Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Legacy of Ed McMahon

You’re not supposed to speak ill of the dead, but I’m about to when I complain about Ed McMahon. Now that he’s passed away, everybody on T.V. will certainly have something good to say about him. How generous he was, what a gentleman he was, how loyal he was; and all of that is probably true. But there was one thing Ed McMahon did that really sticks in my craw: his involvement with a sweepstakes company back in the 80’s and 90’s called American Family Publishers. This company sent masses of deceptive mailings claiming that “You have already won a prize*” The asterisk indicated a disclaimer printed somewhere inconspicuous on the page reading: “if you have the winning number,” in very small print (of course.) The advertisements were blatantly deceptive and meant to extract money from the gullible. Some might say that if you’re that gullible, you deserve what you get. The problem there is that being gullible is often a side effect of having diminished mental capacity, and many of the victims were elderly people who couldn’t afford to be ripped off. Eventually, law suits against the company began to build up until they finally went out of business, all the while putting forth Ed’s trusted face and smiling endorsement. McMahon continued to deflect criticism, rather defensively and not very convincingly as I recall. What most of us couldn’t understand is why someone so well regarded and, we assumed wealthy would sully his reputation like that. The reason Ed continued to lend his endorsement was probably because they paid him well. So, maybe he needed the money, and in fact, we now know that he did. He spent his money as fast as he made it, and he made and spent a lot. He didn’t just make one bad choice here. He continued to make one for close to two decades. A choice that had real victims, while lining his pockets. Ed McMahon sold out principals for profit for a very long time, and that is as much a part of his legacy as are his co-hosting duties on The Tonight Show.

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