BRUNSWICK — Jack Mahoney spent at least three hours a day, every day, for eight months working through a 9,000-page tome called "The Story of Civilization" for the ultimate TV test:
"Jeopardy's Tournament of Champions."
He'd already won the show four times but figured the $100,000 tournament required serious studying.
Mahoney won round one. He even led at the end of the second game, only to be tripped up by a Lee Iacocca question. Mahoney, then an out-of-work actor living in New York City, went home to start looking for a job. Fate intervened.
"There was an ad in the paper: 'Could you convince people to prepare for tests?'"
His next career was born.
Mahoney, 61, was born in Rhode Island and grew up traveling the world with his mother and stepfather, a Navy man. After graduating from Roger Williams College, he settled in New York and worked as a professional actor for 15 years, mostly in commercials and voice work.
"TV commercials back in the early '80s were really well paying, 'How much money can we throw at this?' as opposed to, 'How cheap can we be?'" Mahoney said. "I was in a Jell-O spot once that had 19 principals."
He recently discovered one of his old commercials for Certs on YouTube: "'In the museum looking at the Manet, I ran into her looking at the Monet.' These little ghosts are still floating about."
By the early 1990s, Mahoney was married, and acting work was getting harder to come by. He tried out for "Jeopardy" at an Atlantic City casino and defied the odds: In 1992, 100,000 people auditioned. More than 2,000 qualified. Four hundred were invited on.
Between the regular games and tournament, "I got to be interviewed by Alex (Trebek) seven times. I had a great time," Mahoney said. "I love nerds. I like to surround myself with people who just like to amuse themselves by thinking."
Final Jeopardy at the end of game two: "This person's autobiography was the best-selling hardcover book of the 1980s."
He guessed Ronald Reagan.
"I had no idea," Mahoney said. "It was actually Lee Iacocca. I actually bought the book at a yard sale subsequently, just to remind myself."
Afterward, he spotted that fateful ad. Stanley H. Kaplan hired Mahoney first as a salesman, then as a teacher and trainer, for a host of college test prep classes: SATs, GREs, ACTs, LSATs.
Mahoney took that knowledge with him when he moved to Brunswick 10 years ago and founded Maine Prep. He's taught thousands of students. The company has almost a dozen satellite locations, including Lewiston and Bethel. Mahoney said he's also written curriculum used at Lewiston High School.
And his own SAT scores?
"The funny thing is, I did OK, I didn't do great, I was mid-6's, but now I get them all right, so what's the difference?" Mahoney said. Technique and a broader vocabulary, he says.
Certainly working through "The Story of Civilization" couldn't have hurt.
Mahoney said he doesn't get recognized from his time on TV, joking, "I'm sort of old and not nearly as cute." Acting may be in his future again someday.
Know someone who knows everyone? Send ideas to staff writer Kathryn Skelton at email@example.com or 689-2844