If you ever watched the classic comedy series "Frasier," it was clear that actor John Mahoney and his Martin Crane character played a crucial role in its broad appeal.
Basically, he was a battered recliner in a world of pretentious fashion, a can of beer at a wine-and-cheese party, a lifer cop surrounded by chatty urban psychiatrists. In other words, he was the down-home voice of ordinary America. He was an every-Dad.
A tribute to Mahoney at The New York Times -- not the newspaper of record's actual obituary, following his death on Sunday -- put it this way:
As Martin Crane, the lovably grumpy, blue-collar father to the snobby Frasier and Niles, he hit many notes during the series’ run from 1993 to 2004 -- sometimes all in the same episode. He played sarcastic, cutting his sons’ pretensions down to size. He did reserved, as a counterpoint to their voluble self-analysis. He even delivered warmth, when reminding Frasier and Niles of the importance of unfussy stuff like family and beer.
As Joe Keenan, a “Frasier” executive producer and writer, put it, Mr. Mahoney’s character was the “moral center” of the show.
This moral-core theme continued in the Times obit.
While Frasier and Niles Crane, both psychiatrists, worried about wine vintages, cappuccino bars and opening nights, Marty, a retired police officer, cherished his dog, his duct-tape-accented recliner chair and the solid values of his generation. Once, when his younger son declared a certain restaurant’s cuisine “to die for,” Marty corrected him. “Niles, your country and your family are to die for,” he said. “Food is to eat.”
Now, in light of all that, does it matter that Mahoney was on the record -- in an interview with a prominent journalist, no less -- saying that his Catholic faith was at the center of his life and work?
Apparently not, at least not in The New York Times and at The Los Angeles Times. Readers didn't need to know, I guess, where Mahoney said that he found the foundation, the "moral core" even, for his art and existence.
Of course, you can read about that side of his life at the Catholic news website Aleteia, in a story with this headline: "Catholic actor and 'Frasier' star John Mahoney’s devotion to God and prayer."
The key material was drawn from "The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People," by the edgy Godbeat veteran Cathleen Falsani, whose work is always worth checking out.
Here is the core of the Aleteia feature:
Mahoney didn’t pursue an acting career until age 37, and admitted that he was self-absorbed in those early days. But he experienced a major change when he went to Mass at Chicago’s St. Peter’s Church one day, an experience he described as “the intercession of the Holy Ghost.” ...
Part of that devotion to God played out in his career. Before every performance, Mahoney would say this prayer: “Most glorious blessed spirit, I thank you for all the gifts and talents that you’ve given me. Please help me to use all these gifts and talents to their fullest. And please accept this performance as a prayer of praise and thanks to you.”
Mahoney also told Falsani that prayer is the first thing he does when he wakes up in the morning and the last thing he does at night. And about 20 to 30 times a day, he would simply pray, “Dear God, please help me to treat everybody -- including myself -- with love, respect, and dignity.”
Now, that passage already contains a few factual, personal details that would fit easily in an obituary of just about any length -- especially that pre-show prayer text.
But there was more. This is long, but contains several phrases that would be easy to weave into a longer feature about this unique actor. Mahoney is talking about that life-changing moment in Mass:
“It was just about the most emotional thing that ever happened to me. I don’t know where it came from, I just had a little breakdown of some sort, and after that, made a conscious effort to be a better person, to be a part of the world, and to try to revolve around everyone else in the world instead of expecting them to revolve around me. … I’ve always prayed to the Holy Ghost for wisdom and for understanding and knowledge. I think he answered my prayers when I stopped in the church that day. My life was totally different from that day on. I saw myself as I was, and I saw into the future and saw what I wanted to be. And I sort of rededicated myself to God and begged him to make me a better person. It wasn’t fear of hell or anything like that. I just somehow knew that to be like … what I was, wasn’t the reason I was created."
So here is the big journalism question: If a major newspaper's obituary of Mahoney focuses on his solid, moral, everyman role in a popular sitcom, and ihis other work in film and theater, then why isn't his personal faith commitment relevant?
Maybe that would fit somewhere in this passage in the New York Times feature?
After the war, John traveled to the United States to visit an older sister, who had married an American and lived in Illinois. He decided he wanted to make his life there when he grew up. In his late teens, he returned and earned his United States citizenship by serving in the Army.
After his military service (during which, he said, he deliberately shed his British accent), he went to college, earning a bachelor’s degree from Quincy College in Illinois (now Quincy University) and a master’s in English from Western Illinois University in Macomb. He taught for a while, then settled into a life of office work. At 37, he was an editor at a medical journal and desperately dissatisfied.
“I had to do something or I was just going to be a miserable, complaining, crabby old man,” Mr. Mahoney told NWI Times, an Indiana publication, in 2011. He had enjoyed doing children’s theater long ago, so he decided to give acting a try. And, as he said in the same interview, “Things fell into place.”
Or maybe in here somewhere?
Mr. Mahoney was never fond of being interviewed. ... He was not crazy about Hollywood, either, and spent as much time as possible in Chicago, his adopted hometown, which he praised for its combination of culture and Midwestern friendliness.
One more question: Did he live, by any chance, near St. Peter's Catholic Church? Bless be the ties that bind, and all that.