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Johnny Carson
Johnny Carson 1966.jpg
Carson in January 1966
Birth name John William Carson
Born October 23, 1925(1925-10-23)
Corning, Iowa, U.S.
Died January 23, 2005 (aged 79)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Nationality American
Years active 1950–1994
Influences Groucho Marx, Jack Benny, Fred Allen, Bob Hope, Laurel and Hardy, Red Skelton, George Burns, Milton Berle
Influenced David Letterman, Conan O'Brien, Ray Combs, Jerry Seinfeld, Ellen DeGeneres, Kathy Griffin, Bill Maher, Jay Leno
Spouse Joan Morrill Wolcott (1949–1963)
Joanne Copeland (1963–1972)
Joanna Holland (1972–1985)
Alexandra Mass (1987–2005)
Notable works and roles Host of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
Signature Johnny Carson Signature.svg
Emmy Awards
Special Classification of Outstanding Program and Individual Achievement
1976 The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
1977 The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
1978 The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
1979 The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
Governor's Award
1980
Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Program (Series)
1992 The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
Personal Award
1986
American Comedy Awards
Funniest Male Performer in a TV Series (Leading Role) Network, Cable or Syndication
1987 The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
Lifetime Achievement Award
1992 Lifetime Achievement

John William “Johnny” Carson (October 23, 1925 – January 23, 2005) was an American television host and comedian, known as host of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson for 30 years (1962-1992). Carson received six Emmy Awards including the Governor Award and a 1985 Peabody Award; he was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1987. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992, and received Kennedy Center Honors in 1993.[1]

Contents

Early life and career

Born in Corning, Iowa, Carson grew up in Norfolk, Nebraska. He left college after one year to join the United States Navy, being commissioned an ensign. He joined the U.S. Navy on June 8, 1943, as an apprentice seaman enrolled in the V-5 program, which trained Navy and Marine pilots.[2]

He hoped to train as a pilot, but was sent instead to Columbia University for midshipman training. He performed magic for classmates on the side. Commissioned an ensign late in the war, Carson was assigned to the USS Pennsylvania, a battleship on station in the Pacific. He was en route to the combat zone aboard a troopship when the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought the war to a close.

The Pennsylvania was torpedoed on August 12, 1945 and Carson reported for duty on August 14 — the last day of the war. Although he arrived too late for combat, he got a firsthand education in the consequences of war. The damaged warship sailed to Guam for repairs, and as the newest and most junior officer, Carson was assigned to supervise the removal of 20 dead sailors. He later served as a communications officer in charge of decoding encrypted messages. He recalls that the high point of his military career was performing a magic trick for Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal.

He began his performing career in 1950 at WOW radio and television in Omaha, Nebraska.[3] He appeared on radio with Ken Case, an Omaha native who was later a news anchor and sportscaster in Monroe, Louisiana. Carson soon hosted a morning television program called The Squirrel's Nest. One of his routines involved interviewing pigeons on the roof of the local Court House that would allegedly report on the political corruption they had seen. Carson supplemented his income by serving as master of ceremonies at local church dinners, attended by some of the same politicians and civic leaders that he had lampooned on the radio. The wife of one of the political figures owned stock in a radio station in Los Angeles and referred Carson to her brother, who was influential in the emerging television market in Southern California. Carson went to work at CBS-owned Los Angeles television station KNXT. He would later joke that he owed his success to the birds of Omaha.

In 1953, comic Red Skelton — a fan of Carson's sketch comedy show Carson's Cellar, which appeared from 1951 to 1953 on KNXT — asked Carson to join his show as a writer. Skelton once accidentally knocked himself unconscious an hour before his show went on the air live. Carson filled in for him.

Carson hosted several shows before The Tonight Show, including the game show Earn Your Vacation (1954), and the variety show The Johnny Carson Show (1955-1956).[4] He was a regular panelist on the original To Tell the Truth until 1962, and hosted the game show Who Do You Trust? (1957-1962), where he met his future sidekick Ed McMahon.

In 1960, Carson was considered to play TV writer "Rob Petrie" in a sitcom by Carl Reiner called Head of the Family. Reiner starred in the pilot, but it was decided that someone else should play the role. However, on the suggestion of producer Sheldon Leonard, Dick Van Dyke was given the part, and the series was retitled The Dick Van Dyke Show.[5] He was also a guest star in two episodes of Get Smart!

The Tonight Show

Carson became host of NBC's The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in October 1962, after Jack Paar left the previous March. His announcer and sidekick was Ed McMahon throughout the program. His opening line, "Heeeere's Johnny" became a hallmark.

Most of the later shows began with music and the announcement "Heeeeeere's Johnny!", followed by a brief monologue by Carson. This was often followed by comedy sketches, interviews, and music. Carson's trademark was a phantom golf swing at the end of his monologues, aimed stage left where the Tonight Show Band was. Guest hosts sometimes parodied that gesture. Bob Newhart rolled an imaginary bowling ball toward the audience.

Paul Anka wrote the theme song ("Johnny's Theme"), a reworking of his "Toot Sweet", given lyrics, renamed "It's Really Love," and recorded by Annette Funicello in 1959. Anka gave Carson co-authorship and they split the royalties for three decades.

The show was originally produced in New York City, with occasional stints in California. It was not live in its early years, although during the 1970s, NBC fed the live taping from Burbank to New York via satellite for editing (see below). The program had been done "live on tape" (uninterrupted unless a problem occurred) since the Jack Paar days. In May 1972 the show moved from New York to Burbank, California. Carson often joked about "beautiful downtown Burbank"[6] and referred to "beautiful downtown Bakersfield," which prompted Mayor Mary K. Shell to chide Carson and invite him to her city to see improvements made during the early 1980s.[citation needed]

After July 1971, Carson stopped doing shows five days a week. Instead, on Monday nights there was a guest host, leaving Carson to do the other four each week. Shows were taped in Burbank at 5:30pm (8:30 pm Eastern time) to be shown that evening at 11:30pm Eastern time. On September 8, 1980, at Carson's request, the show cut its 90-minute format to 60 minutes; Tom Snyder's Tomorrow added a half hour to fill the vacant time. Joan Rivers became the "permanent" guest host from September 1983 until 1986, when she was fired for accepting a competing show on Fox without consulting Carson. The Tonight Show returned to using guest hosts, including comic George Carlin. Jay Leno then became the exclusive guest host in fall 1987. Leno stated that although other guest hosts upped their fees, he kept his low, assuring himself the show. Eventually, Monday night was for Leno, Tuesday for the Best of Carson, rebroadcasts usually of a year earlier but occasionally from the 1970s.

Carson had a talent for quick quips to deal with problems. If the opening monologue fared poorly, the band would start playing "Tea for Two" and Carson danced, to laughs from the studio audience. Alternately, Carson might pull the boom mike close to his face and announce "Attention K-Mart shoppers!"

Carson's show was the launch for many performers, notably comedians. Many got their break on the show, and it was an achievement to get Carson to laugh and be called to the guest chair. Carson was successor to The Ed Sullivan Show as a showcase for all kinds of talent, as well as continuing a vaudeville-style variety show.

In 1973, Carson had a run-in with psychic Uri Geller. Carson, a magician, wanted a neutral demonstration of Geller's abilities, so, at the advice of his friend and fellow magician James Randi, he gave Geller spoons and asked him to bend them with his psychic powers. Geller proved unable, and his appearance on The Tonight Show has been regarded as Geller's fall from glory.

Carson successfully sued a manufacturer of portable toilets who wanted to call its product "Here's Johnny".[7]

On December 13, 1976, comedian Don Rickles was a guest when comedian Bob Newhart guest-hosted. While poking fun at Newhart and improvising an "immigration" bit, Rickles stamped an imaginary passport, slamming the cigarette box Carson kept on his desk and breaking it. When Carson returned the next night and discovered this, he took a camera crew to the studio next door where CPO Sharkey, a sitcom starring Rickles, was being taped. Carson barged into the studio, shouting, "RICKLES!" He disrupted the taping, berating the embarrassed Rickles with a barrage of insults, in imitation of Rickles's act. Carson also teased CPO Sharkey's African-American actor Harrison Page by speaking to him in an exaggerated southern dialect. The entire incident appeared to be spontaneous, but comedy writer Mark Evanier published an opinion: "Carson's show was taped in Studio 1 at NBC Burbank. The Rickles sitcom was in Studio 3, where Leno now tapes ... While Johnny did his best to make it all look spontaneous and unarranged, it had to have been carefully planned. Rickles probably was not in on it and may have been genuinely surprised, but Johnny's producers and director must have been prepared for what transpired, and the producers of CPO Sharkey almost certainly knew. At the moment Johnny entered, Don just 'happened' to be shooting on the set closest to that door. The surprise wouldn't have worked as well if they'd been on one of the other sets. It wouldn't have worked at all if they'd been between scenes or taping a portion of the show that Rickles wasn't in."

An oft-repeated story — since dismissed as an "urban legend" — involved a guest appearance by Zsa Zsa Gabor carrying a white Persian cat. Gabor is said to have asked Johnny if he would like to "pet my pussy?" During a 1989 appearance, Jane Fonda noted that her son had repeated the claim, and "my son said that you said, uh, 'I'd love to, if you'd remove that damned cat!' Is it true?" Carson denied the episode on-air saying, "No, I think I would recall that..."[8] He and Gabor both responded to researchers stating the event "never happened."[9][10] Despite widespread insistence by people who claim to have seen the episode, no audio or video has ever been produced.

However, a bit of adult humor was not beyond Carson. During an interview with Dolly Parton, in reference to her large bust, she said, "People are always asking if they're real and ... I'll tell you what, these are mine." Carson replied, "I have certain guidelines on this show. But I would give about a year's pay to peek under there." Unlike the alleged Gabor exchange, videotape of the Parton interview survives and has been rebroadcast several times during Tonight Show retrospectives.

In a 1980 Rolling Stone article, Carson caused quite a public backlash when he called the Brian Wilson-penned (Beach Boys) song "Johnny Carson" from 1977's Love You album "not a work of art". Wilson wrote the song tribute citing the fact no such song had existed previously about the 'king of late night'.

Carson made several routine jokes at the expense of other celebrities, like Wayne Newton (after Newton had performed on Carson's show several times). Newton claimed in his 1991 autobiography, among other times including a 1989 interview with Phil Donahue, that the circumstances led to a confrontation in Carson's dressing room where Newton threatened a physical altercation if Carson didn't cease the barrage of jokes with homosexual connotations. In a November 29, 2007 interview on Larry King Live, Wayne Newton said, "I'm going to say something I've never said on television, Mr. King. Johnny Carson was a mean-spirited human being. And there are people that he has hurt that people will never know about. And for some reason at some point, he decided to turn that kind of negative attention toward me. And I refused to have it."[11]

Another famous feud came on the heels of an appearance by iconic author Truman Capote in 1966. The diminutive writer was already embroiled in a public feud with fellow novelist Jacqueline Susann when he told Johnny — and millions of viewers — that Susann looked "like a truck driver in drag." The remark was not censored from the broadcast, and made headlines the next day. Capote subsequently issued a public apology — to truck drivers.

Carson reportedly loathed what he felt was disloyalty among friends. The comedian was displeased when former "Tonight Show" guest hosts John Davidson and Joan Rivers got their own talk shows. Rivers' FOX show directly competed with Carson during the 1986-1987 season, but died a quick death. On June 24, 2009 following Ed McMahon's death, Rivers lauded McMahon on "Larry King Live" but stated that Carson "never again spoke to me, up to his death". Another guest host, Jay Leno, was treated coolly for being perceived as ushering Carson into retirement. Leno's agent ignited the then false rumor in Hollywood circles that Carson's retirement was pending, and Leno was heir to the "Tonight Show". Carson vowed not to return to the show while Leno headed it, and indeed would make his final TV appearance about a year after his retirement on the competing Late Show with David Letterman.

Some of Carson's good-natured barbs were directed at his friends. Ronald Reagan's hair and Frank Sinatra's temper and mob connections were frequent topics. Carson humorously chided Nancy Reagan for falling down and "breaking her hair."[12]

Comic characters

Carson as the character "Carnac the Magnificent"

Carson played several continuing characters on sketches during the show, including

  • Art Fern, the "Tea Time Movie" announcer (always selling strange or shoddy merchandise). The character was based on late-show TV hosts who would deliver commercials throughout the movie. Carson originally played the fast-talking huckster in his own voice (as Honest Bernie Schlock or Ralph Willie), and finally settled on a nasal, high-pitched, smarmy drone reminiscent of Jackie Gleason's "Reginald Van Gleason III" character. The character, now permanently known as Art Fern, wore a lavish toupee, loud jackets, and a pencil mustache. Actress Carol Wayne became famous for her 100-plus appearances (1971-1982) as Art's buxom assistant, the Matinée Lady. While Art gave his spiel, she would enter the stage behind him. Art would react to her attractive body, wincing loudly, "Ho — leeeee!". After Carol Wayne's death in 1985, Carson kept Art Fern off the air for most of the next year, and finally hired Danuta Wesley and then Teresa Ganzel to play the Matinée Lady. Carson also used these sketches to poke fun at the intricate Los Angeles interstate system, using a pointer and map to give confusing directions to shoppers (often including points where he would unfold the cardboard map to point out, via the appropriate picture, when the shopper would arrive at "the fork in the road". Another freeway routine in the same theme centered around the somewhat uniquely named "Slauson Cutoff." Art Fern would advise drivers to take some road until they reached the Slauson Cutoff, and then "Cut Off Your Slauson!", often accompanied by the audience to peals of laughter, led by McMahon).
  • Carnac the Magnificent, a turbaned psychic who could answer questions before seeing them. (This same routine had been done by Carson's predecessor, Steve Allen, as "The Question Man.") Carnac had a trademark entrance in which he always turned the wrong direction when coming onto stage and then "tripped" on the step up to Carson's desk. (In one episode, technicians rigged Carson's desk to fall apart when Carnac fell into it.) These comedic missteps were an indication of Carnac's true prescient abilities. Ed McMahon would hand Carnac a series of envelopes, containing questions. Carnac would place each envelope against his forehead and predict the answer, such as "Gatorade." Then he would read the question: "What does an alligator get on welfare?" Some of the jokes were feeble, and McMahon used pauses after terrible puns and audience groans to make light of Carnac's lack of comic success ("Carnac must be used to quiet surroundings"), prompting Carson to return an equal insult. McMahon would always announce near the end, "I hold in my hand the last envelope," at which the audience would applaud wildly, prompting Carnac to pronounce a comedic "curse" on the audience, such as "May your sister elope with a camel!" (In fact, "Carnac the Magnificent" was the stage name Johnny used in his magic act as a youth.)
  • Floyd R. Turbo American (with no pause between words). A stereotypical redneck wearing a plaid hunting coat and cap, who offered "editorial responses" to left-leaning causes or news events. Railing against women's rights in the workplace, for example, Turbo would shout, "This raises the question: kiss my Dictaphone!"
  • Aunt Blabby, a cantankerous and sometimes amorous old lady, invariably being interviewed by straight man Ed McMahon about elder affairs. McMahon would innocently use a common expression like "check out," only to have Aunt Blabby warn him, "Don't say 'check out' to an old person!" Aunt Blabby was an obvious copy of Jonathan Winters’ most famous creation, Maude Frickert, including her black spinster dress and wig.
  • El Mouldo, a mentalist, who would attempt to perform mind-reading and mind-over-matter feats, all of which failed. Often his tricks would include an attempt to bilk money from Ed McMahon or would end with him begging for money.

Carson uncensored on satellite

Even though Carson's program was based in Burbank, NBC's editing and production services for the program were located in New York, resulting in the requirement that Carson's program be transmitted from Burbank to New York. Beginning in 1976, NBC used the Satcom 2 satellite to do this, feeding the live taping (which usually took place in the early evening) directly to New York, where it would be edited prior to the normal broadcast. This live feed lasted usually from two to two-and-a-half hours a night, and was uncensored and commercial-free. During the commercial breaks the audio and picture would be left on, capturing at times risque language and other events that would certainly be edited out later going out over the feed.

At the same time, however, satellite ground stations owned by private individuals began to appear, and some managed to find the live feed. Satellite dish owners began to document their sightings in technical journals, giving viewers knowledge of things they were not meant to see. Carson and his production staff grew concerned about this, and pressured NBC into ceasing the satellite transmissions of the live taping in the early 1980s. The satellite link was replaced by microwave landline transmission until the show's editing facilities were finally moved to Burbank.[13]

Business ventures

Carson was a major investor in the ultimately failed DeLorean Motor Company. Founder John DeLorean was involved in a drug scandal, causing Carson's guest Red Skelton to quip, "The DeLorean, is that a hopped-up car?"

Carson was head of a group of show business people and businessmen who purchased and operated two television stations — channel 5 KVVU-TV in Henderson, Nevada, serving Las Vegas, now owned by Meredith Broadcasting, and channel 23 KNAT in Albuquerque, New Mexico. KVVU had been the earliest Las Vegas independent station and was sort of a local in-joke for its threadbare operation and ragtag program lineup. Many thought it ironic that a leading entertainer like Carson, along with Sal Durante, Neil Simon and others, would own such a station. There was talk at the time that the station would become the NBC affiliate, as then long-time affiliate KORK-TV was in the process of being replaced by KVBC-TV, but it never happened. KNAT started at exactly the wrong time. Several new channels — 2, 9, 11, 14, and 23 — were starting up in the southwest and the competition for good syndicated shows was fierce. KNAT was later sold to Trinity Broadcasting.

Carson's other business ventures included a successful clothing line, through which his turtlenecks became a fashion trend, and a failed restaurant franchise.[14]

Retirement

Carson retired from show business on May 22, 1992, when he stepped down as host of The Tonight Show. His farewell was a major media event, and stretched over several nights. It was often emotional for Carson, his colleagues, and the audiences, particularly the farewell statement he delivered on his 4,531st and final Tonight Show:

And so it has come to this: I, uh — am one of the lucky people in the world; I found something I always wanted to do, and I have enjoyed every single minute of it. I want to thank the gentlemen who've shared this stage with me for thirty years, Mr. Ed McMahon — Mr. Doc Severinsen — and — you people watching, I can only tell you that it has been an honor and a privilege to come into your homes all these years and entertain you — and I hope when I find something that I want to do, and I think you would like, and come back, that you'll be as gracious in inviting me into your home as you have been. I bid you a very heartfelt good night.

NBC gave the role of host to the show's then-current permanent guest host, Jay Leno. Leno and David Letterman were soon competing on separate networks.

Post-retirement appearances

Carson, 1994

At the end of his final Tonight Show appearance, Carson indicated that he might, if so inspired, return with a new project, but instead chose to go into full retirement, rarely giving interviews and declining to participate in NBC's 75th Anniversary celebrations. He made the occasional cameo appearance, including voicing himself on a 1993 episode of The Simpsons ("Krusty Gets Kancelled"), telephoning David Letterman on a November 1993 episode of Late Show with David Letterman, and appearing in the 1993 NBC Special Bob Hope: The First 90 Years. On May 13, 1994, Carson appeared on Late Show with David Letterman. During a week of shows from Los Angeles, Letterman was having Larry "Bud" Melman (Calvert DeForest) deliver his "Top Ten Lists" under the guise that a famous personality would be delivering the list instead. On the last show of the week, Letterman indicated that Carson would be delivering the list. Instead, DeForest delivered the list, insulted the audience (in keeping with the gag), and walked off to polite applause. Letterman then indicated that the card he was given did not have the proper list on it and asked that the "real" list be brought out. On that cue, the real Johnny Carson emerged from behind the curtain (as Letterman's band played "Johnny's Theme"), an appearance which prompted a standing ovation from the audience. Carson then requested to sit behind Letterman's desk; Letterman obliged, as the audience continued to cheer and applaud. After some moments, Carson departed from the show without having spoken to the audience. He later cited acute laryngitis as the reason for his silence. This night turned out to be Carson's last television appearance.

Letterman

Just days before Carson's death, it was revealed that the retired "King of Late Night" occasionally sent jokes to Letterman.[15] Letterman would then use these jokes in the monologue of his show, which Carson got "a big kick out of" according to Worldwide Pants, Inc., Senior Vice-President Peter Lassally, who formerly produced both men's programs; he also claimed that Carson had always believed Letterman, not Leno, to be his "rightful successor".[16] Letterman frequently employs some of Carson's trademark bits on his show, including "Carnac" (with band leader Paul Shaffer as Carnac), "Stump the Band," and the "Week in Review."

Personal life

Carson was born in Corning, Iowa, to Homer "Kit" Lloyd Carson, a power company manager, and Ruth Hook Carson. He grew up in southwest Iowa until the age of 8, when the family moved to Norfolk, Nebraska. There he learned to perform magic tricks, debuting as "The Great Carsoni" at 14. He attended Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, where he received V-12 officer training, and then served in the Navy from 1943-1946. He served in USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) in the final days of the war. Carson then attended the University of Nebraska in Lincoln where he joined Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, graduating with a bachelor of arts degree in radio and speech with a minor in physics in 1949.

Despite his on-camera demeanor, Carson was famously shy off-camera. In fact, he was referred to as "the most private public man who ever lived".[17]

Marriages

Carson married his college sweetheart Joan "Jody" Wolcott on October 1, 1949. The marriage was volatile, with infidelities by both parties, finally ending in divorce.[18] They had three sons. Their son Richard died in a car accident on June 21, 1991.

In 1963, Carson got a "quickie" Mexican divorce from Joan and married Joanne Copeland on August 17, 1963. After a protracted divorce in 1972, Copeland received nearly half a million dollars in cash and art and US$100,000 a year in alimony for life.

Joanne Copeland recently discovered 39 episodes of the debut season of The Johnny Carson Show which were originally telecast in 1955 and 1956. She then made an arrangement with Shout! Factory to produce and distribute selected programs on DVD. The two-disk DVD set contains Johnny's "top 10" episodes.[19] Johnny's first wife Joan and the couple's three sons appear in the first episode on the DVD.

At the Carson Tonight Show's 10th anniversary party on September 30, 1972, Carson announced that he and former model Joanna Holland had been secretly married that afternoon, shocking his friends and associates. Carson kidded that he had married three similarly named women to avoid "having to change the monogram on the towels." A similar joke was made by Bob Newhart during Carson's roast by Dean Martin. On March 8, 1983, Holland filed for divorce. Under California's community property laws, she was entitled to 50 percent of all the assets accumulated during the marriage, even though Carson earned virtually 100 percent of the couple's income. (Since, under the community property provisions of California law, each party legally earns half for themselves and half for their spouse.) During this period, he joked on The Tonight Show, "My producer, Freddy de Cordova, really gave me something I needed for Christmas. He gave me a gift certificate to the Law Offices of Jacoby & Meyers." The divorce case finally ended in 1985 with an 80-page settlement, Holland receiving $20 million in cash and property.

Carson married Alexandra Mass on June 20, 1987; Johnny was 61, Alexis 35.

Children

Carson's son from his first marriage, Richard, died on June 21, 1991, when his car plunged down a steep embankment along a paved service road off Highway 1 near Cayucos, a small town north of San Luis Obispo. Apparently, Richard had been taking photographs when the accident occurred. Carson was deeply shaken by his son's death. On his first show after Ricky's death, he gave a stirring tribute in the final minutes of his show as samples of his son's photographic work (and images of Ricky, himself) were displayed with the music accompaniment of "Riviera Paradise" by blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan. In addition, the final image — as well as some "More To Come" bumpers — of Carson's last show in May 1992 featured a photo Richard had taken.

Donations

In 1981, Carson created the John W. Carson Foundation, dedicated to supporting children, education and health services. The Foundation continues to support charitable causes.[20]

In November 2004, Carson announced a $5.3 million gift to the University of Nebraska Foundation to support the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts' Department of Theatre Arts, which created the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film. Another $5 million donation was announced by the estate of Carson to the University of Nebraska following his death.

Carson also donated to causes in his hometown of Norfolk, including the Carson Cancer Center at Faith Regional Health Services, the Elkhorn Valley Museum, and the Johnny Carson Theater at Norfolk Senior High School.

Other events

Carson was cited in a 1982 drunk-driving incident while driving a DeLorean DMC-12 sports car in Beverly Hills. Represented by Robert Shapiro, he pleaded no contest to the charges, and played off the incident by having a uniformed police officer escort him on to the Tonight Show stage.

Carson, an amateur astronomer, was close friends with astronomer Carl Sagan, who often appeared on The Tonight Show. The unique way Sagan had of saying certain words, like "billions" of galaxies, would lead to Carson ribbing his friend, imitating his voice and saying "BILL-ions and BILL-ions", a phrase soon erroneously attributed to Sagan himself. According to Sagan's biographer, Keay Davidson, Carson was the first person to contact Sagan's wife with condolences when the scientist died in 1996. He owned several telescopes, including a Questar, considered at the time an expensive and top-of-the line telescope.

Also a talented amateur drummer, Carson was shown on a segment of 60 Minutes practicing at home on a drum set given to him by close friend jazz legend Buddy Rich who was the jazz musician with the most frequent appearances on The Tonight Show. Writer Gore Vidal, another frequent Tonight Show guest and personal friend, writes about Carson's personality in his 2006 memoirs.

Death and tributes

Johnny Carson's Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

On March 19, 1999, Carson, then 73, suffered a severe heart attack at his home in Malibu, California. Carson was sleeping when he suddenly awoke with severe chest pains. He was rushed to a hospital in nearby Santa Monica where he underwent quadruple-bypass surgery.[21]

At 6:50 AM PST on January 23, 2005, Carson died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, of respiratory arrest arising from emphysema.[22][23] He was 79 years old. Carson had revealed his illness to the public in September 2002. Following Carson's death his body was cremated, and the ashes were given to his wife. In accordance with his family's wishes, no public memorial service was held. There were countless tributes paid to Carson upon his death, including a statement by then President George W. Bush, all recognizing the deep and enduring affection held for him.[24]

Tributes published after his death confirmed that he had been a chain-smoker. While The Tonight Show was broadcast live, he would frequently smoke cigarettes on the air; it was reported that Carson had said "these things are killing me" as far back as the 1970s.

On January 24, 2005, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno paid tribute to Carson with guests Ed McMahon, Bob Newhart, Don Rickles, Drew Carey and K.D. Lang.[25] Letterman followed suit on January 31 with former Tonight Show executive producer Peter Lassally and bandleader Doc Severinsen. During the beginning of this show, Letterman said that for 30 years no matter what was going on in the world, no matter whether people had a good or bad day, they wanted to end the day by being "tucked in by Johnny." Letterman also told his viewers that the monologue he had just given had consisted entirely of jokes sent to him by Carson in the last few months of his life.[26] Doc Severinsen ended the Letterman show that night by playing one of Carson's two favorite songs, "Here's That Rainy Day" (the other was "I'll Be Seeing You"). It had been reported over the decades of Carson's fame that he was, off-camera, so intensely private that he had never once invited McMahon to his home. After Carson's death, though, McMahon disputed those rumors and claimed that a close friendship existed. On his final Tonight Show appearance, Carson himself said that while sometimes people who work together for long stretches of time on television don't necessarily like each other, this was not the case with him and McMahon: They were good friends who would have dinner together, and the camaraderie that they had on the show could not be faked. Carson and McMahon were friends for 30 years.[27]

A week or so after the tributes, Dennis Miller was on the Tonight Show and told Jay Leno about the first time he tried to host a talk show, and how miserably it went. He said that he got a call immediately after the first show, from Carson, telling him, "It's not as easy as it looks, is it, kid?"

The 2005 film The Aristocrats was dedicated to Carson,[28] as well as the episode Mommie Beerest of The Simpsons.

References

  1. ^ Johnny Carson. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. (2009). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved July 30, 2009.
  2. ^ "Famous Veterans," Military.com [1]
  3. ^ The Official Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson
  4. ^ The Johnny Carson Show at the Internet Movie Database
  5. ^ Weissman, Ginny (2002-12-01). The Dick Van Dyke Show. St. Martin's Press. pp. 6. ISBN 0312087667. 
  6. ^ http://articles.latimes.com/2007/oct/11/business/fi-nbc11
  7. ^ Carson v. Here's Johnny Portable Toilets, Inc., 810 F.2d 104, 105 (6th Cir. 1987)
  8. ^ Carson, Johnny (Host, Executive Producer). (2003) The Ultimate Carson Collection Vol. 3 [DVD]. USA: Carson Productions.
  9. ^ "Johnny Carson letter to Robert E. Baker". Snopes. http://67.19.222.106/radiotv/graphics/carslet.jpg. Retrieved 2008-05-11. 
  10. ^ "Zsa Zsa Gabor letter to David Mikkelson". Snopes. http://67.19.222.106/radiotv/graphics/zsalet.jpg. Retrieved 2008-05-11. 
  11. ^ "Wayne Newton on Larry King Live". CNN. http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0711/29/lkl.01.html. Retrieved 2008-05-11. 
  12. ^ http://www.quotationspage.com/quote/600.html
  13. ^ Cooper, Jr., Robert B.. (2006). Television's Pirates: Hiding Behind Your Picture Tube. 
  14. ^ Bernstein, Adam (2005-01-24). "For Decades, Comic Ruled Late-Night TV". The Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A30475-2005Jan23. 
  15. ^ "Carson Feeds Letterman Lines". The New York Times. http://pqarchiver.nypost.com/nypost/access/781543221.html?dids=781543221:781543221&FMT=ABS&FMTS=ABS:FT&date=Jan+20%2C+2005&author=Post+Wire+Services&pub=New+York+Post&edition=&startpage=102&desc=CARSON+FEEDS+LETTERMAN+LINES. Retrieved 2008-05-11. 
  16. ^ "Carson Feeds Letterman Lines". The New York Post. http://pqarchiver.nypost.com/nypost/access/781543221.html?dids=781543221:781543221&FMT=ABS&FMTS=ABS:FT&date=Jan+20%2C+2005&author=Post+Wire+Services&pub=New+York+Post&edition=&startpage=102&desc=CARSON+FEEDS+LETTERMAN+LINES. Retrieved 2008-05-11. 
  17. ^ Reader's Digest September 2005, p. 178; Book Bonus: Ed McMahon Here's Johnny, Berkley Trade, 2006 ISBN 978-0425212295
  18. ^ Pleading Poverty and Demanding Money, Johnny Carson's First Wife Tells the Sad Secrets of Her Troubled Marriage By Michelle Green, Sue Carswell, Eleanor Hoover May 7, 1990 Vol. 33 No. 18 People Magazine
  19. ^ "Video uncovers a forgotten Johnny Carson DVD". CNN. http://www.cnn.com/2007/SHOWBIZ/TV/03/20/apontv.heres.johnny.ap/index.html. Retrieved 2008-05-11. 
  20. ^ "Making a World of Difference". Childrens Hospital Los Angeles. November 2008. http://www.childrenshospitalla.org/atf/cf/%7B1cb444df-77c3-4d94-82fa-e366d7d6ce04%7D/CAMPAIGNNEWS%20FALL%2008.PDF. Retrieved 2010-01-31. 
  21. ^ Biography for Johnny Carson
  22. ^ Longtime host of ‘Tonight Show’ dies at 79 Associated Press, February 8, 2005
  23. ^ Net mourns death of Johnny Carson Jeff Pelline CNET News February 8, 2005
  24. ^ Quotations on Johnny Carson's Death Associated Press January 23, 2005
  25. ^ Tribute To Johnny Carson Friends Return To Stage Where They And Johnny Carson Made TV Magic By Chris Hawke CBS News Burbank, Calif. January 25, 2005
  26. ^ Letterman Pays Special Tribute to Carson February 1, 2005 Associated Press
  27. ^ Fort Lauderdale By Jack Drury
  28. ^ HBO The Aristocrats Synopsis

Further reading

Accounts on work and life

  • Bart, Peter (1992-05-18). We Hardly Knew Ye.. Los Angeles: Variety. 
  • Corkery, Paul (August 1987). Carson: The Unauthorized Biography. Randt & Co. ISBN 0942101006. 
  • Cox, Stephen (2002-08-15). Here's Johnny: Thirty Years of Americas Favorite Late Night Entertainer. Cumberland House Publishing. ISBN 1581822650. 
  • De Cordova, Fred (1988-03-15). Johnny Came Lately. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0671558498. 
  • Hise, James Van (1992). 40 Years at Night: the Story of the Tonight Show. Movie Publisher Services. ISBN 1556983085. 
  • Knutzen, Erik (1992-05-21). Celebs Say Thanks, Johnny.. Herald. 
  • Leamer, Laurence (2005-03-29). King of the Night: The Life of Johnny Carson. Avon. ISBN 0060840994. 
  • McMahon, Ed (2005-10-18). Here's Johnny!: My Memories of Johnny Carson, The Tonight Show, and 46 Years of Friendship. Thomas Nelson. ISBN 1401602363. 
  • Smith, Ronald L. (October 1987). Johnny Carson: An Unauthorized Biography. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0312010516. 
  • Zoglin, Richard (1992-03-16). And What A Reign It Was: In His 30 Years, Carson Was The Best.. Time. 

Humor material collections

  • Carson, Johnny (1965). Happiness is a Dry Martini. Double Day and Company. 
  • Carson, Johnny (1967). Misery is a blind date. Double Day and Company. 
  • Johnny Carson Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

External links

Obituaries

Media offices
Preceded by
Jack Paar
Host of The Tonight Show
October 1, 1962 – May 22, 1992
Succeeded by
Jay Leno
Preceded by
Bob Hope
Host of the Academy Awards
1979–82
Succeeded by
Liza Minnelli, Dudley Moore, Richard Pryor and Walter Matthau
Preceded by
Liza Minnelli, Dudley Moore, Richard Pryor and Walter Matthau
Host of the Academy Awards
1984
Succeeded by
Jack Lemmon

Johnny Carson
File:Johnny Carson
Carson in January 1966
Birth name John Willis Carson
Born October 23, 1925(1925-10-23)
Corning, Iowa, U.S.
Died January 23, 2005 (aged 79)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Nationality American
Years active 1950–1994
Influences Groucho Marx, Jack Benny, Fred Allen, Bob Hope, Laurel and Hardy, Red Skelton, George Burns, Milton Berle
Influenced David Letterman, Conan O'Brien, Ray Combs, Jerry Seinfeld, Ellen DeGeneres, Kathy Griffin, Bill Maher, Jay Leno, Bill Hicks
Spouse Joan Morrill Wolcott (1949–1963)
Joanne Copeland (1963–1972)
Joanna Holland (1972–1985)
Alexandra Mass (1987–2005)
Notable works and roles Host of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
Signature File:Johnny Carson
Emmy Awards
Special Classification of Outstanding Program and Individual Achievement
1976 The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
1977 The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
1978 The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
1979 The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
Governor's Award
1980
Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Program (Series)
1992 The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
Personal Award
1986
American Comedy Awards
Funniest Male Performer in a TV Series (Leading Role) Network, Cable or Syndication
1987 The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
Lifetime Achievement Award
1992 Lifetime Achievement

John William “Johnny” Carson (October 23, 1925 – January 23, 2005) was an American television host and comedian, known as host of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson for 30 years (1962–1992). Carson received six Emmy Awards including the Governor Award and a 1985 Peabody Award; he was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1987. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992, and received Kennedy Center Honors in 1993.[1]

Although his show was already highly successful by the end of the 1960s, it was during the 1970s that he became an American icon and the "best guest" in American homes up until his retirement in 1992. Carson is credited with molding modern television late night talk shows, transitioning the format from Ed Sullivan's era of post-war variety where the host was merely an announcer of acts, to today's more casual, conversational approach with extensive interaction with guests. David Letterman, Jay Leno, Craig Ferguson, Jimmy Fallon and Conan O'Brien have all cited Carson's influence on their late night talk shows, which greatly resemble Carson's show in format and tone.

Contents

Early life and career

Born in Corning, Iowa, on October 23, 1925 Carson lived in the nearby Iowa towns of Avoca, Clarinda, and Red Oak before later moving to Norfolk, Nebraska. He left college after one year to join the United States Navy, being commissioned an ensign. He joined the U.S. Navy on June 8, 1943, as an apprentice seaman enrolled in the V-12 program, which trained Navy and Marine pilots.[2]

He hoped to train as a pilot, but was sent instead to Columbia University for midshipman training. He performed magic for classmates on the side. Commissioned an ensign late in the war, Carson was assigned to the USS Pennsylvania, a battleship on station in the Pacific. He was en route to the combat zone aboard a troopship when the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought the war to a close.

The Pennsylvania was torpedoed on August 12, 1945 and Carson reported for duty on August 14 — the last day of the war. Although he arrived too late for combat, he got a firsthand education in the consequences of war. The damaged warship sailed to Guam for repairs, and as the newest and most junior officer, Carson was assigned to supervise the removal of 20 dead sailors. He later served as a communications officer in charge of decoding encrypted messages. He recalls that the high point of his military career was performing a magic trick for Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal.

He began his performing career in 1950 at WOW radio and television in Omaha, Nebraska.[3] He appeared on radio with Ken Case, an Omaha native who was later a news anchor and sportscaster in Monroe, Louisiana. Carson soon hosted a morning television program called The Squirrel's Nest. One of his routines involved interviewing pigeons on the roof of the local courthouse that would allegedly report on the political corruption they had seen. Carson supplemented his income by serving as master of ceremonies at local church dinners, attended by some of the same politicians and civic leaders that he had lampooned on the radio. The wife of one of the political figures owned stock in a radio station in Los Angeles and referred Carson to her brother, who was influential in the emerging television market in Southern California. Carson went to work at CBS-owned Los Angeles television station KNXT. He would later joke that he owed his success to the birds of Omaha.

In 1953, comic Red Skelton — a fan of Carson's sketch comedy show Carson's Cellar, which appeared from 1951 to 1953 on KNXT — asked Carson to join his show as a writer. Skelton once accidentally knocked himself unconscious an hour before his show went on the air live. Carson filled in for him.

In 1955, Jack Benny invited Carson to appear on one of his programs, during the opening and closing segments. Carson imitated Benny and claimed that Benny had copied his gestures. Benny, however, predicted that Carson would have a successful career as a comedian.[4]

Carson hosted several shows before The Tonight Show, including the game show Earn Your Vacation (1954), and the variety show The Johnny Carson Show (1955–1956).[5] He was a regular panelist on the original To Tell the Truth until 1962. After the prime time The Johnny Carson Show failed, he moved to New York City to host Who Do You Trust? (1957–1962), where he met his future sidekick Ed McMahon. Although he saw moving to daytime as hurting his career, Who Do You Trust? was a success. It was the first show where he could ad lib and interview guests.[6]

The Tonight Show

Carson's success on Who Do You Trust led NBC to invite him to replace Jack Paar as host of The Tonight Show, who would leave in March 1962. Carson declined the offer, but NBC asked him again after Bob Newhart, Jackie Gleason, and Joey Bishop also refused. Carson accepted in March, but had six months left on his CBS contract, during which NBC used many guest hosts including Merv Griffin.[6]

Although he continued to have doubts about his new job, Carson became host of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in October 1962 and quickly overcame his fears.[6] His announcer and sidekick was Ed McMahon throughout the program. McMahon's opening line, "Heeeere's Johnny" became a hallmark. Most of the later shows began with music and the announcement "Heeeeeere's Johnny!", followed by a brief monologue by Carson. This was often followed by comedy sketches, interviews, and music. Carson's trademark was a phantom golf swing at the end of his monologues, aimed stage left where the Tonight Show Band was. Guest hosts sometimes parodied that gesture. Bob Newhart rolled an imaginary bowling ball toward the audience. Johnny enjoyed what he calls the "Carson Kits," or beautiful girls to dress his show. Theona Bryant, a favorite, was a model. The other "Carson Cuties" were Phyllis Applegate, Norma Brooks, and Sally Todd.

Paul Anka wrote the theme song ("Johnny's Theme"), a reworking of his "Toot Sweet", given lyrics, renamed "It's Really Love," and recorded by Annette Funicello in 1959. Anka gave Carson co-authorship and they split the royalties for three decades.

The show was originally produced in New York City, with occasional stints in California. It was not live in its early years, although during the 1970s, NBC fed the live taping from Burbank to New York via satellite for editing (see below). The program had been done "live on tape" (uninterrupted unless a problem occurred) since the Jack Paar days.

Move to Burbank

In May 1972, the show moved from New York to Burbank, California. Carson often joked about "beautiful downtown Burbank"[7] and referred to "beautiful downtown Bakersfield," which prompted Mayor Mary K. Shell to chide Carson and invite him to her city to see improvements made during the early 1980s.[citation needed]

After July 1971, Carson stopped doing shows five days a week. Instead, on Monday nights there was a guest host, leaving Carson to do the other four each week. Shows were taped in Burbank at 5:30pm (8:30 pm Eastern time) to be shown that evening at 11:30pm Eastern time. On September 8, 1980, at Carson's request, the show cut its 90-minute format to 60 minutes; Tom Snyder's Tomorrow added a half hour to fill the vacant time. Joan Rivers became the "permanent" guest host from September 1983 until 1986, when she was fired for accepting a competing show on Fox without consulting Carson. The Tonight Show returned to using guest hosts, including comic George Carlin. Jay Leno then became the exclusive guest host in fall 1987. Leno stated that although other guest hosts upped their fees, he kept his low, assuring himself the show. Eventually, Monday night was for Leno, Tuesday for the Best of Carson, rebroadcasts usually of a year earlier but occasionally from the 1970s.

Carson had a talent for quick quips to deal with problems. If the opening monologue fared poorly, the band would start playing "Tea for Two" and Carson danced, to laughs from the studio audience. Alternately, Carson might pull the boom mic close to his face and announce "Attention K-Mart shoppers!"

Carson's show was the launch for many performers, notably comedians. Many got their break on the show, and it was an achievement to get Carson to laugh and be called to the guest chair. Carson was successor to The Ed Sullivan Show as a showcase for all kinds of talent, as well as continuing a vaudeville-style variety show.

In 1973, Carson had a run-in with psychic Uri Geller. Carson, a magician, wanted a neutral demonstration of Geller's abilities, so, at the advice of his friend and fellow magician James Randi, he gave Geller spoons and asked him to bend them with his psychic powers. Geller proved unable, and his appearance on The Tonight Show has been regarded as Geller's fall from glory. Interestingly, in 1970, while still living in Israel, Geller, performing in a home in Beer Sheba, refused to bend a wedding ring given to him by one of the spectators, claiming its shape does not fit the standards of his psychic powers...

Carson successfully sued a manufacturer of portable toilets who wanted to call its product "Here's Johnny".[8]

Carson and Don Rickles

On December 13, 1976, comedian Don Rickles was a guest when comedian Bob Newhart guest-hosted. While poking fun at Newhart and improvising an "immigration" bit, Rickles stamped an imaginary passport, slamming the cigarette box Carson kept on his desk and breaking it. When Carson returned the next night and discovered this, he took a camera crew to the studio next door where CPO Sharkey, a sitcom starring Rickles, was being taped. Carson barged into the studio, shouting, "RICKLES!" He disrupted the taping, berating the embarrassed Rickles with a barrage of insults, in imitation of Rickles's act. Carson also teased CPO Sharkey's African-American actor Harrison Page by speaking to him in an exaggerated southern dialect. The entire incident appeared to be spontaneous, but comedy writer Mark Evanier published an opinion: "Carson's show was taped in Studio 1 at NBC Burbank. The Rickles sitcom was in Studio 3, where Leno taped during his first Tonight Show run.  While Johnny did his best to make it all look spontaneous and unarranged, it had to have been carefully planned. Rickles probably was not in on it and may have been genuinely surprised, but Johnny's producers and director must have been prepared for what transpired, and the producers of CPO Sharkey almost certainly knew. At the moment Johnny entered, Don just 'happened' to be shooting on the set closest to that door. The surprise wouldn't have worked as well if they'd been on one of the other sets. It wouldn't have worked at all if they'd been between scenes or taping a portion of the show that Rickles wasn't in." Fully accurate or not, this scenario reflected the personality of Carson, and his style of conducting his show: solid planning beforehand, with healthy freedom of play placed on top of it all.

Zsa Zsa Gabor's Cat

An oft-repeated story involves a guest appearance by Zsa Zsa carrying a white Persian cat. Gabor is said to have asked Johnny if he would like to "pet my pussy?" During a 1989 appearance, Jane Fonda noted that her son had repeated the claim, and "my son said that you said, uh, 'I'd love to, if you'd remove that damned cat from your lap."

Dolly Parton

However, a bit of adult humor was not beyond Carson. During an interview with Dolly Parton, in reference to her large bust, she said, "People are always asking if they're real and ... I'll tell you what, these are mine." Carson replied, "I have certain guidelines on this show. But I would give about a year's pay to peek under there." Videotape of the Parton interview survives and has been rebroadcast several times during Tonight Show retrospectives.

Rolling Stone controversy

In a 1980 Rolling Stone article, Carson caused quite a public backlash when he called the Brian Wilson-penned (Beach Boys) song "Johnny Carson" from 1977's Love You album "not a work of art". Wilson wrote the song tribute citing the fact no such song had existed previously about the 'king of late night'.

Feuds

Carson made several routine jokes at the expense of other celebrities, like Wayne Newton (after Newton had performed on Carson's show several times). Newton claimed in his 1991 autobiography, among other times including a 1989 interview with Phil Donahue, that the circumstances led to a confrontation in Carson's dressing room where Newton threatened a physical altercation if Carson didn't cease the barrage of jokes with homosexual connotations. In a November 29, 2007 interview on Larry King Live, Wayne Newton said, "I'm going to say something I've never said on television, Mr. King. Johnny Carson was a mean-spirited human being. And there are people that he has hurt that people will never know about. And for some reason at some point, he decided to turn that kind of negative attention toward me. And I refused to have it."[9]

Another famous feud came on the heels of an appearance by author Truman Capote in 1966. The diminutive writer was already embroiled in a public feud with fellow novelist Jacqueline Susann when he told Johnny — and millions of viewers — that Susann looked "like a truck driver in drag." The remark was not censored from the broadcast, and made headlines the next day. Capote subsequently issued a public apology — to truck drivers.

Carson reportedly loathed what he felt was disloyalty among friends. The comedian was displeased when former "Tonight Show" guest hosts John Davidson and Joan Rivers got their own talk shows. Rivers' FOX show directly competed with Carson during the 1986-1987 season, but died a quick death. On June 24, 2009 following Ed McMahon's death, Rivers lauded McMahon on "Larry King Live" but stated that Carson "never again spoke to me, up to his death". Another guest host, Jay Leno, was treated coolly for being perceived as ushering Carson into retirement. Leno's agent ignited the then false rumor in Hollywood circles that Carson's retirement was pending, and Leno was heir to the "Tonight Show". Carson vowed not to return to the show while Leno headed it, and indeed would make his final TV appearance about a year after his retirement on the competing Late Show with David Letterman.

Some of Carson's good-natured barbs were directed at his friends. Ronald Reagan's hair and Frank Sinatra's temper and mob connections were frequent topics. Carson humorously chided Nancy Reagan for falling down and "breaking her hair."[10]

Comic characters

[[File:|thumb|Carson as the character "Carnac the Magnificent", mid 1970s.]] Carson played several continuing characters on sketches during the show, including

  • Art Fern, the "Tea Time Movie" announcer (always selling strange or shoddy merchandise). The character was based on late-show TV hosts who would deliver commercials throughout the movie. Carson originally played the fast-talking huckster in his own voice (as Honest Bernie Schlock or Ralph Willie), and finally settled on a nasal, high-pitched, smarmy drone reminiscent of Jackie Gleason's "Reginald Van Gleason III" character. The character, now permanently known as Art Fern, wore a lavish toupee, loud jackets, and a pencil mustache. Actress Carol Wayne became famous for her 100-plus appearances (1971–1982) as Art's buxom assistant, the Matinée Lady. While Art gave his spiel, she would enter the stage behind him. Art would react to her attractive body, wincing loudly, "Ho — leeeee!". After Carol Wayne's death in 1985, Carson kept Art Fern off the air for most of the next year, and finally hired Danuta Wesley and then Teresa Ganzel to play the Matinée Lady. Carson also used these sketches to poke fun at the intricate Los Angeles interstate system, using a pointer and map to give confusing directions to shoppers (often including points where he would unfold the cardboard map to point out, via the appropriate picture, when the shopper would arrive at "the fork in the road". Another freeway routine in the same theme centered around the somewhat uniquely named "Slauson Cutoff." Art Fern would advise drivers to take some road until they reached the Slauson Cutoff, and then "Cut Off Your Slauson!", often accompanied by the audience to peals of laughter, led by McMahon).
  • Carnac the Magnificent, a turbaned psychic who could answer questions before seeing them. (This same routine had been done by Carson's predecessor, Steve Allen, as "The Question Man.") Carnac had a trademark entrance in which he always turned the wrong direction when coming onto stage and then "tripped" on the step up to Carson's desk. (In one episode, technicians rigged Carson's desk to fall apart when Carnac fell into it.) These comedic missteps were an indication of Carnac's true prescient abilities. Ed McMahon would hand Carnac a series of envelopes, containing questions. Carnac would place each envelope against his forehead and predict the answer, such as "Gatorade." Then he would read the question: "What does an alligator get on welfare?" Some of the jokes were feeble, and McMahon used pauses after terrible puns and audience groans to make light of Carnac's lack of comic success ("Carnac must be used to quiet surroundings"), prompting Carson to return an equal insult. McMahon would always announce near the end, "I hold in my hand the last envelope," at which the audience would applaud wildly, prompting Carnac to pronounce a comedic "curse" on the audience, such as "May your sister elope with a camel!" (In fact, "Carnac the Magnificent" was the stage name Johnny used in his magic act as a youth.)
  • Floyd R. Turbo American (with no pause between words). A stereotypical redneck wearing a plaid hunting coat and cap, who offered "editorial responses" to left-leaning causes or news events. Railing against women's rights in the workplace, for example, Turbo would shout, "This raises the question: kiss my Dictaphone!"
  • Aunt Blabby, a cantankerous and sometimes amorous old lady, invariably being interviewed by straight man Ed McMahon about elder affairs. McMahon would innocently use a common expression like "check out," only to have Aunt Blabby warn him, "Don't say 'check out' to an old person!" Aunt Blabby was an obvious copy of Jonathan Winters’ most famous creation, Maude Frickert, including her black spinster dress and wig.
  • El Mouldo, a mentalist, who would attempt to perform mind-reading and mind-over-matter feats, all of which failed. Often his tricks would include an attempt to bilk money from Ed McMahon or would end with him begging for money.

Carson uncensored on satellite

Even though Carson's program was based in Burbank, NBC's editing and production services for the program were located in New York, resulting in the requirement that Carson's program be transmitted from Burbank to New York. Beginning in 1976, NBC used the Satcom 2 satellite to do this, feeding the live taping (which usually took place in the early evening) directly to New York, where it would be edited prior to the normal broadcast. This live feed lasted usually from two to two-and-a-half hours a night, and was uncensored and commercial-free. During the commercial breaks the audio and picture would be left on, capturing at times risque language and other events that would certainly be edited out later going out over the feed.

At the same time, however, satellite ground stations owned by private individuals began to appear, and some managed to find the live feed. Satellite dish owners began to document their sightings in technical journals, giving viewers knowledge of things they were not meant to see. Carson and his production staff grew concerned about this, and pressured NBC into ceasing the satellite transmissions of the live taping in the early 1980s. The satellite link was replaced by microwave landline transmission until the show's editing facilities were finally moved to Burbank.[11]

Tonight Show Online

In 2010 the website johnnycarson.com was relaunched and now features classic Tonight Show moments on demand.

Business ventures

Carson was a major investor in the ultimately failed DeLorean Motor Company. Founder John DeLorean was involved in a drug scandal, causing Carson's guest Red Skelton to quip, "The DeLorean, is that a hopped-up car?"

Carson was head of a group of show business people and businessmen who purchased and operated two television stations — channel 5 KVVU-TV in Henderson, Nevada, serving Las Vegas, now owned by Meredith Broadcasting, and channel 23 KNAT in Albuquerque, New Mexico. KVVU had been the earliest Las Vegas independent station and was sort of a local in-joke for its threadbare operation and ragtag program lineup. Many thought it ironic that a leading entertainer like Carson, along with Sal Durante, Neil Simon and others, would own such a station. There was talk at the time that the station would become the NBC affiliate, as then long-time affiliate KORK-TV was in the process of being replaced by KVBC-TV, but it never happened. KNAT started at exactly the wrong time. Several new channels — 2, 9, 11, 14, and 23 — were starting up in the southwest and the competition for good syndicated shows was fierce. KNAT was later sold to Trinity Broadcasting.

Carson's other business ventures included a successful clothing line, through which his turtlenecks became a fashion trend, and a failed restaurant franchise.[12]

Retirement

Carson retired from show business on May 22, 1992, when he stepped down as host of The Tonight Show. His farewell was a major media event, and stretched over several nights. It was often emotional for Carson, his colleagues, and the audiences, particularly the farewell statement he delivered on his 4,531st and final Tonight Show:

And so it has come to this: I, uh — am one of the lucky people in the world; I found something I always wanted to do, and I have enjoyed every single minute of it. I want to thank the gentlemen who've shared this stage with me for thirty years, Mr. Ed McMahon — Mr. Doc Severinsen — and — you people watching, I can only tell you that it has been an honor and a privilege to come into your homes all these years and entertain you — and I hope when I find something that I want to do, and I think you would like, and come back, that you'll be as gracious in inviting me into your home as you have been. I bid you a very heartfelt good night.

NBC gave the role of host to the show's then-current permanent guest host, Jay Leno. Leno and David Letterman were soon competing on separate networks.

Post-retirement appearances

[[File:|thumb|right|Johnny Carson, on a trip to Tanzania, following his retirement from the Tonight Show in 1994]] At the end of his final Tonight Show appearance, Carson indicated that he might, if so inspired, return with a new project, but instead chose to go into full retirement, rarely giving interviews and declining to participate in NBC's 75th Anniversary celebrations. He made the occasional cameo appearance, including voicing himself on a 1993 episode of The Simpsons ("Krusty Gets Kancelled"), telephoning David Letterman on a November 1993 episode of Late Show with David Letterman, and appearing in the 1993 NBC Special Bob Hope: The First 90 Years. On May 13, 1994, Carson appeared on Late Show with David Letterman. During a week of shows from Los Angeles, Letterman was having Larry "Bud" Melman (Calvert DeForest) deliver his "Top Ten Lists" under the guise that a famous personality would be delivering the list instead. On the last show of the week, Letterman indicated that Carson would be delivering the list. Instead, DeForest delivered the list, insulted the audience (in keeping with the gag), and walked off to polite applause. Letterman then indicated that the card he was given did not have the proper list on it and asked that the "real" list be brought out. On that cue, the real Johnny Carson emerged from behind the curtain (as Letterman's band played "Johnny's Theme"), an appearance which prompted a standing ovation from the audience. Carson then requested to sit behind Letterman's desk; Letterman obliged, as the audience continued to cheer and applaud. After some moments, Carson departed from the show without having spoken to the audience. He later cited acute laryngitis as the reason for his silence. This night turned out to be Carson's last television appearance.

Letterman

Just days before Carson's death, it was revealed that the retired "King of Late Night" occasionally sent jokes to Letterman.[13] Letterman would then use these jokes in the monologue of his show, which Carson got "a big kick out of" according to Worldwide Pants, Inc., Senior Vice-President Peter Lassally, who formerly produced both men's programs; he also claimed that Carson had always believed Letterman, not Leno, to be his "rightful successor".[14] Letterman frequently employs some of Carson's trademark bits on his show, including "Carnac" (with band leader Paul Shaffer as Carnac), "Stump the Band," and the "Week in Review."

Personal life

Carson was born in Corning, Iowa, to Homer "Kit" Lloyd Carson, a power company manager, and Ruth Hook Carson. He grew up in southwest Iowa until the age of 8, when the family moved to Norfolk, Nebraska. There he learned to perform magic tricks, debuting as "The Great Carsoni" at 14. He attended Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, where he received V-12 officer training, and then served in the Navy from 1943-1946. He served in USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) in the final days of the war. Carson then attended the University of Nebraska in Lincoln where he joined Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, wrote a thesis on the structure of Jack Benny's comedy routines,[6] and graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in radio and speech with a minor in physics in 1949.

Despite his on-camera demeanor, Carson was very shy off-camera. He was referred to as "the most private public man who ever lived".[15] Dick Cavett recalled that "I felt sorry for Johnny in that he was so socially uncomfortable. I've hardly ever met anybody who had as hard a time as he did."[6]

In 1982, Carson was caught swerving in his Delorean by the police, who found out that Carson was over the legal alcohol limit. He was escorted to the NBC studios for a taping of the Tonight Show. He was given probation, that had him attend an Alcoholics Anonymous program for treatment. He was only allowed to drive his own car to work and back, without transporting any passengers or animals in his car.

Marriages

In 1954, Carson married his high school sweetheart Joan. The marriage was volatile, with infidelities by both parties, finally ending in divorce.[16] They had three sons. Their son Richard died in a car accident on June 21, 1991. Another son, Cory, worked as a stage manager at NBC in Burbank.

In 1963, Carson got a "quickie" Mexican divorce from Joan and married Joanne Copeland on August 17, 1963. After a protracted divorce in 1972, Copeland received nearly half a million dollars in cash and art and US$100,000 a year in alimony for life.

Joanne Copeland recently discovered 39 episodes of the debut season of The Johnny Carson Show which were originally telecast in 1955 and 1956. She then made an arrangement with Shout! Factory to produce and distribute selected programs on DVD. The two-disk DVD set contains Johnny's "top 10" episodes.[17] Johnny's first wife Joan and the couple's three sons appear in the first episode on the DVD.

At the Carson Tonight Show's 10th anniversary party on September 30, 1972, Carson announced that he and former model Joanna Holland had been secretly married that afternoon, shocking his friends and associates. Carson kidded that he had married three similarly named women to avoid "having to change the monogram on the towels." A similar joke was made by Bob Newhart during Carson's roast by Dean Martin. On March 8, 1983, Holland filed for divorce. Under California's community property laws, she was entitled to 50 percent of all the assets accumulated during the marriage, even though Carson earned virtually 100 percent of the couple's income. (Since, under the community property provisions of California law, each party legally earns half for themselves and half for their spouse.) During this period, he joked on The Tonight Show, "My producer, Freddy de Cordova, really gave me something I needed for Christmas. He gave me a gift certificate to the Law Offices of Jacoby & Meyers." The divorce case finally ended in 1985 with an 80-page settlement, Holland receiving $20 million in cash and property.

Carson married Alexandra Mass on June 20, 1987; Johnny was 61, Alexis 35.

Children

Carson's son from his first marriage, Richard, died on June 21, 1991, when his car plunged down a steep embankment along a paved service road off Highway 1 near Cayucos, a small town north of San Luis Obispo, California. Apparently, Richard had been taking photographs when the accident occurred. Carson was deeply shaken by his son's death. On his first show after Ricky's death, he gave a stirring tribute in the final minutes of his show as samples of his son's photographic work (and images of Ricky, himself) were displayed with the music accompaniment of Riviera Paradise by blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan. In addition, the final image — as well as some "More To Come" bumpers — of Carson's last show that aired May 22, 1992 featured a photo Richard had taken.

Donations

In 1981, Carson created the John W. Carson Foundation, dedicated to supporting children, education and health services. The Foundation continues to support charitable causes.[18]

In November 2004, Carson announced a $5.3 million gift to the University of Nebraska Foundation to support the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts' Department of Theatre Arts, which created the Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film. Another $5 million donation was announced by the estate of Carson to the University of Nebraska following his death.

Carson also donated to causes in his hometown of Norfolk, including the Carson Cancer Center at Faith Regional Health Services, the Elkhorn Valley Museum, and the Johnny Carson Theater at Norfolk Senior High School.

In August of 2010, the charitable foundation created by Johnny Carson reported receiving $156 million from a personal trust established by the entertainer years prior to his January 2005 death. Carson's foundation was now by far the biggest of Hollywood charities. (from Smoking Gun [19])

Other events

Carson was cited in a 1982 drunk-driving incident while driving a DeLorean DMC-12 sports car in Beverly Hills. Represented by Robert Shapiro, he pleaded no contest to the charges, and, not shying away from the negative publicity surrounding it, made the best of the situation by having a uniformed police officer escort him on to the Tonight Show stage.

Carson, an amateur astronomer, was close friends with astronomer Carl Sagan, who often appeared on The Tonight Show. The unique way Sagan had of saying certain words, like "billions" of galaxies, would lead to Carson ribbing his friend, imitating his voice and saying "BILL-ions and BILL-ions", a phrase erroneously attributed to Sagan. Carson was the first person to contact Sagan's wife with condolences when the scientist died in 1996. He owned several telescopes, including a Questar, considered at the time a top-of-the line telescope.

Also an amateur drummer, Carson was shown on a segment of 60 Minutes practicing at home on a drum set given to him by close friend Buddy Rich, who was the jazz musician with the most appearances on The Tonight Show. Writer Gore Vidal, another frequent Tonight Show guest and friend, writes about Carson's personality in his 2006 memoirs.

Death and tributes

File:Johnny Carson -
Johnny Carson's Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

On March 19, 1999, Carson, then 73, suffered a severe heart attack at his home in Malibu, California. Carson was sleeping when he suddenly awoke with severe chest pains. He was rushed to a hospital in nearby Santa Monica where he underwent quadruple-bypass surgery.[20]

At 6:50 AM PST on January 23, 2005, Carson died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, of respiratory arrest arising from emphysema.[21][22] He was 79 years old. Carson had revealed his illness to the public in September 2002. Following Carson's death his body was cremated, and the ashes were given to his wife. In accordance with his family's wishes, no public memorial service was held. There were numerous tributes paid to Carson upon his death, including a statement by then President George W. Bush, recognizing the deep and enduring affection held for him.[23]

On January 24, 2005, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno paid tribute to Carson with guests Ed McMahon, Bob Newhart, Don Rickles, Drew Carey and k.d. lang.[24] Letterman followed suit on January 31 with former Tonight Show executive producer Peter Lassally and bandleader Doc Severinsen. During the beginning of this show, Letterman said that for 30 years no matter what was going on in the world, no matter whether people had a good or bad day, they wanted to end the day by being "tucked in by Johnny." Letterman also told his viewers that the monologue he had just given had consisted entirely of jokes sent to him by Carson in the last few months of his life.[25] Doc Severinsen ended the Letterman show that night by playing one of Carson's two favorite songs, "Here's That Rainy Day" (the other was "I'll Be Seeing You"). It had been reported over the decades of Carson's fame that he was, off-camera, so intensely private that he had never once invited McMahon to his home. After Carson's death, though, McMahon disputed those rumors and claimed that a close friendship existed. On his final Tonight Show appearance, Carson himself said that while sometimes people who work together for long stretches of time on television don't necessarily like each other, this was not the case with him and McMahon: They were good friends who would have dinner together, and the camaraderie that they had on the show could not be faked. Carson and McMahon were friends for 30 years.[26]

A week or so after the tributes, Dennis Miller was on the Tonight Show and told Jay Leno about the first time he tried to host a talk show, and how miserably it went. He said that he got a call immediately after the first show, from Carson, telling him, "It's not as easy as it looks, is it, kid?"

The 2005 film The Aristocrats was dedicated to Carson,[27] as well as The Simpsons episode Mommie Beerest.

References

  1. ^ Johnny Carson. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. (2009). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved July 30, 2009.
  2. ^ "Famous Veterans," Military.com [1]
  3. ^ The Official Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson
  4. ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUd1-_91YTk
  5. ^ The Johnny Carson Show at the Internet Movie Database
  6. ^ a b c d e "Late Night". Pioneers of Television, 9 January 2008.
  7. ^ James, Meg; Gold, Matea (October 11, 2007). "NBC socks it to Burbank". Los Angeles Times. http://articles.latimes.com/2007/oct/11/business/fi-nbc11. Retrieved May 7, 2010. 
  8. ^ Carson v. Here's Johnny Portable Toilets, Inc., 810 F.2d 104, 105 (6th Cir. 1987)
  9. ^ "Wayne Newton on Larry King Live". CNN. http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0711/29/lkl.01.html. Retrieved 2008-05-11. 
  10. ^ http://www.quotationspage.com/quote/600.html
  11. ^ Cooper, Jr., Robert B.. (2006). Television's Pirates: Hiding Behind Your Picture Tube. 
  12. ^ Bernstein, Adam (2005-01-24). "For Decades, Comic Ruled Late-Night TV". The Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A30475-2005Jan23. 
  13. ^ "Carson Feeds Letterman Lines". The New York Times. http://pqarchiver.nypost.com/nypost/access/781543221.html?dids=781543221:781543221&FMT=ABS&FMTS=ABS:FT&date=Jan+20%2C+2005&author=Post+Wire+Services&pub=New+York+Post&edition=&startpage=102&desc=CARSON+FEEDS+LETTERMAN+LINES. Retrieved 2008-05-11. 
  14. ^ "Carson Feeds Letterman Lines". The New York Post. http://pqarchiver.nypost.com/nypost/access/781543221.html?dids=781543221:781543221&FMT=ABS&FMTS=ABS:FT&date=Jan+20%2C+2005&author=Post+Wire+Services&pub=New+York+Post&edition=&startpage=102&desc=CARSON+FEEDS+LETTERMAN+LINES. Retrieved 2008-05-11. 
  15. ^ Reader's Digest September 2005, p. 178; Book Bonus: Ed McMahon Here's Johnny, Berkley Trade, 2006 ISBN 978-0425212295
  16. ^ Pleading Poverty and Demanding Money, Johnny Carson's First Wife Tells the Sad Secrets of Her Troubled Marriage By Michelle Green, Sue Carswell, Eleanor Hoover May 7, 1990 Vol. 33 No. 18 People Magazine
  17. ^ "Video uncovers a forgotten Johnny Carson DVD". CNN. Archived from the original on March 28, 2007. http://web.archive.org/web/20070328175604/http://www.cnn.com/2007/SHOWBIZ/TV/03/20/apontv.heres.johnny.ap/index.html. Retrieved 2008-05-11. 
  18. ^ "Making a World of Difference". Childrens Hospital Los Angeles. November 2008. http://www.childrenshospitalla.org/atf/cf/%7B1cb444df-77c3-4d94-82fa-e366d7d6ce04%7D/CAMPAIGNNEWS%20FALL%2008.PDF. Retrieved 2010-01-31. 
  19. ^ http://www.thesmokinggun.com/documents/celebrity/carnac-munificent
  20. ^ Biography for Johnny Carson
  21. ^ Longtime host of ‘Tonight Show’ dies at 79 Associated Press, February 8, 2005
  22. ^ Net mourns death of Johnny Carson Jeff Pelline CNET News February 8, 2005
  23. ^ Quotations on Johnny Carson's Death Associated Press January 23, 2005
  24. ^ Tribute To Johnny Carson Friends Return To Stage Where They And Johnny Carson Made TV Magic By Chris Hawke CBS News Burbank, Calif. January 25, 2005
  25. ^ Letterman Pays Special Tribute to Carson February 1, 2005 Associated Press
  26. ^ Fort Lauderdale By Jack Drury
  27. ^ HBO The Aristocrats Synopsis

Further reading

Accounts on work and life

  • Bart, Peter (1992-05-18). [Expression error: Unexpected < operator We Hardly Knew Ye.]. Los Angeles: Variety. 
  • Corkery, Paul (August 1987). Carson: The Unauthorized Biography. Randt & Co. ISBN 0942101006. 
  • Cox, Stephen (2002-08-15). Here's Johnny: Thirty Years of Americas Favorite Late Night Entertainer. Cumberland House Publishing. ISBN 1581822650. 
  • De Cordova, Fred (1988-03-15). Johnny Came Lately. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0671558498. 
  • Hise, James Van (1992). 40 Years at Night: the Story of the Tonight Show. Movie Publisher Services. ISBN 1556983085. 
  • Knutzen, Erik (1992-05-21). Celebs Say Thanks, Johnny.. Herald. 
  • Leamer, Laurence (2005-03-29). King of the Night: The Life of Johnny Carson. Avon. ISBN 0060840994. 
  • McMahon, Ed (2005-10-18). Here's Johnny!: My Memories of Johnny Carson, The Tonight Show, and 46 Years of Friendship. Thomas Nelson. ISBN 1401602363. 
  • Smith, Ronald L. (October 1987). Johnny Carson: An Unauthorized Biography. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0312010516. 
  • Zoglin, Richard (1992-03-16). And What A Reign It Was: In His 30 Years, Carson Was The Best.. Time. 
  • Sweeney, Don (2005). Backstage at the Tonight Show, from Johnny Carson to Jay Leno. Taylor Trade Publishing. ISBN 9781589793033. 

Humor material collections

  • Carson, Johnny (1965). Happiness is a Dry Martini. Double Day and Company. 
  • Carson, Johnny (1967). Misery is a blind date. Double Day and Company. 
  • Johnny Carson Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

External links

United States Navy portal

Obituaries

Media offices
Preceded by
Jack Paar
Host of The Tonight Show
October 1, 1962 – May 22, 1992
Succeeded by
Jay Leno
Preceded by
Bob Hope
Host of the Academy Awards
1979–82
Succeeded by
Liza Minnelli, Dudley Moore, Richard Pryor and Walter Matthau
Preceded by
Liza Minnelli, Dudley Moore, Richard Pryor and Walter Matthau
Host of the Academy Awards
1984
Succeeded by
Jack Lemmon


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

I ... am one of the lucky people in the world; I found something I always wanted to do, and I have enjoyed every single minute of it.

John William Carson (23 October 1925 - 23 January 2005) was an American actor, comedian, writer, and host of The Tonight Show from 1962 to 1992.

Sourced

  • Who could follow Carson? Well, believe me, somebody can — and will.
    • Playboy interview (1967)
  • It was so hot today I saw a robin dipping his worm in Nestea.
    It was so hot today I saw a pigeon walking in the shadow of Orson Welles.
    It was so hot today that Burger King was singing, "if you want it your way, cook it yourself."
    • The Tonight Show (Summer 1977)
  • And so it has come to this: I, uh... am one of the lucky people in the world; I found something I always wanted to do, and I have enjoyed every single minute of it. I want to thank the gentlemen who've shared this stage with me for thirty years, Mr. Ed McMahon... Mr. Doc Severinsen... and... you people watching, I can only tell you that it has been an honor and a privilege to come into your homes all these years and entertain you—and I hope when I find something that I want to do, and I think you would like, and come back, that you'll be as gracious in inviting me into your home as you have been. I bid you a very heartfelt good night.
    • Closing words on his final Tonight Show appearance (22 May 1992)
  • I did not know that.
    • Used on many occasions and often appears in Johnny Carson parodies.

External links

Wikipedia
Wikipedia has an article about:

Simple English

Johnny Carson
Born John William Carson
October 23, 1925
Corning, Iowa, USA
Died January 23, 2005 (age 79)
Los Angeles, California, USA
Spouse Joan Wolcott (19491963)
Joanne Copeland (19631972)
Joanna Holland (19721983)
Alexis Maas (19872005, his death)
Website
www.johnnycarson.com


John William "Johnny" Carson (October 23, 1925January 23, 2005) was an American actor, comedian and writer. He is best known as the host of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.

Other websites

Preceded by
Jack Paar
Host of The Tonight Show
1962 – 1992
Succeeded by
Jay Leno







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