JOHNNY CARSON Biography - Other artists & entretainers


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Name: Johnny Carson                                                                         
Born: 23 October 1925 Corning, Iowa                                                         
Died: 23 January 2005 Los Angeles, California                                               
Johnny Carson (October 23, 1925 - January 23, 2005) was an American television             
host best known for his iconic status as host of The Tonight Show Starring                 
Johnny Carson for thirty years.                                                             
John William Carson was born in Corning, Iowa, to parents Homer "Kit" Lloyd                 
Carson, a power company manager, and Ruth Hook Carson. Johnny Carson grew up in             
southwest Iowa until the age of 8 years old when the family moved to Norfolk,               
Nebraska, where he learned to perform magic tricks, debuting as "The Great                 
Carsoni" at age 14. He attended Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, where             
he received V-12 officer training, and then served in the Navy from 1943 to 1946.           
He served on the USS Pennsylvania in the final days of the war. Carson then                 
attended the University of Nebraska where he joined Phi Gamma Delta fraternity,             
graduating with a bachelor's degree in 1949. The next year, Carson took a job at           
WOW radio and television in Omaha. He appeared on radio with Ken Case, an Omaha             
native who was later a news anchorman and sports broadcaster in Monroe,                     
Louisiana. Carson soon hosted an early morning television program called The               
Squirrel's Nest; Carson then took a job at CBS-owned Los Angeles television                 
station KNXT, which was his entry to the big time.                                         
In 1953, well-known comic Red Skelton a fan of Carson's sketch comedy show,                 
Carson's Cellar, which ran from 1951 to 1953 on KNXT tapped Carson to join his             
show as a writer. In 1954, Skelton knocked himself unconscious just one hour               
before his live show went on the air; Carson filled in for him.                             
He hosted several TV shows before his run on The Tonight Show, including the               
game show Earn Your Vacation (1954), the variety show The Johnny Carson Show (1955         
- 1956), a regular panelist gig on the first version of To Tell The Truth until             
1962 and a five-year stint on the game show Who Do You Trust? (1957-1962),                 
during which Carson met long-time sidekick Ed McMahon.                                     
In 1960, Carson was a candidate to play the role of TV writer Rob Petrie in a               
new sitcom created by Carl Reiner entitled Head of the Family. At the suggestion           
of producer Sheldon Leonard, however, Dick Van Dyke was given the role and the             
series was subsequently retitled The Dick Van Dyke Show.                                   
Carson became the host of NBC's The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (taking             
over after Jack Paar quit) in October 1962. His announcer and sidekick was Ed               
McMahon throughout his entire tenure with the program.                                     
For millions of people, watching The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson at the             
end of the evening became a ritual, and Carson, with his quick wit and natural             
charm, became a well-known entertainer loved by many. Most of the later shows               
began with music and the announcement by Ed McMahon "Heeeeeere's Johnny!",                 
followed by a brief comedic 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 Tonight Show monologues, aimed at stage left where the             
Tonight Show Band was located. Guest hosts would sometimes parody that gesture.             
Bob Newhart, for example, would finish by simulating rolling a bowling ball                 
toward the audience.                                                                       
Paul Anka wrote the theme song ("Johnny's Theme"), a reworking of an earlier               
Anka song called "Toot Sweet" that had been given lyrics, renamed "It's Really             
Love," and recorded by Annette Funicello in 1959. Anka gave Carson co-authorship           
credit and they split the royalties for the next three decades. For years, the             
theme opened with a memorable drum riff that was later dropped.                             
The show was originally produced in New York City, with occasional stints in               
California. It was not broadcast 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 serious problem occurred) since the Jack Paar days. In May 1972 the               
show permanently moved from New York to Burbank, California.                               
After the move, 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 5:30 p.m. local time (8:30 pm Eastern time) to be           
shown later that evening at 11:30 pm Eastern time. In the mid-1980s the show               
went from a 90-minute format to 60 minutes. Joan Rivers became the "permanent"             
guest host from September 1983 until 1986, when she was fired for accepting a               
competing show on the startup Fox network without consulting Carson first.                 
Thereafter, The Tonight Show returned to using various guest hosts, including               
legendary standup comic George Carlin. Jay Leno then became the exclusive guest             
host in the fall of 1987. Eventually, the pattern became relatively set. Monday             
night was for Jay Leno. Tuesday night was for the Best of Carson, which were               
rebroadcasts of earlier episodes (usually of a year previous but occasionally               
back into the 1970s with edited episodes).                                                 
Carson had a talent for coming up with quick quips to deal with unexpected                 
problems. If the opening monologue fared poorly, the band would start playing               
the song "Tea for Two" and Carson would start to dance, which invariably earned             
laughs from the studio audience. Alternately, Carson might pull down the boom               
mike close to his face and announce "Attention K-Mart shoppers!"                           
Carson's show was the launching pad for many talented performers, notably                   
comedians. Many got their "big break" by appearing on the show, and it was                 
considered the crowning achievement to not only get Johnny to laugh out loud,               
but also to be called over to the guest chair. In many ways, Carson was the                 
successor to The Ed Sullivan Show as a showcase for all kinds of talent, as well           
as continuing the Vaudeville variety-show tradition.                                       
In 1973, Carson had a legendary run-in with popular psychic Uri Geller when he             
invited Geller to appear on his show. Carson, an experienced stage magician,               
wanted a neutral demonstration of Geller's alleged abilities, so, at the advice             
of his friend and fellow magician James Randi, he gave Geller several spoons out           
of his desk drawer and asked him to bend them with his psychic powers.                     
In November 1976 guest host Don Rickles had comedian Bob Newhart on the show               
while Carson was on vacation. 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 to the show 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 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 ("No, I think I would recall that...") and both he and                   
Gabor[4] responded to researchers by stating the event "never happened." Despite           
widespread insistence by people who claim to have seen the episode, no audio or             
video recording has ever been produced.                                                     
However, a bit of risqué 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."                                                                   
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" LP) 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'.                           
In a November 29, 2007 interview on Larry King Live, Wayne Newton discussed                 
issues he had with Carson. "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."