June 20, 1940 – John Mahoney:
”I’m not intimidated by other actors at all – or directors. I don’t care who they are. But I am intimidated by writers. I hold them in the highest esteem.”
John Mahoney might be known to you as Martin Crane, the irascible father of Frasier and Niles Crane, played by Republican Kelsey Grammer and out actor David Hyde Pierce, on the NBC sitcom Frasier.
Frasier ran from 1993 to 2004. The series was created as a spin-off of Cheers (1982-1993) continuing the story of psychiatrist Frasier Crane after he returned to his hometown, Seattle, and began building a new life as a radio advice show host while reconnecting with his father and brother. The show was critically acclaimed, winning 37 Emmy Awards, a record at the time. It also won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series for five consecutive years.
Martin is an unpretentious Seattle police detective who was forced to retire from the force due to a gunshot wound to his hip. He is forced to accept Frasier’s invitation to live with him when Frasier returned to Seattle because of the injury. Though his sons share very little in common with him, their relationship deepens over the 11 seasons. Martin’s relationship with his Jack Russell terrier, Eddie; drinking Ballantine beer; and his faded split pea-green recliner are a perpetual source of irritation for Frasier, much to our amusement.
Martin Crane was based on creator Peter Casey‘s father, who was San Francisco cop for 34 years. The producers suggested to NBC that they would like to cast someone like Mahoney. NBC told them if they could get Mahoney, they could hire him without auditions. The producers contacted Mahoney and flew to Chicago to show Mahoney the pilot script over dinner. After reading it, Mahoney accepted the role. Grammer, who had lost his father as a child, and the childless Mahoney enjoyed a cozy father-son relationship during the run of the series.
A Chicago medical magazine editor, Mahoney quit his day job when he was 37 years old to study acting. He became a member of Chicago’s famous Steppenwolf Theater where he appeared in Lyle Kessler‘s brutal play Orphans, going with the production when it played Off-Broadway in 1983, receiving a Theatre World Award.
Mahoney won a Tony Award in 1986 for his performance in a revival of John Guare‘s The House Of Blue Leaves. The production was videotaped for PBS’ Theatre in America series. In 2007, he was back on Broadway in a revival of gay playwright’s Craig Lucas‘s elegant Prelude To A Kiss.
He had the double-whammy of appearing in Barry Levinson‘s Tin Men in 1987, the same year he was so memorable in Moonstruck as a depressed college professor dad who regularly had affairs with his students. His scenes where Olympia Dukakis‘s Rose decides to dine alone at a restaurant but ends up inviting Mahoney’s Perry to dine with her instead, allowing him to walk her home but refusing to invite him in “because I’m married” are sublime, a little short film within a film.
When I think about Moonstruck and June 20th, I am reminded that Mahoney and Dukakis and costar Danny Aiello share a birthday. I like to imagine that Cher made them a carrot cake that was presented after the day of shooting.
Although he was offered numerous series after Frasier, including one continuing with the Martin character, Mahoney moved back to Chicago in 2003 and began acting again with Steppenwolf, first starring in I Never Sang For My Father, and the following year, playing Sir in The Dresser.
He was much praised for his performance as an anguished CEO in psychological counseling on season two of HBO’s In Treatment in 2009. From 2011 to 2014, Mahoney had a recurring role on Hot In Cleveland as the love interest of Betty White’s character.
I was always such a huge fan of the Frasier but never more so than during the year that I was in cancer treatment and I found a channel that seemed to only play Frasier reruns that kept me laughing. It certainly is one of the gayest series of all time, with openly gay cast members: Tony Award winner David Hyde Pierce as Nile, Edward Hibbert as Gil Chesterton, station KACL’s premier food critic, Dan Butler as sports reporter Bulldog Brisko, plus Mahoney who was quietly gay, never talking about his private life in interviews, but he was well known in the Chicago LGBTQ scene. Maybe because no one had ever asked him if he was gay, he never felt the need to make a public statement about it.
Born in England, Mahoney first discovered acting at the Stratford Children’s Theatre. He took acting classes at St. Nicholas Theatre in Chicago which was where he was encouraged by John Malkovich to join Steppenwolf. While there, he won the Clarence Derwent Award as Most Promising Male Newcomer. At 40 years old!
His resume is filled with impressive roles in iconic films: Say Anything… (1989), Reality Bites (1994), the thriller In The Line Of Fire (1994), the baseball flick Eight Men Out (1988) plus the Coen Brothers’ Barton Fink (1991) and The Hudsucker Proxy (1994).
A versatile actor, he plays a murdering racist in Costa–Gravas‘ Betrayed (1988), giving a powerful, restrained performance. He is equally moving, hilariously, and quite romantic in Moonstruck, and memorable as the quintessential icy bureaucrat in Roman Polanski‘s Frantic (1988).
Mahoney was also known for his voice work in many classic animated features including The Iron Giant (1998) and Antz (1999). In 2007, he reunited with his Frasier co-stars on The Simpsons and as Dr. Robert Terwiiliger, Sr., the father of Grammer’s Sideshow Bob and Hyde Pierce’s Cecil.
He played gay in The Broken Hearts Club (2000) as a restaurant owner who provides advice for a group of gay friends in West Hollywood played by Timothy Olyphant, Zach Braff, and Billy Porter.
His final performance was Foyle’s War (2015), a British detective drama.
Mahoney took his final bow at a Chicago hospice in 2018, taken by complications from throat cancer, originally diagnosed in 2014. He was 77 years old. He left behind an impressive body of work, two Emmy Award nominations, two Golden Globe nominations and a Screen Actors Guild Award win, and heartbroken fans like me.
Tid-Bit: Martin Crane’s dog Eddie Crane was played by Moose (1990 – 2006), a Jack Russell Terrier.
Moose was born on Christmas Eve 1990 in Florida. Like Pal, who played the original Lassie, as a puppy he was just too much for his original owner. He could not be house trained; he chewed everything; he dug and barked a lot; and he was constantly escaping and climbing trees. He soon took up with a pack of naughty canines. He was given to a company that trains animals for television and films. Moose was put on a plane to Los Angeles at 2½ years old where was met by a trainer working for the company.
Moose won the role on Frasier after only six months of training. Moose had the ability to fix Grammer with a long hard stare; this became a running gag on the show. When Moose had to lick his co-stars, however, sardine oil was applied upon the actors’ faces. Mahoney said liver pâté was dabbed behind his ears to make Moose nuzzle him.
Moose had other television appearances and appeared on several magazine covers. He had the title role in My Dog Skip (2000). His memoir, My Life As A Dog, which was actually written by Brian Hargrove, husband of Hyde Pierce.
Moose spent the last six and a half years of his life in retirement in West Hollywood. Although Moose was gay, he was linked in the press with Jill, the dog from As Good As It Gets (1997). In his last year of life, he suffered from dementia and deafness. He died of natural causes at home at of 15 years old (95 in terrier years) on June 20, 2006.