A Life of Make Believe by John Mahon

A Life of Make Believe

From Paralysis to Hollywood
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A memoir from a physically disabled actor who navigated the rough-and-tumble world of showbiz.
You may not recognize his name, but there’s a good chance you’ve seen Mahon in a TV show or movie. Since the 1970s, this veteran character actor has appeared in numerous works—usually portraying a police officer or military man—such as The Exorcist, The Rockford Files, The X-Files, L.A. Confidential and Armageddon. But for Mahon, the path to Hollywood wasn’t easy; as detailed in his memoir, he spent most of his life facing personal and professional obstacles. In 1950, at the age of 12, Mahon contracted polio, which caused him to lose the use of his left arm; his descriptions of the illness put into perspective just how devastating the disease was at the time. While polio may have dashed his athletic ambitions—he refers to himself as a “gimp,” a rather sardonic term for a physically disabled person—Mahon found his calling in acting: “The fact was acting, although scary sometimes, made me feel a great deal more alive.” Yet he also admits that the decision to become an actor with a physical disability was “harebrained,” and while in search of his big break, he took on various jobs such as being a caseworker for the New York City Welfare Department, taxi driver and busboy. In auditions, sometimes his bum arm would cost him a part, though other times it didn’t matter. “I remember at one audition a tactless female producer in a loud voice announced: ‘He can’t even use his arm!’ ” The ongoing thread through this book is that, despite his physical disability and some professional setbacks, Mahon never gave up: “I didn’t want to be an actor. I had to be one.” Along the way, Mahon offers anecdotes about some of his acting roles; his friendship with Jason Miller, best known as Father Karras in The Exorcist and the playwright of the Pulitzer Prize–winning work That Championship Season; and his encounters with fellow actors such as Al Pacino, Warren Beatty, James Garner and James Coburn. Perhaps because Mahon isn’t a recognizable famous star and he didn’t live a tremendously glamorous lifestyle, the book’s tone is quite unassuming and modest compared with other gossip-laden celebrity tell-alls. Managing a dash of humor, he’s frank about some of the not-so-pleasant aspects of the profession—whether it’s dealing with a particular actor or director or working on projects that never got off the ground. Mahon’s straightforward, honest perspective about his craft could benefit aspiring actors who take heed of his wisdom and experience.

Thoughtful and entertaining, an engaging example of determination both on screen and in real life.
Pub Date: May 16th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1495942495
Page count: 346pp
Publisher: CreateSpace
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2014