By MitchellIt isn't easy, one supposes, to be a second banana. It's even harder to do it well, or with the grace and style one saw from Ed McMahon. He truly was a partner with Johnny Carson - even though everyone knew Johnny was top dog, the thought of Johnny without Ed was a tough one. Ed McMahon was the perfect foil, the straight man who fed the great lines to Aunt Blabby and Carnac the Magnificent:
If there was a difference between Johnny and Ed, it was that while one had a hard time imagining Johnny without Ed, one could - and did - see Ed without Johnny. Star Search, blooper shows, the Labor Day telethon with Jerry Lewis - Ed had a whole side career without Johnny.
Ed McMahon's television career didn't start with the Tonight Show, as was detailed in When Television Was Young, the delightful book to which he lent his name. He was a TV celebrity in Philadelphia long before turning up with Carson, first on Who Do You Trust and later on Tonight. He was not only a great sidekick, he was a wonderful pitchman, often handling the Tonight commercials live, and ready with the ad lib whenever one of those Alpo dogs didn't quite cooperate as planned. The jokes about his drinking were legendary and, one hears, somewhat exaggerated. His presence on TV was always comforting, reassuring, familiar. He felt like part of the TV family, and in a sense he was, being a trusted late-night guest in our homes.
Ed McMahon saw a lot of change in television over the years, and it has changed even more since he left as a regular, although he was never really off the air. Even today, the day Ed McMahon died at the age of 86, he lives on through DVDs, tapes, and - best of all - memories.