June 23, 2009

Ed McMahon as Tonto

The NY Times compared Ed McMahon to Tonto in its obituary for the sideman:

Ed McMahon, Top Second Banana, DiesBut it was in the role of the faithful Tonto to Carson’s wry Lone Ranger that Mr. McMahon made his sideman’s mark. After he rolled out his introduction like a red carpet for the boss, and after Carson delivered his nightly monologue, Mr. McMahon, in jacket and tie, would take his seat on the couch beside the host’s desk, chat and banter with Carson a bit before the guests came on and almost invariably guffaw at his jokes, even when he was the butt of them. When the guests did arrive, he would slide over to make room and rarely interrupt.Comment:  I'm not sure it's wise to compare someone to Tonto even if the comparison is fairly accurate. Consider the following:But it was in the role of the faithful black sharecropper to Carson’s wry white plantation owner that Mr. McMahon made his sideman’s mark.That's also fairly accurate, but it seems less palatable.

The reason for not comparing people to Tonto is that Tonto was the white man's stereotype of what a good Indian should be. Tonto the fictional character may have chosen to be a sidekick, but Tonto the real person probably wouldn't. He'd be wondering why they were catching outlaws while US soldiers were massacring his fellow Indians. He'd be asking himself if he shouldn't join up with Crazy Horse, Geronimo, or Quanah Parker.

McMahon was subservient by his own choice. Tonto was subservient by his white creators' choice. Comparing McMahon to Tonto implies Tonto was happy to be subservient. That it was a natural and healthy choice for an Indian like him.

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