Ed McMahon, who passed early this morning at age 86, was Johnny Carson ‘s indefatigable announcer and sidekick for 30-odd years. He was known for being likably jovial — a dependably upbeat middle-class personality. I knew him well because he was almost exactly my father’s age. To me he was always strictly a World War II generation guy. Yaw-hawh, scotch and soda, get out there and sell! He never got the transformational ’60s youth culture thing, never grew a moustache, never stopped being “Ed McMahon.”
McMahon played a straight supporting role in a 1967 Larry Peerce film called The Incident, which was about hooligan terrorism on a New York subway car. (He played a regular married commuter type, and wasn’t half bad.) There’s a McMahon tape loop from my teenage years that won’t go away. He’s doing a straight-to-the-camera ad on the Tonight show, and he finishes with this line: “Serve your man an Uncle Ben’s meal.” (An old ’70s joke. Q: “What’s white and crawls up your leg?” A: “Uncle Ben’s perverted rice.”) I still say McMahon’s biggest cultural accomplishment was inventing “Hiyohhh!” Ask Martin Mull.