‘Frasier’ pa­tri­arch has left the build­ing

Suc­cess may have come late in life, but sit­com dad John Ma­honey never doubted his ca­reer choice, writes Matt Schudel

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - OBITUARIES -

JOHN Ma­honey, a Bri­tish-born char­ac­ter ac­tor who won a Tony Award on Broad­way and had roles in films in­clud­ing Moon­struck, In the Line of Fire and Say Any­thing but was best known as Kelsey Gram­mer’s fa­ther and the voice of com­mon sense in the long-run­ning sit­com Frasier, died on Fe­bru­ary 4 in Chicago. He was 77.

His man­ager an­nounced the death but did not pro­vide a cause.

Ma­honey, who came to the US when he was 19, did not start act­ing un­til he was 37. He fre­quently ap­peared on stage with Chicago’s Step­pen­wolf The­ater and in 1986 won a Tony for his per­for­mance in John Guare’s The House of Blue Leaves, play­ing a zookeeper with am­bi­tions of be­com­ing an ac­tor.

Af­ter a decade of the­atri­cal roles and sec­ondary parts in film and tele­vi­sion, Ma­honey trans­formed a sin­gle ap­pear­ance on Cheers, the sit­com that in­cluded Gram­mer as the pompous psy­chi­a­trist Frasier Crane, into a ca­reer-defin­ing role.

When Frasier was spun off as a sep­a­rate show in 1993, Gram­mer begged Ma­honey to take the part of Martin Crane, Frasier’s fa­ther. When he read the script, Ma­honey later re­called, he said, “God, yes! I’ll do this in a minute.”

Frasier be­came renowned for its lit­er­ate scripts and so­phis­ti­cated hu­mour. It was taped be­fore live au­di­ences, which re­minded Ma­honey of the theatre, his favourite act­ing venue.

His char­ac­ter was a wid­owed po­lice of­fi­cer who had left the force af­ter be­ing shot in the hip. Through­out the 11 sea­sons of Frasier, Ma­honey car­ried a cane and walked with a limp.

His crotch­ety, blue-col­lar ways formed a comic con­trast to the snooty man­ners of his Ivy Leaguee­d­u­cated sons, Frasier and Niles Crane, played by Gram­mer and David Hyde Pierce. Martin Crane’s gar­ishly striped green-and-gold easy chair, patched with duct tape, was a con­stant source of em­bar­rass­ment to Frasier.

Ma­honey of­ten sup­plied a dose of plain-spo­ken wis­dom that punc­tured his sons’ cul­tural pre­ten­sions. His char­ac­ter had ro­man­tic flings but his con­stant com­pan­ion was his spir­ited and emo­tion­ally as­tute dog, Ed­die.

Frasier won five Emmy Awards from 1994 to 1998 as tele­vi­sion’s out­stand­ing com­edy se­ries and re­ceived 37 Em­mys in all, more than any other TV sit­com in his­tory.

Ma­honey ap­peared in all 263 episodes from 1993 to 2004 and was nom­i­nated for two Emmy Awards as best sup­port­ing ac­tor.

In 1991, two years be­fore Frasier be­gan, he ac­knowl­edged that he was con­tent­edly re­signed to a ca­reer as a char­ac­ter ac­tor. If Ma­honey wasn’t con­sid­ered a lead­ing man, his ver­sa­til­ity and ev­ery­man looks kept him in de­mand. He ap­peared in Nor­man Jewi­son’s Moon­struck in 1987 as an al­co­holic col­lege pro­fes­sor who tries to se­duce Olympia Dukakis’s char­ac­ter, Rose.

“We could go to my apart­ment,” he tells her. “You could see how the other half lives.”

“I’m too old for you,” Rose says. “I’m too old for me,” Ma­honey replies. “That’s my predica­ment.”

In 1988, he por­trayed Kid Glea­son, a base­ball man­ager in John Sayles’s Eight Men Out about the 1919 Black Sox bet­ting scan­dal. A year later, he ap­peared in Say Any­thing, which he con­sid­ered his finest screen role. He was the fa­ther of a teenage girl, played by Ione Skye, who falls for a lower-class boy, por­trayed by John Cu­sack.

In 1993, he played Clint East­wood’s Se­cret Ser­vice boss in the thriller In the Line of Fire.

Among the lead­ing di­rec­tors who were ea­ger to cast Ma­honey in films were Barry Levin­son, Ro­man Polan­ski, Costa-Gavras and the Coen broth­ers. “I re­mem­ber one time Barry Levin­son talk­ing to me and say­ing, ‘Well, we’ll cast every­body else and what we can’t find any­body for we’ll give to you’. And that’s both the joy and the li­a­bil­ity of be­ing a char­ac­ter ac­tor.”

Ma­honey was born June 20, 1940, in Black­pool, Eng­land, and grew up in Manch­ester as one of eight chil­dren. Ma­honey showed prom­ise as an ac­tor in his early teens, but he fell away from the stage be­fore mov­ing to the US. He joined the US Army and quickly lost his Bri­tish ac­cent. He grad­u­ated in 1966 from Quincy Uni­ver­sity in Illi­nois and later re­ceived a mas­ter’s de­gree in Eng­lish from West­ern Illi­nois Uni­ver­sity. He worked as a hospi­tal or­derly, a col­lege teacher and as an ed­i­tor of a med­i­cal jour­nal in Chicago. At 37, he seemed to be at a dead end, “spend­ing all my time at home, smok­ing and drink­ing a few beers”, he told the Chicago Tri­bune in 1996. “There was this deep-seated frus­tra­tion. I knew that the only place I had ever been re­ally happy was on stage.”

He be­gan tak­ing act­ing les­sons with ac­tor Wil­liam H Macy and play­wright David Mamet. Two years later, Ma­honey was in­vited to join Chicago’s Step­pen­wolf The­ater, where he worked along­side such ac­claimed ac­tors as John Malkovich, Joe Man­tegna, Lau­rie Met­calf and Gary Sinise.

Ma­honey never set­tled in Hol­ly­wood, al­ways stay­ing in a rented apart­ment. He never mar­ried and had no chil­dren.

While strug­gling to be­come es­tab­lished, Ma­honey sold his fur­ni­ture and books to pay the rent. He couldn’t af­ford a new car un­til he was 49. Even if suc­cess came late, he never doubted his ca­reer choice.

“I re­mem­ber think­ing: this is the sec­ond largest city in the US and

I’m a work­ing ac­tor in it,” he said in 2001. “And I just re­mem­ber the great feel­ing of pride and joy it gave me. I didn’t feel any fear, I didn’t feel any re­gret, I just felt full of joy, and I still do.” – Wash­ing­ton Post

John Ma­honey ap­peared in all 263 episodes of Frasier and was nom­i­nated for two Emmy Awards.

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