Ed McMahon is America’s most popular television announcer and commercial spokesman. He is best known as the announcer of the Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, and for hosting Star Search and Bloopers.
Thirty years ago, when McMahon was in New York launching his career as an announcer, he found a limousine to be an efficient way of going to jobs and auditions. In an era when limousines were seen much less frequently, McMahon bought a Cadillac sedan and hired a driver. A limousine became a valuable business tool to McMahon who has since owned a number of stretch limousines and regularly uses a livery service when traveling. He currently owns an O’Gara fifty- four inch stretch limousine. McMahon’s personal driver, Patrick, has been with him for the past eleven years.
McMahon recently discussed limousines with Limousine & Chauffeur in his dressing room at NBC Studios in Burbank prior to the taping of the Tonight Show.
Limousine & Chauffeur: When did you start using limousines?
McMahon: I was one of many announcers working in New York and competing for spokesmanship jobs. This goes back thirty years. I would come out of BBD&O and would be hunting for a taxi in the rain while one of my competitors got in a limousine and sped off to the next audition. I would finally locate a cab, soaking wet with my hair looking miserable, and get to the spot where they had already hired this guy who went by limo. I actually watched this guy take jobs from me that way. I said, “Wait a minute, that’s one of my tools...I have to have a limousine.” So I got a Cadillac Brougham and a driver. It wasn’t a real limousine but it worked fine. Then I got very sophisticated with a telephone and all the toys, but in the early days it was just a Cadillac Brougham but it served me very well. I’m sure that in all the years I’ve owned a limousine, they have more than paid for themselves.
In my early days, I was traveling a lot more than I am now. I would go to airports on Friday night with luggage and so forth, and it became a great time saver...and energy saver. I quickly got into the world of limousines and I don’t think I could function without one now.
I’ve gotten more sophisticated over the years. Now I have a stretch Cadillac with a bar and tape player. I use it for looking at tapes that people send and want me to see, like a commercial or something. I read scripts there. I read the paper in the morning. So it’s become kind of a necessity with me. It is a luxury, of course, but I find it to be a necessary luxury.
Limousine & Chauffeur: Do you rent limousines in other cities?
McMahon: Yes. In every town I go into, I have a special limousine company that I use.
Limousine & Chauffeur: Do you prefer having a certain driver in those cities?
McMahon: If I can, yes. They get used to my habits and where I want to go. It makes it easier.
Limousine & Chauffeur: What do you look for in a driver?
McMahon: One of the most important things would be privacy. You don’t want a driver to be telling everybody your habits. But I also like someone who’s friendly and warm. I never use the word “chauffeur.” I don’t like that word. I say, for example, “My driver will pick you up.” So I don’t think of him as the old fashioned stodgy chauffeur with the starched suit. I think of a person who helps with little problems. He helps with luggage, picks up a paper in the morning, and gets used to the other things you need.
Limousine & Chauffeur: Do you always use the same driver here in Los Angeles?
McMahon: Yes. He’s been with me for eleven years.
Limousine & Chauffeur: Do you spend a lot of time on the road?
McMahon: Not a lot. In my lifestyle, you go from a studio, to a business luncheon, to another studio for a sweetening session where you do voiceovers for shows, and then here to the studio for the Tonight Show. I’m on the road a fair amount of time, but they’re all short trips. I utilize that time. I read the paper, listen to the radio, watch television. I finish taping the Tonight Show at 6:30 and I can watch the NBC Evening News on the way home.
Limousine & Chauffeur: Do you know many other people who own a limousine?
McMahon: I finally talked my friend Dick Clark into it. I had been after him for about five years. I said, “By the time you get this car, you’re going to ask why I didn’t tell you to get one twenty years ago.” And that’s the first thing he said to me.
It really is a tool. It looks like a luxury, and there are elements of it that are luxurious, but it’s a tool because when we have to be somewhere, we have to be on time. We can’t just get there casually. You depend on a driver who knows the best way to get where you’re going. If I ask my driver, Patrick, how much time we need to get somewhere, he says “Boss, you better give us half an hour.” Once you have that kind of service, you never want to be without it. It’s one of the last things I’d ever want to give up.
Limousine & Chauffeur: What was the most important development you’ve seen in limousines in the past thirty years?
McMahon: The telephone was one important thing. I had a telephone in my original Brougham but phones weren’t that good then. You had to wait for an open line and I finally got rid of it because I waited more than I used it.
The advent of television was also important. I use it to watch the news, football games, the world series, and things like that. The videotape player was also a godsend because if you’re going somewhere where there is poor reception, like Palm Springs, you get a two hour show, have a glass of wine and, the next thing you know, you’re at your destination. I have a wine bucket on the hump in the car. We’re not really hard liquor drinkers.
What Dick Clark loves is that he can look at shows on tape. People are forever sending him show ideas and he can watch them in the car and save a lot of time. That’s one of the things he raves about. He has to watch longer pieces than I do.
Limousine & Chauffeur: Have you given up driving completely?
McMahon: Pretty much. My wife loves to drive She has a Porsche 928 that I gave her a couple years ago, so I drive very rarely.
Limousine & Chauffeur: What do you think about the quality of chauffeur service across the country? Do you find it to be pretty consistent?
McMahon: I’m very impressed by it. I have a driver who I use on weekends for Star Search who told me that he took the job so he would have a chance to study. I asked him what he was studying and he said, “I’m working on my Master’s degree.” I find that there are some very interesting drivers. In Los Angeles we have a lot of people who are actors. Many drivers are very security conscious. Some of them are former policemen who reached a mandatory retirement age. Then you have that extra element of security.
Limousine & Chauffeur: Do you sense that you get better treatment than the average person?
McMahon: I guess so. You know, celebrities always seem to get better treatment which makes up for when you’re interrupted while trying to eat in restaurants and things like that. You get what you give. I find that if you’re a pleasant person, you get that kind of treatment back no matter who you are.
Limousine & Chauffeur: In the early days when there were fewer limousines, did your car draw more attention to you as a celebrity?
McMahon: I think people expect to see you in a limousine. I don’t think it surprises them. I’m surprised that so many people still look at limousines when you see so many of them. There’s nothing really that unusual about them anymore.
Limousine & Chauffeur. Do you replace your limousine every couple of years?
McMahon: Yes. I find it’s easier to do that and, in the long run probably less costly. Just when the car is needing repairs, you get another car and save that money. I like my present car so much that I’ll probably keep it a few more years. I really like Cadillacs. I find that the passenger door on a Lincoln limousine is too narrow for my legs. Otherwise, the Lincoln is a fine car.
Limousine & Chauffeur: Does your bodyguard also travel with you in the limousine?
McMahon: Yes. He meets me here at NBC and takes me off the grounds each day.
Limousine & Chauffeur: What interesting experiences have you had in your thirty years of limousine travel?
McMahon: I’ve had a couple occasions where I think clever driving may have saved my life. One was in New York when I was coming home and a truck behind us lost its brakes. We had just almost stopped when my driver heard a horn. He felt there was danger and quickly pulled off to the shoulder and the truck hit the car in front of us. No one was hurt seriously but it could have been worse where we had been sitting. There were a couple occasions like that where you thank God that the driver was paying attention.
From a security standpoint, one thing that has been good is that my driver is an ex-paratrooper and I was a Marine fighter pilot. Together, we have good eyes for keeping out of trouble.
Limousine & Chauffeur: Does having a limousine make it possible for you to do more projects than you could otherwise?
McMahon: Sure. I’ll give you a typical day. In the morning I may get up and go to Hollywood to shoot commercials. If there are six commercials, I’ll need six different suits. Patrick also handles my wardrobe and he’ll make sure I have the right shoes, ties and everything. So I go to the shoot and stay until 12:30 or 1:00. A soon as I finish with a suit, he takes it out to the car and at the end of the shoot, everything is loaded and we’re ready to leave.
Then we may go to another studio across the street to work on Bloopers. First we have to find a place to park which is not always easy. I must save twenty or thirty minutes in parking at each locale. Then I come here to the Tonight Show and afterward I may have to emcee at a banquet. If you’re the emcee, you don’t have time to wait in line for the valet to take your car. You have to get inside and get to the head table and meet the chairlady and get your instructions like, “Dr. So-and-so won’t be the main speaker...So-and-so will be filling in.” You have to get all that information before the dinner starts when I might otherwise be sitting out in the parking lot.
Getting to the airport is another thing. First of all, Patrick brings my wife here at 6:30 after the show and, when we get to the airport, we don’t have to park. I can make a 7:30 flight if I have to. I worked in Las Vegas for awhile and made a 7:30 flight every night. Also, when you return to the airport after a tiring trip, the car is there, my driver takes care of the luggage, he tips the skycap, and we’re in the car with a glass of wine on our way home.
Limousine & Chauffeur: Had Patrick been a driver before he came to you?
McMahon: No. He was a security guard here at NBC. I had a driver who worked for me for about four years who wanted to go back home to Ireland so I was driving myself for awhile. Patrick saw me and said, “Mr. McMahon, if that job is open, I want it.” I like the fact that he was a policeman and knew how to handle a gun.
Limousine & Chauffeur: If you had to replace him, would you look for an experienced chauffeur or someone you could trust and train into the position?
McMahon: Either way. You would like someone with experience, but Patrick had no experience and he has worked out fine.