Although his parents' work as vaudeville performers took them to exotic places around the world, John Patrick McMahon was born in a less glamorous locale: Leavenworth, Kansas, the infamous home of the Federal Prison, thus burdening him with a life time of penal jokes whenever he was asked about his origins.
Actually, Leavenworth was also the hometown of Pat's mother, Adelaide, who decided to take a brief hiatus from the husband-and-wife traveling performing team to stay with her mother until Pat was born.
Shortly after Pats' arrival, his mother rejoined her husband, Jack, on the road with their new son.
Pat spent the next 12 years of his life traveling the world with the act "McMahon & Adelaide" and never regretted a minute of it.
"I wish I could create one of those stories of deprivation and being socially warped, but I loved it," he remembered. "By the time I was 13, I had been in all the states and umpteen countries. It was a great education."
It was also a great education in show business. Pat spent his youth watching comedians from the wings, studying their delivery and timing.
In fact, Pat's theatrical education was full since he also watched the magicians, the jugglers and the chorus girls.
Pat's Formative Years In Iowa
While on the road with his parents, Pat had the advantages of one-on-one tutoring, but at the age of 12 he was enrolled in a college prepatory boarding school in Des Moines, Iowa in order to get the formal education he never experienced.
Dowling was a strict Catholic school for boys at the time. Students were only allowed to leave campus once a weekend between lunch and dinner. Needless to say, it didn't fit young Pat's lifestyle.
"I was used to going out with girls, and the priests in the school administration were bound and determined that I didn't do that," McMahon remembered.
He found creative ways to bend the rules in his favor.
Traditionally, the freshmen were given small dormitory rooms, whereas the seniors were awarded much larger suites. Pat, on the other hand, kept the same humble room for four years... because it had a fire escape, which allowed him to sneak out to meet girls at the movies.
"I was successful in convincing the Dean that it was a combination of humility and my offering up the luxuries of life for having been a sinner -- and they bought it," he chuckled. "It was really all very innocent. I liked girls and considering my birthplace, incarceration was unacceptable."
Pat entered St. Ambrose College in Davenport, Iowa, and studied theater, radio and television, and, on a whim, applied for a job at KSTT, a local radio station before completing his course work.
Although that interview was for a clerical position unsuited to him, Pat's outgoing personality made an impression and he got a call two weeks alter from the program director asking him to be a disc jockey during the enviable afternoon drive time show from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
In spite of the fact that he had no idea how to work any of the equipment and was not comfortable behind the microphone, Pat became an instant hit by playing his own favorite records, which included Fats Domino and Little Richard. For this, his fellow college students considered him a hero and a revolutionary for the times.
Davenport remained Pat's home base as he ventured out to do commercials in Chicago and other Midwestern cities, which led to more work in radio and television. In 1958, however, his budding career took an unexpected turn: Uncle Sam called.
After The Army, It's On To Arizona!
He went into the Army willingly, but tried to position himself so he could continue his career -- beefing up his resume to make the Army believe they had drafted a master showman ("the Caucasian Sammy Davis, Jr.") It worked: after basic training, Pat was assigned to one of the Army's touring theatrical groups. For the next two years, Pat traveled with this group of draftee performers spreading goodwill with music and comedy for military personnel and civilians around the world.
At the end of the "tour of duty", he wound up in Colorado. He had planned to go to New York City to try to break into broadcasting there, but decided to first soak up some sunshine just a little south -- in Phoenix.
Once he arrived in Arizona, he knew immediately that he liked its capital city -- the palm trees, the weather, the people.
Flipping channels in a rental house during his first day in town, McMahon stumbled upon a local television show called "It's Wallace?"
He watched the title come up, heard the theme music and realized he'd come across the bane of his existence: a local kids' show.
He had seen a lot of these shows during his travels and believed they were all alike: "There's a man who works in some office at a television station. For an extra $11 a day, he gets into his costume, puts a sock on his hand and reminds kids to brush their teeth for 30 minutes.
"I didn't respect any of them because they always talked down to kids. It was insulting -- and nobody seemed to have an act," he observed. "I was used to being around people who felt it was an obligation to entertain, not bore."
Pat Intrigued By Wallace
This time, things would be different. What happened next was Pat's introduction to Wallace and Ladmo, who were doing an ad for Ruskets Flakes. McMahon's hand was poised on the dial, ready to flip, but he stopped and listened as Wallace said:
"Lad, the sponsors have been complaining lately because they say we don't show enough respect for the products they sell."
"What are we going to do?" Ladmo asked.
"Well," Wallace replied, "they're going to give us scripts. The advertising agency that handles all these details said we're going to lose the account and they're not going to pay for any of the commercials anymore if we don't do them straight. So they sent these scripts. They won't let us ad-lib them anymore."
Lad grabbed a script. "OK. I'm Personality One?"
"Yes. OK, I'm Personality Two," answered Wallace.
"Glorioski! I can hardly contain myself," Ladmo read. "These Ruskets Flakes are neat-o-roonie." He stopped and looked at Wallace.
"Do I really have to talk like this?" He asked.
"No," Wallace replied. "That's kind of humiliating, isn't it?" He then grabbed the cereal box and looked into the camera.
"Look, boys and girls. You like corn flakes or don't you? These are corn flakes. There's a guy named Ruskets that put these out. You like corn flakes, why not get these? What are you out? Otherwise, there's a guy on the coast who has a warehouse full of these."
Then Wallace tore the top off the box.
"And if you don't like corn flakes, look, wait until the holidays!"
Wallace began throwing the flakes into the air, like roughage confetti, singing, "Should auld acquaintance be forgot..."
McMahon became an instant fan. This was funny. This was kids' comedy with respect for the audience and an edge. This was love at first sight.
Shortly after his arrival, Pat decided to try to get a job in Phoenix.
Since his recent military experience had included television appearances, he delivered his ever-expanding resume to the four stations in town -- KTVK Channel 3, KOOL Channel 10, KTAR Channel 12 and KPHO Channel 5 -- but he had already made his choice.
Pat Joins KPHO And The Rest Is History
Coincidentally, the day McMahon stopped at KPHO, a longtime news anchor there quit to become a state legislator.
Pat auditioned and got hired on the spot. He became not only a newscaster, but a weatherman and sportscaster in KPHO's shoestring news department. Everyone did everything. But he still found time most afternoons to make his way to the set of "Its Wallace?"
"Just to sit in the wings again and watch," McMahon said.
By this time, the show had been on, very successfully, for five years as a duo.
One day, Wallace needed a third man for a bit and tapped McMahon for the part. He played Byron DoGood, who was supposed to come on adn talk with Wallace and Ladmo about the evils of littering, all while discarding the pages of his speech all over the floor -- the hypocrisy of those who demand that you "Do as I say -- not as I do."
"It's Wallace?" became a three-man show from that day forward, but in actuality, McMahon would bring with him more than 100 characters over the next three decades.
McMahon remains a fixture in the Phoenix TV and radio market and is active in the area's broadcasting circles.