Ed McMahon, Late-Night TV's Favorite Foil, Decides It's Time to Wrap Up His 13-Year Marriage

updated 08/14/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/14/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

For years, Johnny Carson has made comic capital of his three divorces in Tonight Show monologues, and of the fact that he supports more women than Maidenform. Well, Carson may soon have ripe material from long-time second banana Ed McMahon. TV's best known sidekick will be going it alone in private life. In a move the woman usually makes, McMahon, 66, has filed for divorce from his wife of 13 years, Victoria, 44. In his initial petition, McMahon sought sole custody of the couple's adopted daughter, Katherine Mary, 3, later amended to a request for joint custody.

The announcement came as a shock to Hollywood. In a town where far too many couples insist they were misquoted after saying I do, McMahon and former flight attendant Vicky Valentine were viewed as a blissfully happy duo.

Victoria—who recently filed her own petition requesting joint custody of Katherine Mary and her share of the couple's community property—appeared to be every inch the compliant Hollywood wife, often sitting in the front row when McMahon taped his syndicated talent show Star Search.

Tonight Show executive producer Fred DeCordova was stunned: "He was his same jovial self around the show. I had no idea they were having marital troubles."

"I was as surprised as anyone," says Ginny Newhart, wife of Bob Newhart and a good friend of Victoria's. "They seemed so devoted to each other and the baby."

When the couple adopted Katherine Mary in 1985 after 10 years of marriage, it seemed only to solidify an already strong relationship. Because of career demands, McMahon had been something of an absentee husband to first wife Alyce and a not-quite-there father to their four children. This time, he wanted to make sure things would be different with Victoria and Katherine. "Now I have the time and money to enjoy my little girl," he said in 1987, "and I intend to spend as much time as I can with her."

One purported reason for the breakup was that Victoria was not spending as much time as she could with Ed. According to Los Angeles Herald Examiner gossip columnist Mitchell Fink, McMahon hired a detective to tail Victoria and discovered she was having an affair with her masseur. "You haven't got it exactly right," McMahon told Fink. "But I'm not making any statement."

Victoria denies she's having an affair with a masseur, but when asked if she is dating anyone else, she replies, "No comment." She does admit, however, that McMahon had her followed. "Even my phone was bugged. I didn't know I was being followed until a parking lot attendant pointed it out to me." She didn't even know Ed had filed for divorce, she says," until I was served with the papers.

"We've been having some problems," says Victoria. "But I was hoping we could work them out. Ed's drinking became a problem. He did stop drinking altogether for his health. But it's a little late."

Victoria says she'd still like to reconcile. "At this point, I think we could use some marriage counseling," she says. "I love Ed and I always will, but I don't know whether we'll be able to get back together."

McMahon's response to the question of reconciliation is unequivocal. "No way," he says. "Never."

At the moment, McMahon is getting all his solace from daughter Katherine Mary. "She's a gem," says Ed, who is bunking in one wing of his palatial, six-bar, 17-telephone Beverly Hills house and leaving the other wing to Victoria. "The other day I went in to kiss her goodbye and she asked, 'Where are you going, Daddy?' I said, 'I'm going to work.' And she thought a minute and she says, 'Have a nice day and say hi to Mr. Carson.' "

All things considered, says McMahon, "I'm holding up pretty good. Remember," adds the former Marine lieutenant, "Marines hang in there."

—Joanne Kaufman, Doris Bacon in Los Angeles

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