Here at Balladeer’s Blog I enjoy writing about all aspects of mythology and folklore and the way that a popular misconception can be spread. Once again the false claim that Ed McMahon (above) was affiliated with Publishers Clearing House instead of American Family Publishers is making the rounds. Every few years this story resurfaces and is often cited as an example of the Mandela Effect.
If you need a refresher on the Mandela Effect, it refers to the way that information can become jumbled in the public consciousness, resulting in a mass sharing of false memories. This name for the phenomenon comes from a 2009 story about the large numbers of people who incorrectly believed that Nelson Mandela had died in prison in the 1980s.
In large measure that misconception has been attributed to the fact that in 1987 Denzel Washington starred in the movie Cry Freedom, a film based on the real-life Steve Biko. Washington portrayed Biko, a black anti-Apartheid activist in South Africa, just like Nelson Mandela had been. Biko, like Mandela, was imprisoned for his activities, but Biko – unlike Mandela – died in prison in 1977.
The plight of each man had become a cause celebre around the world and apparently Biko and Mandela became conflated in the minds of many people due to the real-life similarities and to the increased attention paid to the still-living Mandela after the release of the Biko movie Cry Freedom. The film’s 1987 release date seems to account for why so many people incorrectly thought of the 1980s as the decade in which Nelson Mandela had supposedly died.
There are countless other examples of such flawed mass memories both before and after all this and many other names for the phenomenon, but “Mandela Effect” seems to be the most popular tag for it at present.
Moving on to Ed McMahon, in the 1980s and 1990s he did commercials for the American Family Publishers Sweepstakes. The American Family Publishers were a rival organization to the far better known Publishers Clearing House and its own sweepstakes program.
Over the years, it became a common cultural reference point that Ed McMahon was affiliated with Publishers Clearing House despite the fact that he was instead affiliated with the smaller outfit American Family Publishers. This was similar to the way that the better-known Nelson Mandela was falsely remembered by many people to have been the South African political prisoner who died.
Ed McMahon was incorrectly linked to PCH in countless jokes on sitcoms and by stand-up comics and even in a 1991 incident on Late Night with David Letterman. Johnny Carson, then-host of the Tonight Show, appeared on Late Night in a joking bit in which he handed Letterman an enormous fake check (like the kind used in ceremonial charity endowments) from Ed McMahon – payable from Publishers Clearing House!
Yes, even in that joking reference from McMahon’s longtime colleague Johnny Carson, either Carson or the prop aides who created the huge check MISTAKENLY TIED ED TO PUBLISHERS CLEARING HOUSE INSTEAD OF AMERICAN FAMILY PUBLISHERS. Clips of this particular incident are all over the internet and are often cited as “proof” that McMahon worked for PCH, not AFP. No, it was an error.
Even some of Ed McMahon’s obituaries mistakenly stated he worked for Publishers Clearing House, further cementing the false notion in the public’s consciousness.
This type of false group memory isn’t earth-shaking, of course, but even more fun comes from the way that many conspiracy kooks refer to such instances as “proof” (LMAO) that outside forces have interfered with our reality, altering often-trivial aspects of our past. The CERN Hadron Collider of all things is sometimes blamed for spawning this alternate reality.
Others claim that these types of stealth “alterations” are done by governmental forces as an experiment in mind control and disinformation and still others claim that the incidents are glitches in the “matrix” that they feel we live in.
In the usual leap of faith manner of conspiracy kooks, no evidence is enough to change their minds. Even though Publishers Clearing House has outrightly stated that Ed McMahon never worked for them and even though Ed’s American Family Publishers ads can be found online, the true believers insist that it’s all part of the deception and that the erroneous pop culture references to McMahon working for the PCH Sweepstakes are the real, “residual phenomena” of reality from before it was altered.
See below for a December of 1987 ad featuring Ed McMahon and an AFP Sweepstakes winner. It includes a joking reference to how common the misconception was as to which sweepstakes McMahon worked for – EVEN BACK THEN. A car horn comically smothers the gas station attendant’s mistaken reference to Publishers Clearing House, and then he gets corrected that Ed works for American Family Publishers instead.