The original Rotonda developer made two smart moves in 1970. First, he negotiated with ABC-TV to telecast The Superstars, a unique new sports event, then he retained Ed McMahon, Johnny Carson’s famous second banana to pitch Rotonda as Paradise.
The Superstars had the world’s leading athletes compete against each other in sports other than their own, an idea of ice skater Dick Button. It worked. Virtually every named athlete at the
time—1972-1977—performed here, starting when Rotonda had less than one hundred residents. The TV show put Rotonda on the map.
Meanwhile, Ed McMahon was selling Rotonda personally, on stage or film, at virtually every state fair in the U.S., aided by a network of hotel concierges, bellhops, valet parkers, and pool attendants earning commissions for steering potential buyers to cocktail events and lottery drawings. Rotonda lots sold “like cans of beans,” and gradually homes were built and the first residents took root.
McMahon became a vice president of the developer’s Rotonda corporation, part of his payoff being a Rotonda house and lot. The house, which was sold several years ago, sits on a pond between the 3rd and 12th fairways of The Hills golf course.
McMahon died recently, reminding us of his positive connection here. Many of today’s residents met him and remember him as an affable, approachable gentleman. Less well known is that McMahon was a former Colonel and U.S. Marine aviator, carrier landing qualified, who saw service in both WW2 and Korea.
My book—ROTONDA, The Vision and The Reality— carries on pages 45 and 94 photos of McMahon at Rotonda. One shows him in full “pitchman” mode, offering a “free house and pool” at Rotonda. The other has him with veteran ABC sportscaster Jim McKay and baseball’s Johnny Bench during a Superstars event.
Note: These and other details of Rotonda’s history are chronicled in Jack Alexander’s popular book, “Rotonda: The Vision and the Reality.” Copies are available for $6.00 at the Rotonda West Community Center, 3754 Cape Haze Drive, Rotonda West 33947, (941) 697-6788.