"Judge not that ye be not judged."
While perusing today’s Bay Area cyber-fishwrap, I came across an AP article reporting the impending foreclosure on Ed McMahon’s home in Beverly Hills. A glance at the first twenty (of nearly eighty) comments left by readers on this sad bit of news was disheartening, to say the least. A few expressed sympathy that anyone so old (85) could face eviction, rightfully wondering how his finances could have been so mismanaged -- but all too many were laced with the sour joy of Schadenfreude.
So much for the supposed tolerance of those lucky enough to live around San Francisco Bay.
I too find it hard to comprehend how someone so successful in his professional life could end up in such a dismal situation, but Hollywood is littered with the sun-bleached bones of celebrities who trusted the wrong people to handle their financial affairs. Parasites, con-men, and blood-sucking predators are as much a part of life in the dark, pulsing heart of the Industry as bright lights and chilled champagne.
There’s something ugly in human nature that loves to tear down those who have been elevated to positions of cultural prominence. So long as these icons manage to preserve an image of being above the foibles of mere mortals, they’re reasonably safe from the public’s wrath – but the instant they display any hint of human weakness, that protective bubble vanishes, the bugle blares, and the hunt is on. Apparently we deeply resent anyone who achieves public success. Some part of us hates them for doing that which we are incapable of (or uninterested in) doing.
Maybe it’s some ancient remnant of our shared hardscrabble evolutionary past, the hungry beast inside us all that never quite lost a taste for the blood of others. I don’t pretend to understand this, but truth be told, I feel it too from time to time -- this disturbing urge to join the mob howling at those who dare to disappoint and disillusion us. It’s much easier to do with those we’ve never met: people we know only as abstract images on the television screen. That’s just what Ed McMahon was to me for many years, playing the guffawing Sancho Panza to Johnny Carson’s deft and dapper Don Quixote.
Then I got a job juicing on a feature called “Full Moon High,” a low-budget, non-union werewolf movie starring the young Adam Arkin. Ed McMahon played the role of Adam’s father. Being my first real movie as a juicer, this proved to be a memorable experience.
Most of Ed’s scenes were shot at locations in Beverly Hills, but at one point we spent two long days filming in an underground bomb shelter that had been built underneath a ranch-style home in Ladera Heights back in the Cold War 1960’s. Beneath the floor of an extra-large closet was a metal stairway leading down to a heavy steel submarine-style door behind which was the actual bomb shelter, designed to give the 60’s family a few weeks protection from radiation and nuclear fallout after World War Three.*
Yeah, I got a bit tired of Big Ed’s big laugh down in that crowded tin can over the course of the next two days, but he was unfailingly pleasant, a genuinely nice man with a good (and earthy) sense of humor. We didn’t become fast friends or best buddies – he was the star and I was a juicer, inhabiting very different worlds – but he treated everyone on the crew with respect.
That’s all you can ask of any actor.
In my experience, Ed McMahon was a decent human being – so don’t look for me among the mob taking their bitter pleasure from his current misfortunes.
* Presumably, they’d then emerge to take advantage of the bombed-out property values that would doubtless abound amid the smoldering ruins...