"Professional sidekick" Ed McMahon attended 15 schools while growing up in Detroit, New Jersey, New York City and Massachusetts; his father was a part-time plumber and entertainer, whose work in both fields kept the family forever on the go. The 15-year-old McMahon's first appearance before a microphone was as the "caller" at a bingo game in Maine; he was 15 years old. He spent the next three years touring the state fair and carnival circuit then worked his way through Boston College as a jack-of-all-trades at a Lowell, Massachusetts radio station. After World War II service, McMahon found work as a sidewalk pitchman, which paid his tuition at Catholic University in Washington D.C.
As a journeyman television performer in the 1950s, McMahon delivered vegetable-slicer TV commercials, hosted a late-night interview show in Philadelphia and briefly appeared as a clown on the CBS kiddie show Big Top. In 1959, McMahon was hired as the announcer/straight man on Who Do You Trust?, a daytime quiz program hosted by Johnny Carson. When Carson succeeded Jack Paar on NBC's Tonight Show, he took McMahon with him; both men remained with Tonight until Carson's retirement in 1992. On his own, MacMahon has continued making commercial appearances for a multitude of products, starred in straw-hat theatre productions (The Music Man, is his favorite), played straight supporting roles in such films as The Incident (1967) and Slaughter's Big Rip-Off (1973), and hosted the popular TV talent contest Star Search.