Exit Interview: Ed McMahon

In yet another pop-cultural coup, Exit Interview tricked, er, persuaded sweepstakes icon and sidekick extraordinaire Ed McMahon to spend some time discussing his little-known Philly roots. In fact, the 82-year-old so thoroughly enjoyed talk of Atlantic City and his WCAU days, he practically forgot to mention his new book, Here’s Johnny, a Tonight Show memoir, out this month (though truth be told, he just wanted to save the scoop for some broad named Oprah). Nonetheless, despite a minor miscommunication or two, McMahon graciously played along with our feeble attempts to make the man who laughed with Johnny Carson laugh at us.

Exit Interview: Should I call you Mr. McMahon? Ed?

Ed McMahon: Call me Ed, please!

EI: Most folks probably don’t know your deep Philly roots.

EM: I had 13 television shows on WCAU Channel 10. A magazine that became TV Guide, I was on their cover as Philadelphia’s Mr. Television. I was gone [serving in the Korean War] for a year and a half, and all my shows failed. That’s when I started heading up to New York. The first three years of The Tonight Show, I commuted. I didn’t want to leave this great house I built in Gulph Mills.

EI: You also sold vegetable slicers on the Atlantic City Boardwalk.

EM: Yeah. In 1946 I made $500 a week. A lot of radio guys couldn’t use their hands and talk at the same time. That’s the essence of the pitchman. It helped me tremendously in television.

EI: There’s a picture of you and Marilyn Monroe, and she’s gazing up at you with huge bedroom eyes. To use the vernacular of the kids today, did you hit that?

EM: The pitching? It was all ad-lib. You’d slice a tomato and say, “I’m going to slice this so thin, you could read a newspaper through it. I know a lady in Bayonne, New Jersey, had one tomato, lasted her all summer long.”

EI: Not pitching. The Marilyn Monroe picture …

EM: I met her outside of her trailer. She came out in a mink coat, and just before we snapped the picture, she said “Ed, I don’t have a thing on underneath this.” A little vixen.

EI: Were you two romantic?

EM: Oh no no no no. But she was a knockout in person.

EI: I’d love to discuss your book, but your publicist didn’t send me a copy.

EM: Why don’t we do another interview when it comes out in October? I don’t want to spend too much time on the book, because I’m going to do Oprah.

EI: This will actually run in October.

EM: That’s great. All right, well, the book is my 46-year friendship with Johnny Carson. A lot of stories, behind-the-scenes things. I knew him better than anybody.

EI: What were your first impressions of Johnny?

EM: I just loved his efficiency. Every moment meant something. When you didn’t hear anything from Johnny Carson, that was great praise. It meant that you were doing a good job.

EI: Was there a moment when you tried to slip in a joke or ad-lib and it bombed horribly?