This week America mourns the passing of Ed McMahon an entertainment giant, household name, and trusted American icon. He is remembered by the general public for his 30 years as Johnny Carson’s side-kick on The Tonight Show, his 12 years as the host of Star Search and his 16 years co-hosting TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes with Dick Clark.
He earned a place in American cultural history. And he earned a place in African American history.
As the creator and producer of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) Lou Rawls Parade of Stars telethon I want to salute Ed McMahon for his work as the show’s co-host for over 17 years.
From the very beginning Ed lent his name, his prestige and his connections to the telethon. His role as co-host helped UNCF raise over $500 million and helped send thousands of young African Americans to college.
McMahon shared his celebrity, his reputation and his integrity with the telethon. His involvement helped to bring well established non-black entertainers onto the show giving it a “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.” His continuous role as co-host helped to extend the college fund into white homes who otherwise might have dismissed the telethon – and its important work of raising scholarship funds – as a “black thing.” Ed brought a diverse audience to the telethon. He gave the show credibility. He helped make the education of young black students an issue for all Americans to embrace.
When we wanted to engage a non-black entertainer Ed would make it happen. He would come into a room where we were meeting, pull out his little black book and personally call the entertainers we wanted on the show. He would ask and they would say yes.
You can’t buy what Ed McMahon gave. He was flexible and patient. He never asked for special treatment. He didn’t have an ego problem. He was a consummate professional. You could put a new script before him and he would read his lines as if he had been practicing for weeks.
He was so well liked by all. Of all the hundreds of stars who appeared on the show he was the easiest person to work with. He would spend enormous hours rehearsing. He never complained about all retakes and retaping. His famous line was “Point me where to go and I’ll do it.”
Ed McMahon is part of African American history!