Magic Man.

Source: Chicago Tribune

Any time I get hooked on a show it’s because of the characters. I’m not naïve enough to think they’re real people or even that the actors are anything like the characters they play, although I do always kind of hope they are because the reason I’m devoting half an hour to a sitcom is because I think, if these people were real I’d enjoy hanging out with them. Take, for instance, Frasier. Yes, I could definitely see myself attending the theater or an art gallery with Frasier and Niles, but I also thought I’d be just as happy having a beer at Duke’s with Martin. Again I know they’re not real people but Martin was wonderfully brought to life by John Mahoney. Take, for instance, my favorite exchange from the whole series, from the season 3 episode Chess Pains:

Frasier: Oh, hi, Dad. Did you see my new chess set?
Martin: Oh yeah, it’s nice.
Frasier: “Nice?” Well, the inlay was made from the same Travertine marble they used at the Emperor Hadrian’s palace outside Tivoli!
Martin: Really? Well, I’m gonna celebrate with a beverage brewed from the crystal-clear waters of the majestic Colorado Rockies!
Frasier: Good one, Dad. Say, how about a game?
Martin: Nah, I don’t think so.
Frasier: Oh, come on, Dad. You know how to play, don’t you?
Martin: Well, Daphne showed me once. But really, checkers is more my speed.
Frasier: Oh, come on, checkers is a kid’s game. Come on, Dad! I just got it! Please? Nobody will play with me!
Martin: All right, I’ll give it another shot. Those guys at the park make it look great-eating baloney sandwiches, smoking cigars, sometimes a fist-fight even breaks out!
Frasier: Well, let’s just start with name-calling and see where it goes, all right?

It’s a funny bit but it’s really the way Mahoney and Grammer, especially Mahoney, commit to it and play off each other that makes it. Then after I got hooked on Frasier it was a real treat to go back and rewatch Moonstruck, Say Anything, and The American President, and to watch The Broken Hearts Club just to see the different characters he could be–always charming, always distinctively John Mahoney, and yet so different from role to role.

He started acting at the age of thirty-seven but Mahoney was serious and dedicated to the craft. As brilliant as he was on TV and in movies he preferred the theater, working live before an audience. In a 2014 interview he said, “The audience has a job and the actors have a job and when you both do your job and meet the result is just magical.”

He really brought the magic. Hail and farewell John Mahoney.

15 Comments

  1. Chuck Baudelaire

    I was genuinely saddened to read of his passing this morning. Frasier holds a very special place in my heart, sitcom-wise. John Mahoney always seemed like a lovely person. I’m glad he shared his gifts with us.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      It was a very special sitcom and he was a very special guy. I know we don’t always know public figures but he seems to have been one of those who was as genuinely nice and charming off-screen as on.

      Reply
  2. Spoken Like A True Nut

    He was always so wonderful as Marty Crane.

    I saw a clip from “Look Before You Leap” on Twitter this morning and I think I’m going to have to track that episode down and rewatch it tonight. The “polyester avalanche” line always has me in stitches.

    Cheers to you, Mr. Mahoney, you will be missed. Veneer!

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      That’s a hilarious episode. It tickled me when he impersonated Daphne. He truly will be missed and left us with some great wisdom: “Just ask yourself, what do I really want? What is really going to make me happy…now? Well, that’s weird. I suddenly feel like having a beer!”

      Reply
  3. Arionis

    Wow, I didn’t hear about his passing until I read this. I always enjoyed most everything he was in. He certainly contributed greatly to the success of Frasier. A few years ago I binged all 11 seasons of Cheers and followed it up by binging all 11 of Frasier. It’s rare that you get such a successful spin-off series. Fair winds and following seas John.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Holy mackerel, I just realized Cheers and Frasier combined are twenty-two years of television. And a funny thing I didn’t realize until reading about his passing, or rather that I’d forgotten, is that Mahoney had a small role in an episode of Cheers. I don’t know how I could forget that, and it’s probably why they brought him back as Frasier’s father.

      Reply
  4. Allison

    The writing on Frasier was air tight. I was studying journalism when Frasier came out, and my junior year, I wrote a terrible episode for a final project in a writing class. You had to pick a currently airing show of your choosing. There were plenty of Simpsons, and a lot of Married With Children. But I picked Frasier. I thought that Martin and Niles were the heart of the show. My husband’s great aunt adored it because at the time she (in her 90s) had just started using a wheelchair, and thought it was encouraging that he used his cane and got along great.

    And of course, Barton Fink. Say Anything…

    He was special.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      So many episodes of Frasier seemed like perfect one-act plays that I wasn’t surprised to learn that Mahoney had a background in the theater, and it seemed like the writers did too. I’m glad we have his on-screen work to remember him by but seeing him perform on stage must have been fantastic too.

      Reply
  5. Jay

    Learning of his current age made me realize how young he must have been on the show!

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I hadn’t even thought about that. He was almost too young to be Frasier’s father! It says something that he played someone much older than he really was so convincingly.

      Reply
      1. Spoken Like A True Nut

        I remember seeing a special once where they aired a bunch of outtakes from the show. One of my favorite “whoops” moments involved John Mahoney hurriedly descending into Frasier’s living room, feigning his usual limp all the while, only to sheepishly realize far too late that he’d left Marty’s iconic cane behind at the top of the stairs.

        Reply
        1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

          That’s hilarious and also seems unlike him–or maybe it seems exactly like the kind of thing he’d do. He was a true actor who didn’t need no stinkin’ props to play the part.

          Reply
  6. Ann Koplow

    Another magical tribute, Chris, to a wonderful artist.

    Reply
    1. Ann Koplow

      I thought his performance in “Say Anything” was brilliant. I love the way he delivers the line “I’M INCARCERATED, LLOYD!”

      Reply
      1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

        Mahoney was brilliant at delivering lines. His sarcasm could be so withering, but he could also be equally charming.

        Reply

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