Kurt's Historic Sites

Ed T. McDonnell

Ed T. McDonnell

Interment LocationVisited 
Scituate, MASeptember 6, 2023 

Photographed September 6, 2023.

“IBBY” is inscribed on the bottom right corner of the reddish monument for television host Ed T. McDonnell at sleepy Groveland Cemetery in Scituate, Massachusetts. What is the significance of this four-letter acronym? Why, it’s spelled out in the theme song to McDonnell’s longtime program, The Major Mudd Show: “With an I and a B and a B and a Y means, ‘I’ll Be Blasting You!'” McDonnell played the fictional astronaut during the height of space age fever — and beyond — from 1961 to 1974, on WNAC-TV Channel 7, broadcast from Boston. The bumbling Mudd commanded a spacecraft — the Nervous 1 — and his duties included participating in skits, interacting with the audience of kiddies, and introducing cartoon segments. Like Bozo the Clown and Rex Trailer, McDonnell’s Major Mudd was a favorite of New England children of that era, such as my father. He is shown here with a helmet and an Ohio Art Company AstroRay at McDonnell’s grave in tribute.

McDonnell was a veteran of World War II. He served in the U.S. Army as a Technician Fifth Grade, as is indicated by his military issue footstone. Buried with the performer is his wife of a quarter century, Margaret Huber, who outlived Ed by 43 years. Her grave was unmarked at the time my father and I visited in September 2023, 17 months after her interment.

Photographed September 6, 2023.
Photographed September 6, 2023.

For a time, The Major Mudd Show also rebroadcast Three Stooges short subjects, which were produced by Columbia Pictures from 1934 to 1959. McDonnell and other local television hosts from around the country who helped share the laughter of the comedy trio with the children of the 1960s were given roles in the Stooges’ 1965 feature film, The Outlaws IS Coming!” McDonnell portrayed Bat Masterson, who in real life had been a lawman, rather than the criminal the character was written as in the movie. Other eponymous outlaws included Jesse James, played by Wayne Mack of WDSU-TV Channel 6 from New Orleans, and Johnny Ginger from Detroit’s WXYZ-TV Channel 7 as Billy the Kid. McDonnell also voiced the character “Feep,” host of WNAC’s horror and science fiction showcase, Fantasmic Features.

For the first decade of The Major Mudd Show‘s run, WNAC-TV was an ABC affiliate. In 1972, control of the station reverted to its pre-1961 parent, CBS, and Major Mudd underwent major changes. The program was renamed Skiddle Alley and aired once a week, on Saturday mornings, beginning on June 30, 1973. It was described by TV guide as a “magazine-format variety show for children with the emphasis on educational games and activities.” McDonnell would not grace the small screen for long in this new hour-long format, though, as his health was in decline. He went into semi-retirement in 1974, but still made appearances at children’s hospitals and other locales until his infirmities prohibited it. Suffering from kidney failure and acute diabetes, by 1976 McDonnell had gone blind and was spending 15 hours a day hooked up to a machine to help his kidneys function. “I never wanted people to know that I was sick. I guess I was too proud or something,” the ailing entertainer said in an interview conducted in his Scituate home. “But now I’m so depressed and lonely that I find myself crying when I’m in the living room alone in the afternoon.” Medical bills had piled up, and his wife, Margaret, returned to her nursing career in order to make ends meet. On Thursday, January 20, 1977, McDonnell underwent kidney transplant surgery at the Veterans Hospital in Boston. The donor was his brother, John. Michael M. Lawson, the chief of medical administration, reported that McDonnell came through the surgery with “flying colors.” His overall health apparently did not improve in the long term, however. McDonnell died two years later in 1979, at age 53.

Photographed September 6, 2023.

Fast Facts

Born: September 30, 1926 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Spouse: Margaret Elizabeth Huber McDonnell (m. 1954-1979)

Military Rank: U.S. Army — Technician Fifth Grade

Died: October 30, 1979 in Jamaica Plain, Boston, Massachusetts

Cause of Death: Kidney Failure

Age: 53

Interment: Groveland Cemetery, Scituate, Massachusetts

"My television career is gone, just a half-faded memory. And all that I have for it today are memories of some kids that I made smile for a few minutes."
- Ed T. McDonnell
in a 1976 interview with the Associated Press
Scanned September 7, 2023.

My father brought this Major Mudd Show ticket with us to Ed T. McDonnell’s grave. It shows that the studio where the program was recorded was located near Fenway Park, at 21 Brookline Avenue. This means this particular ticket predates the studio’s relocation near Government Center in 1968. The ticket also instructs guests to arrive no later than 3:45 p.m. The show aired from 4:30 to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Sources Consulted and Further Reading

Associated Press. “Illness Cancels Major Mudd’s Television Show.” Arizona Daily Star. November 9, 1976. Page 19. From Newspapers.com. https://www.newspapers.com/article/arizona-daily-star-major-mudd-edward-mc/12018346/.

Dignity Memorial. “Margaret McDonnell Obituary.” Accessed September 7, 2023. https://www.dignitymemorial.com/obituaries/scituate-ma/margaret-mcdonnell-10659310.

IMDb. “Ed T. McDonnell (1926-1979).” Accessed September 7, 2023. https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0568092/.

IMDb. “The Outlaws Is Coming (1965).” Accessed September 7, 2023. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0059558/.

United Press International. “Major Mudd has a new kidney.” Bennington [Vermont] Banner. January 21, 1977. Page 8. From Newspapers.com. https://www.newspapers.com/article/12018480/major_mudd_edward_mcdonnell_father_of/.

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