Mr. Mason’s career was launched. He became a regular on the best variety shows on television, recorded two albums for the Verve label (“I am the greatest comedian in the world, only nobody knows yet” and “I want to leave you with the words of ‘a great comedian’) and wrote a book, ‘My Son the Candidate.
After dozens of appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” Mr. Mason met a disaster on October 18, 1964. A speech by President Lyndon B. Johnson anticipated the program, which resumed while Mr. Mason was halfway through his act. On stage but out of camera reach, Sullivan indicated with two fingers, then one, how many minutes Mr. Mason had left, distracting the audience. Mr. Mason, annoyed, responded by raising his own fingers towards the audience, saying, “Here’s a finger for you, and a finger for you, and a finger for you.” “
Sullivan, convinced that one of those fingers was an obscene gesture, canceled Mr. Mason’s six-show contract and refused to pay him for the performance. Mr. Mason went on and won.
The two reconciled later, but the damage was done. Club owners and booking agents now viewed it, he said, as “raw and unpredictable.”
“People started to think that I was some kind of sick maniac,” Mr. Mason told Look. “It took 20 years to get over what happened in a minute. “
Mr. Mason’s career collapsed, punctuated by strange cases of bad luck. In Las Vegas in 1966, after making some thoughtless remarks about Frank Sinatra’s recent marriage to much younger Mia Farrow (“Frank soaks his dentures and Mia brushes his braces,” joked), an unidentified shooter pulled one. 22 pistol in his hotel room.