A Life of Make Believe

A Life of Make Believe Book Cover

Kirkus Book Review

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.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 him 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.

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John Mahon’s journey from contracting the dreaded polio virus to becoming that rarest of humans – a working actor, is an inspirational story told with pathos and humor. His life, like most of our lives, is one of struggle, disappointment and success, with the added burden of having lost the use of one arm. He takes us through his teenage years, his first jobs, into the business world and finally into the entertainment industry as a successful director, stage and film actor working with many of Hollywood’s luminaries. What do I say or do about my arm?, is a constant question Mr. Mahon has to ask himself throughout. His answer helps him overcome the many obstacles in his path, and also enlightens us to the travails of those who struggle to compete in the world of the “normals”, especially in the arenas of television and movies. President Franklin Roosevelt’s courage and determination to overcome the effects of his paralysis is well documented. Mr. Mahon’s life story also serves as an example how persistence and determination can achieve one’s dream in the face of overwhelming odds.

Michael Fairman

This is a terrific book from long time character actor/voice over artist and promoter of Actors with Disabilities in SAG and AFTRA. It is about Mahon, an ordinary kid from Scranton, who overcame incredible odds; through his faith, conviction, and instinct, to trust his inner soul, he survived to do what made him happy and develop his talent. Know this is not a happy Hollywood fairy tale…nothing was handed to him; he mostly lived hand to mouth in his early adulthood in NY and had hard times and loss throughout his life. But, because of his perseverance and honesty he became a real presence on A-list Broadway, Film, and Television projects and has inspired so many “Gimps”, a title Mahon prefers. He never stopped learning. A great raconteur…this book is an inspiration to all of us who believe that good will happen if one with some talent and smarts puts a “disability”, or idea of perfection, aside and goes for the gold…no matter what the goal. Everyone needs a bit ‘o’ a John Mahon runnin’ through the veins to succeed in any goal….(I sure do.)

Carol Kline