, Massachusetts, with my dog..."

I was miserable in school, I had no friends -- but in my grandmother's parlor I was a star. Being in radio was my dream, my fantasy. Radio was my escape. "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen," I'd say in the deepest tones I could manage with my ten-year-old voice. "This is Ed McMahon. And here's a little number that Bing Crosby does with that great voice of his. And it goes something like this..."

Actually, it went exactly like that. I mean, it was a record, it wasn't going to suddenly change. But "it goes something like this" was a cliché that disc jockeys used. And saying it made me feel very professional. Then I'd cue up one of my grandmother's 78 rpm records -- cueing up without scratching the record was a skill -- and play the song. After two songs I'd pause for "a commercial message," which was an ad I would read directly out of Time magazine. "Look at this," I'd tell my imaginary listeners and Prince Valiant. "Can this guy make you healthy? We'll find out in a minute, right after this beautiful number from Mr. Benny Goodman." Several years later, when I heard my recorded voice, I finally appreciated how valiant that dog really was.

I tried to pattern myself after my idol, Paul Douglas, who later would become a movie star and somehow wind up at the end of every picture with Eve Arden, but at the time he was Fred Waring's announcer and second banana. On the show they had a rivalry; they were always arguing about football games or movies and Paul Douglas never backed down to his boss. What I liked so much about Paul Douglas was his casual attitude. Most announcers were more like Graham McNamee or Milton Cross, who very...Carefully. Pronounced. Every. Single. Word. With. Perfect. Grammar. McNamee would read a Texaco commercial as if he were announcing the election of a pope. Not Paul Douglas. He was a casual kind of guy, the kind of guy you'd want to pal around with at the place on the corner. When he told America, "Yah gonna like the taste of Chesterfield," people believed him.

Many years later I was costarring in the movie The Incident with Jan Sterling, who had been married to Paul Douglas. "You remind me of my husband," she said. "You could play every one of his roles." Well, that made me feel pretty good about myself, at least until she added, "Yes, Paul always used to say, 'One reason I'm successful is that when a woman looks at me, if she's being really honest with herself, I look like the guy she knows she's going to end up with.' "

I desperately wanted to be in broadcasting. If I couldn't be a performer, a bandleader, or an actor, I was going to be a broadcaster. I didn't even know what that word, "broadcaster," meant exactly, but I knew it meant being in radio so I wanted to be a broadcaster. And I'll tell you something, if I hadn't made it as an announcer, I would have been a producer or director or sold commercial time or been an executive. Somehow I would have been in the radio industry.

I certainly was not the only person perfecting my future craft. In Nebraska, nine-year-old Johnny Carson had sent away for a magic kit that was guaranteed to make him both a magician and the life of the party. He'd spend hours every day standing in front of a mirror perfecting card tricks. Out in the small town of Arlington, Oregon, Doc Severinsen was practicing his trumpet for hours and tie-dyeing his cowboy shirts.

By the time Johnny was fourteen he was performing his magic act at the Rotary Club and local parties as the Great Carsoni. Doc was Oregon's champion junior trumpeter by the time he was twelve, and auditioned for Tommy Dorsey's band when he was fourteen. It was tougher for me; my biggest talent was speaking into a flashlight. There just wasn't a lot of work for a teenage announcer. I didn't even know what my voice sounded like to other people. There were no such things as tape recorders and no one in my family knew anything about show business. The only feedback I ever got was from my mother, who would remind me, "Children should be seen and not heard," which was not very good advice for someone planning on a career in radio. All I knew was that my dog seemed to like me. Of course, he also liked fire hydrants. Really all I had was determination, and that I had in abundance. And hope: I used to lie in bed at night and pray that I would have a good voice.

I landed my first broadcasting job when I was fifteen years old. A small circus carnival was pitching its tents and sideshow on Lowell Common. In those days sound trucks, trucks with signs plastered on the sides and loudspeakers on the roof, were used to advertise events. As the sound truck drove slowly down the street, someone inside the truck would loudly promote everything from politicians to circus clowns.

That's another straight line for you, just fill in your own punchline.

I convinced the owner of the sound truck to hire me to be the mike man. It wasn't exactly show business -- I was cramped in the back of the truck where no one could see me -- but it was a microphone and people could listen to me. To be honest, they had to listen to me. The biggest advantage of a sound truck is that the audience can't change the channel or turn down the volume. I wrote my own patter. "Eight of the biggest days and nights of your life!" I boomed proudly as we drove through Lowell. "And the admission? Why, it's ab-so-lute-ly free." And then I reminded them of the biggest attraction, the sideshow, which featured girls "dancing as you have never seen them dance before!"

The truck drove right down Main Street, right past a storefront my father had rented as the headquarters for whatever charity he was raising funds for. I wanted to surprise him. My mother made my father stand outside on the sidewalk as the truck drove by. I couldn't see him, but when he heard my voice, I felt him smiling.

My father wasn't there for many of the important moments of my childhood. I understood why; he was working. He was on the road somewhere, selling something, promoting something, doing whatever it was he had to do to earn a living. It hurt, but I understood it. And I understood it even more when I had children of my own and missed major events in their lives because I was working. And that probably hurt a little more.

My father was a hard worker. Every member of the McMahon family was a hard worker. And so I'm a hard worker. One of my greatest talents is that I show up on time wearing a clean shirt. I'm there, wherever it is I have to be, whenever I have to be there, and I'm prepared to work. If I have a script, I know my lines. I've always been that way, whether it meant producing and hosting the broadcast of a presidential inauguration gala or selling toy gyroscopes for a dollar in a department store on Christmas Eve. Some of the jobs I've had were incredible; it is a great pleasure to be able to banter with Carson, do commercials with Frank Sinatra, give away millions of dollars with Dick Clark, or introduce new talent like Rosie O'Donnell, Sinbad, or Drew Carey. But many of the jobs I've done haven't been that exciting. I've cleaned out soil pipes, sold pots and pans door-to-door, dug ditches, run a laundry delivery service, and even hawked the famous Morris metric slicer on Atlantic City's boardwalk. Like my father, I did whatever job I had to do to earn a living, and I did it to the best of my ability and I did it with enthusiasm.

Johnny Carson would often kid me about all the different jobs I had, many of them at the same time. On the first Bloopers and Practical Jokes I cohosted with Dick Clark, Johnny walked onstage and explained to the audience, "From the first day on The Tonight Show, twenty-two years ago, Ed has treated The Tonight Show like...a part-time job. The man comes in, gets his mail, splits.... He's got three other jobs tonight after this. He's doing Celebrity Mud Wrestling, Bowling for Towels, and, a week ago, I opened my front door and there was Ed in a dress, claiming he was the Avon lady."

I laughed. And protested, "You know I gave up mud wrestling."

"Sure," Johnny responded, "but only because it conflicted with the paper route in the morning."

I remember a story my good friend John Wayne once told me about the worst movie he ever made, a 1930s comedy for Fox titled Girls Demand Excitement. The key scene in the movie was a boys-against-girls basketball game to determine if the girls would be permitted to stay in college. Duke had played football at USC, so he was really embarrassed to be seen playing basketball against a girls' team in this movie. He was walking on the Fox lot muttering to himself when Will Rogers stopped him. "What's the matter, kid?" he asked.

"Oh," Duke told him, "they got me in this movie playing basketball against girls. And they want -- "

Rogers interrupted him. "You workin'?"

"Yeah."

Rogers nodded. "Keep workin'," he said, and he walked away.

• • •

And that's exactly what I've done my whole life. When I was about ten years old I wanted a bicycle. But we were going through one of my father's cold-water-flat periods and he couldn't afford to buy one for me. I found out that if I sold enough subscriptions to the Saturday Evening Post I could earn a bicycle. I sold three subscriptions my first afternoon. It turned out I was a born salesman. I was very sincere and polite. So I learned very early in my life that I could turn a few afternoons into a bicycle if I worked hard enough. Ironically, fifty years later, after decades with Johnny Carson, after appearing in movies and in the theater, after hosting countless television programs, I was right back where I started, selling magazine subscriptions door-to-door. This time, though, I was doing it by mail and I was going to just about every door in the country. But in all that time I had learned something extremely important about selling. Sincerity and politeness were still vitally important...but I could sell a lot more subscriptions if I also promised to give away ten million dollars.

• • •

In 1963 Time magazine reported that I often worked as many as four jobs at once and rarely worked less than seven days a week. Obviously that wasn't quite accurate; I can't remember the last time that I had only four jobs. I had learned very early in life that the answer to the question "How much money is enough?" was always going to be "Just a little more than I have." Hard work has never scared me. It's the thought of being without work that terrifies me. I started working when I was about ten years old and I've learned something from every job I had. So eventually I'm really going to figure it out. For example, my lemonade stand taught me that you cannot sell a product for nine cents that cost ten cents to produce and expect to make up the difference in volume. My shoeshine stand taught me the importance of location: businessmen waiting for the ferry were a lot more likely to have their shoes shined than women on the way to a big sale.

When I sold the Bayonne Times I learned about advertising. That was a highly profitable situation; I bought my papers for a penny and sold them for two cents, earning a 100 percent profit on each transaction. It was very competitive, though; there were a lot of people hawking newspapers. To sell my papers I had to convince potential customers that there was something in the Bayonne Times that would make a difference in their lives. Let us say, for example, that a grocery store had cut the price of chopped beef. While I was selling papers in a wealthy neighborhood, I would shout, "Read all about it! Big drop in the market today." If I was selling in a less prosperous neighborhood, I might scream, "Read all about it. Slasher at work in local grocery store." That's what is known as effective advertising.

The first time I faced a tough audience was in a bingo parlor. I've worked on the Broadway stage, I've worked nightclubs; I estimate that in my career I've stood in front of at least twenty thousand different audiences. Twenty thousand. Please believe me, there is no tougher audience than serious bingo players waiting for their number to be called. Often there were hundreds of people in the audience, and they were there to win money and prizes, not to be entertained. And I was the entertainer. Somehow, I became responsible for the numbers I called. In all the years I did The Tonight Show, for example, no one ever said to me, "Gee, Robin Williams wasn't that funny tonight. What's wrong with you?" But bingo players often blamed the caller when they lost.

Most of the bingo games I worked traveled with carnivals or small circuses. We carried the entire setup in the back of a large truck, including the tent and tent poles, the stools, the planks and legs that became long "tables," sound equipment needed to call the games, cards and prizes of all sizes and shapes, and yards and yards of black velour that added that je ne sais quoi to the operation. And believe me, these bingo games needed as much quoi as could be added. We would set up in the midway for a few days, then pack up and drive to the next town, never staying anywhere for more than a week.

I had to work my way up to bingo caller. On occasion I had worked in a concession when a carnival my father was promoting came to the town in which we were living. My first job in a carnival was making change in the Hoop-La booth; that was a game in which prizes sat on wood blocks and if a customer successfully tossed a hoop completely over a block, he won whatever prize it held. Now, ladies and gentlemen, I am not saying it was impossible to fit that hoop over the block on which the pricey camera was placed -- I am not saying that -- I'm just pointing out that it was much easier to get it over the block on which the rather inexpensive plastic toy was displayed.

When I was sixteen years old my father got me a summer job at Salisbury Beach, Massachusetts, with Mulcahey and Dean, who operated several different carnival games, working in a Sport of Kings booth. That was a game in which customers raced their horses along a track by rolling balls into holes. I started as a counterman, making change, but eventually started calling the races. "Annnnnd they'rrrre off..." was one of my best lines, followed by, "at the clubhouse turn, numm-ba two, Fire Chief, is in the lead, but here comes numm-ba six, Wish Upon A Star..." After I'd called races for about a week, just like in the movies, the very, very low-budget movies, Gene Dean heard my spiel and said those magic words I had longed to hear, "Your kid's got a voice, Eddie. Let's give him a shot as a bingo announcer."

It wasn't exactly A Star Is Born. I went on the road with a bingo game as a laborer. Our first stop was a carnival midway in Mexico, Maine. I helped pitch our tent, set up the sound and electrical systems, and did whatever was necessary to help the game run smoothly. Being sixteen years old and traveling with a carnival is the kind of adventure that prepares you for almost anything imaginable in later life. Except maybe things like working with Jerry Lewis, of course.

From my first day I loved being "with it," the expression used to identify people working in the carnival. I loved the excitement and the color and the people who worked on the midway and in the sideshows. I was "with it," I was in show business. And I very quickly began to learn the code of ethics. The carnival had a girlie show called "Have You Seen Stella?" Now, the amount of Stella available to be seen varied from town to town, depending on the willingness of local law enforcement to accept gratuities. But whatever Stella was revealing in Mexico, Maine, was more than I'd ever seen, and during my very first break I got in line to see her show. One of the best men I worked with was an Indian known as Blackie. Blackie had once been a circus aerialist, a wire walker, but after ruining his back with a fall he became a carny. Blackie saw me standing on line and pulled me out. "You can't go in there, kid," he said. "You're 'with it' now. If Stella saw you in there and then met you over at the chuck wagon, she might get embarrassed." Show people, everybody from star performers to laborers, no matter what type of act or work they did, he explained, had to be treated respectfully. It was a good rule, and I remembered it many strange nights on The Tonight Show.

I got my big break when our bingo caller got drunk. He was slurring his numbers. The players didn't like that and started throwing the hard kernels of corn used as markers at him. After a few games the manager of the game said something like, "Okay, McMahon, you think you've got what it takes to be a bingo announcer? Take the mike." He handed me the microphone.

My primary qualification for the job was that I was sober. I took the mike. I loved the feel of the cool metal in my hand. Except for a few times in school, this was the first time I'd ever stood in front of an audience. I cleared my throat and looked out at a vast sea of hair, punctuated occasionally by a bright patch of bald head -- every player was staring down at their cards, waiting for a number to be called. I took a deep breath, reached into the fishbowl, and pulled my first number. "Unnnda the O," I said happily, "sixty-four. Sixty-four under the O."

I read the numbers just as I thought my idol, Paul Douglas, might have. Let me tell you something, Paul Douglas would have been a terrible bingo announcer. I was awful. I had no rhythm, no patter, I didn't know how to build excitement or suspense. Players began throwing corn kernels at me; I suspect this kind of behavior might be the derivation of the word "corny." I was corny. But I kept working, and ducking, and somehow I got a little confidence and I got better. By the end of that summer I had been sent to work as relief man for a legendary bingo caller, Whitey McTaag, on a twenty-counterman show. That was the bingo big time. With practice I had become smooth. I'd learned about timing and how to create suspense. When several players were one number away from bingo, I'd pick a number and stare at it, then announce, "Here it is. Who has it, who's going to be our big winner? The number...under the I...itttt'ssss...twenty-two! Twenty-two under the I."

The next summer Gene Dean gave me the mike for my own show. And for an extra fifteen dollars a week I drove a big rig, an eighteen-wheel semi, from carnival to circus to fairgrounds. I was on my own, earning pretty decent money. For the first time in my life, I really was "with it." Somehow I always found a way to earn the money I needed. When I was at Boston College I chauffeured students back and forth to classes, worked as a laborer on a construction site, and serviced the vending machines at the mills in Lexington and Concord and the Bethlehem Steel Yard. I did whatever I had to do to pay tuition and buy the necessities.

If I couldn't find a job that fit my schedule, I created one. After earning my wings as a marine fighter pilot in World War II, I came home with a wife, the former Alyce Ferrell of Lacoochee, Florida, a baby daughter, Claudia, big plans, and no money. This is when I really became a salesman. Selling appealed to me because I could make my own schedule, my success or failure depended totally on my own ability, and I got to deal directly with people. I was good at it and so I loved it, although that sentence might just as easily be written the other way around. I started with one of the most difficult of all selling jobs, hawking fountain pens on the boardwalk in Atlantic City.

I didn't actually sell the pens; I gave the pens away. I sold fountain pen points. How could I make money selling pens by giving them away? The same way the fine people at American Family Publishers make money by giving away ten million dollars to sell twenty-dollar magazine subscriptions. All I needed were a box of pens and points, a block to stand on, a big voice, and great patter. Great patter. There was a lot of competition for the same audience on the boardwalk, and the most entertaining pitchmen usually attracted the biggest crowds. "Ladies and gentlemen," I began in a booming voice, "please step right over here if you'd like your very own free fountain pen. That's right, step right up. Your eyes are not going to believe what your ears are hearing..." As the crowd gathered, I'd begin by demonstrating how a fountain pen worked. This was not a big secret; this was just before ballpoint pens became widely available and everyone used fountain pens with interchangeable points. "I am now about to shock you," I continued, "by announcing that I am not selling this beautiful pen for two dollars. Not for one dollar. Not even for fifty cents. No, ladies and gentlemen, I am giving this pen away...absolutely free to every man, woman, and child who buys one of these absolutely necessary gold-finish fountain pen points without which it is impossible to use any fountain pen...

"Wait. Wait one second. What did I hear you say, sir? Did I hear you right? You think you have to buy this point to get the free pen? Oh no, not true my friends, not true at all. Do you think I would dare stand before you and make this offer if that were true? But show me a man who does not want one of these fine, durable, gold-finish writing pen points at the miniscule price I am allowed by special permission of the company to offer to you today, and I'll show you a man who doesn't recognize an incredible offer when he sees one, a man with no business sense whatsoever, and believe me, just by looking at you I can tell there are no such shortsighted people in this gathering...

"Now friends, who will be the first person to step right up and buy one of these extraordinary gold-finish pen points for only fifty cents...that's right, you heard me, only fifty cents, one-half of one dollar, four bits, and receive this guaranteed fountain pen absolutely free!"

It was a show and I was the act. I made people smile, I made them laugh, I made them like me. Once I had their attention I demonstrated my product and tried to convince them that they had to have it right then and there. My incredible offer wouldn't be repeated later or tomorrow. You had to put your money down now! There was no school that taught this technique. I learned it by standing in the back of the crowd watching boardwalk legends like Oshi Morris and Lester Morris kibitz with the crowd. I watched, I listened, I learned. And after only a few weeks, that's right, just a few short weeks, ladies and gentlemen, selling this remarkable gold-finish...Well, I got so good at giving away fountain pens that I began selling empty boxes.

I've often made the claim that I could sell any product so long as I could hold it up or point to it. I believe that. If you can sell empty boxes, you can sell anything.

The hardest part of the job was gathering a crowd. As people strolled along, I'd catch their attention then try to pull them in with humor: "Excuse me, sir, that's right, you, sir. Come right up to the counter. That's right, just move your feet, your body will follow. I've asked you to come over because you look like a very intelligent man, a man smart enough to appreciate a great bargain. Just nod your head if you understand me..."

But the most effective way to draw a crowd was to engage their curiosity. To make an impossible offer, an offer they knew couldn't be true. Then they would stop to listen to my patter to find out what I was really selling. No one really believed I was selling empty boxes. "That's right, friends," I promised, "these boxes are guaranteed to contain absolutely nothing. But I'm only going to be able to sell six empty boxes to six lucky people. Look at this beautiful box," I would continue. "Why, this is a box that could hold an expensive Waterman pen. It could even hold a watch or some other fine gift. But, wait, what's that, madam? You're wondering who would possibly pay a buck for an empty box? Thank you for asking that question, I've wondered myself if there still are people bold enough to do so. Certainly not your staid, conservative, solid, unimaginative man with no romance in his soul. But those of you who know that there's often more to something than meets the eye, those of you who wonder why a man would stand before you and dare try to sell you an empty box for one dollar, you will say to yourself, 'There must be more to this offer.'

"Now, for those six lucky people who purchase these empty boxes, I must remind you, when you open your box, if you're surprised, if you yell out, 'This box is not empty!' that will be perfectly okay, it will not upset my selling because I am selling only those six boxes. For the rest of you, after I've sold these six empty boxes, please, please do not embarrass me or yourself by asking me to sell you the seventh box because I am not permitted to do so in this demonstration..."

As I continued this patter the crowd would grow. Everyone wanted to know what was inside those boxes. Eventually six people would each lay a dollar bill on top of my six boxes. Then I would ask those people to open their boxes. "And if it's empty, just as I said, yell out loudly, 'It's empty!' Okay, open the boxes."

Now, you don't really believe I would sell empty boxes to people for a dollar, do you? A dollar was a lot of money to pay for an empty box in 1946. You want to know what was really in the box? to find out all you have to do is send one dollar, one thin dollar bill, one tenth of a sawbuck to... Of course not, but see how effective my pitch was? In fact, the boxes were opened to reveal...nothing. As I had promised, they were empty. But I had my crowd gathered and I wasn't about to let them get away. So immediately I began my spiel for perhaps the single finest product ever sold on the magnificent boardwalk in beautiful Atlantic City -- I only wish this book was accompanied by a sound track so you might hear the pronouncement of trumpets -- the legendary, the one and only, famous Morris metric slicer.

"Now, ladies and gentlemen, I told you those boxes were empty and, indeed, they were empty. Now what does that prove? It proves I'm an honest man. That I was telling you the truth. So now you must believe me when I tell you that I am privileged to be able to offer to you the greatest item I have ever been authorized to sell, the handy Morris metric slicer.

"To start with, I want you to forget the two dollars these incredible gadgets were made to sell for. Okay, I like you people, so I'm cutting the price in half. One dollar. Just look at the way it slices cucumbers. Is that great or is that sensational? Have you ever seen cucumbers cut so beautifully? With the famous Morris metric slicer you can slice anything so thin you could get a job with a tobacco company slicing calling cards into tobacco paper..."

Can you hear the music? Selling plastic gadgets on the boardwalk; making something out of almost nothing. This was a great slicer of postwar Americana.

"Did you say cabbage, madam? Of course this'll cut your cabbage like no one has ever cut your cabbage before. Not only that, it will make coleslaw, sauerkraut, anything at all that may constitute your cabbage pleasure. But that's not all.

"Let me ask you, ladies and gentlemen, have you ever seen a woman try to slice a tomato? A lady takes a butcher knife, lunges at the tomato, the poor tomato has a hemorrhage before it ever gets to the dining room table. But let me show you how the famous Morris metric slicer slices a tomato. Look at those perfect slices. You can adjust the blade so thin -- look at that slice -- you could read a newspaper through that slice of tomato. Why, I know a lady in Bayonne, New Jersey, had one tomato last her all summer long..."

Then I demonstrated the add-ons: the "rotisserie cutter invented by Peter Nathemelee, dean of the Parisian School of Potato Surgery," a small cutting device that enabled me to cut a potato into a spiral that I could pull out like an accordion, and would snap back when I released it, "so when company comes, spread the potato out; they leave, put the potato back together again"; the incredible "glass knife," a knife actually capable of cutting glass, or at least of scratching it; and most incredible, the Juice-o-matic. The Juice-o-matic was a piece of orange plastic with a sharp edge enabling it to be stuck into a piece of fruit; when the fruit was squeezed, juice would drain out. "Stick this into a lemon and you have juice for a salad, a little lemon for fish, a little lemon for your Tom Collins...and some for Mary and Jane Collins too. In fact, there's enough for the whole damn Collins family.

"Sold separately," I pointed out, "these items would be valued at more than five dollars, and that's if you could even find them, but right now" -- it had to be right now -- "all of these wonderful items, the Morris metric slicer, the rotisserie cutter, the glass knife, and the Juice-o-matic, can be yours...not for that five dollars, not for four dollars, not even for the two dollars the metric slicer alone normally sells for, but for only one thin dollar. That's right, you heard me correctly, one dollar bill. But I'm only going to be able to sell sixteen sets during this demonstration, so if you want one... Please, not all at once, don't push, here's a man buying two of them, he must be leading a double life..."

By the time I finished my spiel, people were throwing money at me. It was not as easy as it sounds. You really had to sell with your whole body. I would work for an hour, then take an hour off, all day, from early in the morning until the crowds disappeared late at night. A long, long day. But during the summer I could earn as much as five hundred dollars a week, a tremendous amount of money in those days, and all in cash. And after deductions for taxes, that was...five hundred dollars. In the fall, if I delayed returning to school a few weeks and hit the fair circuit, I could make as much as one thousand dollars a week.

At times the work was dangerous. An integral part of the pitch was the "actual demonstration." I sliced a tomato and I cut a potato. When I introduced the Juice-o-matic, I had a large pitcher of ice water and I made it appear as if all that juice was draining from a grapefruit. I learned how to talk while using my hands, which is tougher than it sounds but became very important when I went into television. During Christmas vacation in 1947 I was in New York City selling slicers from a storefront directly across the street from the Roxy Theatre. One afternoon, as I was trying to cut a frozen potato with the slicer, the blade slipped and cut deeply into my thumb. It was bleeding very badly, but I didn't want to lose the "tip" -- the "tip" is the crowd -- so I pressed my forefinger against my thumb to stem the bleeding, then put my thumb in the ice water as I began "turning the tip," or making the final pitch. I sold six sets before going to the hospital.

I spent four years as a marine pilot in World War II. I was a flight instructor, I did aircraft-carrier landings, I was a test pilot, and I taught carrier landings. But the injury I suffered selling the Morris metric slicer was more severe than anything that happened to me during that war.

Every pitchman eventually developed a personal spiel. It was an act, and the payoff really was a payoff. Success was measured in one-dollar bills. A lot of very successful people started on the boardwalk. Charles Revson, the founder of Revlon, was a pitchman. Popeil, who I believe is the grandfather of Ron Popeil of infomercial fame, was a boardwalk legend. Lucille Ball's husband, comedian Gary Morton, sold Lanolin a few yards from my spot. Roommates Charlie Bronson and Jack Klugman worked for my father at his Skillo booth, a derivation of bingo, and he used to tell them, "You want to learn how to do this business, go down the boardwalk and watch my son selling vegetable gadgets."

The boardwalk was a wonderful training ground for me. I gained a tremendous amount of confidence in myself and I learned how to think on my feet. And to this day I know that if the television thing doesn't work out for me, I can always make a decent living.

After spending the summers on the boardwalk, I returned to college to complete my degree at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. It was a tough time. I was married and had a child, I was a full-time college student, I was active in the theatrical department, and other than my marine benefits I had no income. I had to find a means to support my family and pay for my education in my spare time. The Morris metric slicer was just about as far as you could go in selling people something they really didn't need, but they were buying my pitch, my show, as much as they were buying a slicer. At Catholic University I found something that people really needed. I started my own dry-cleaning service, Dutch Cleaners.

I knew about as much about dry cleaning as Teatime Movie's Art Fern knew about sophistication. But I knew that the only dry cleaner near campus took

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First Chapter

I will never forget the very first time I met a young man named Johnny Carson. The producer of my good friend Dick Clark's famed American Bandstand had heard Johnny was looking for an announcer for his new afternoon quiz show, Who Do You Trust?, and had recommended me. Johnny's office was in the Little Theatre, on West Forty-fourth Street, directly across from the Shubert Theatre. As I entered his office, Johnny was standing at a large window, watching as four huge cranes raised the Shubert's new marquee. I watched this from the other window as he interviewed me. "It's nice to meet you, Ed," he said.

I laughed.

"Thanks for coming up from Philadelphia," he said.

I laughed just a little louder.

"Tell me a little about what you're doing down there," he said, with that little boy twinkle in his blue eyes.

I laughed even louder, and longer.

"So, Ed," he asked in that friendly voice, "have you spent much time in New York?"

I laughed so loud and so hard tears formed in my eyes.

"Okay," he said, nodding, "you got the job."

Well, maybe that's not exactly the way it happened. But just in case Johnny Carson decides to come out of retirement, I'm not taking any chances.

• • •

Recently my beautiful young daughter, Katherine Mary, came to me with her electronic pet, her Tamagotchi. "It's broken, Daddy," she said, handing it to me. "Can you fix it for me, please?"

I didn't have the slightest idea how to fix it. "I'm sorry, darling," I said. "That's not what I do. I do 'Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, there they are, weren't they wonderful, let's hear it for them.' I do, 'How's your Aunt Ida, did Uncle Joe get out of jail yet?' I'm the guy who says, 'Heeeeere's Johnny' and 'Hi-yoooo!' and 'You are correct, sir,' and 'How cold was it?' and 'Everything you ever wanted to know about mosquitoes is in that thin little book?' and 'I hold in my hand the final envelope, which has been hermetically sealed...,' and 'Once again let us welcome the seer from the East...' I'm the guy who says, 'You may have already won ten million dollars,' and 'Budweiser, the only beer that's beechwood-aged,' and 'You cannot be turned down...,' and 'I've lost twenty-nine pounds by following the Jenny Craig diet...'"

Katherine Mary sighed deeply, then sat down.

"See, sweetheart, I'm the guy who says, 'Our spokesmodel champion has owned the stage for two weeks, but her challenger intends to...,' and 'Jerry, our new total is forty-one million, seven hundred thousand dollars,' and 'Dick, this next practical joke is based on the fact that celebrities usually get...,' and 'The next giant balloon coming down Broadway on this magnificent Thanksgiving Day is our old friend...'"

Katherine Mary yawned.

"I'm the former marine combat pilot who served as the grand marshal of the Indianapolis 500 and the king of Bacchus at Mardi Gras, and played the secret Santa Claus at the White House. I'm the former host of Snap Judgment who used the great W. C. Fields line ''Twas a woman that drove me to drink, and I never had the decency to write and thank her' in my nightclub act. I'm the guy who used to work in bingo parlors announcing, 'Under the B, it's fifteen,' and the guy who promised on an infomercial, 'With this incredible cooking device you can make french fries, fried shrimp, crispy onion rings without any fat or grease in your oven or microwave.' I'm the guy who works for wonderful charities like St. Jude's Ranch for Children in Boulder City, Nevada, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and the United Negro College Fund. And I'm the guy who's made movies, recorded albums, and written books. The guy who worked with Johnny Carson for thirty-four years and Jerry Lewis for thirty years and Doc Severinsen and Frank Sinatra and John Wayne and Dick Clark and Don Rickles and Bob Newhart and Sammy Davis and Rosie O'Donnell and Coolio and Sinbad and the magnificent Tom Arnold. I'm the guy who pitched the incredible Morris metric slicer on the boardwalk in Atlantic City by telling people, 'with the blade in the lower position, just look how thin you can slice a tomato. You could read a newspaper through that tomato slice. I know a lady in Bayonne, New Jersey, who had one tomato last her all summer long...'"

Katherine Mary stood up. "Oh, that's okay, Daddy," she said. "I'll ask Mommy."

My given name is Edward Leo Peter McMahon. And I am one of the very fortunate people who grew up to do exactly what I spent my whole childhood dreaming of doing, even if no one is quite sure exactly what it is that I do. One night, for example, I was having dinner with the brilliant producer of The Tonight Show, Freddy de Cordova, at Chasen's Restaurant. We would do that periodically. We each had one of Pepe's flaming martinis, we discussed the show, what had happened recently, what was going to happen, then we each had a second flaming martini, and finally Freddy looked at me and said warmly, "Ed, I want to tell you something. I've been producing this show for twenty years and I still don't know exactly what it is that you do, but whatever it is, you're the very best at it."

My lovely daughter Linda often complained that the most difficult question to answer on an application was "Father's Occupation?" I think that what I do might best be described as a host or master of ceremonies, or maybe a second banana or a sidekick or a straight man. Certainly I'm a well-known television personality, an entertainer, a spokesperson, a pitchman, and a salesman. I'm definitely a broadcaster, but I'm also an actor and a comedian. I'm a performer.

That's what I do. But I'm still trying to figure out what my good friend the great Dick Clark does.

Many people have told me that the thing I do best is make it look as if I'm not doing anything. My talent is making it seem that I have no talent. That just about anybody could get up there on the stage and do what I do. But believe me, that's not an easy thing to do. It took me years of hard work to be able to convince an aud

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