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Johnny Carson Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (5) | Mini Bio (1) | Spouse (4) | Trade Mark (3) | Trivia (49) | Personal Quotes (39)

Overview (5)

Date of Birth 23 October 1925Corning, Iowa, USA
Date of Death 23 January 2005Los Angeles, California, USA  (emphysema)
Birth NameJohn William Carson
Nickname The King of Late-night
Height 5' 10½" (1.79 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Johnny Carson, the legendary "King of Late Night TV" who dominated the medium's nether hours for three decades, was born in Corning, Iowa, but moved with his family to nearby Norfolk, Nebraska when he was eight years old. It was in Norfolk, where he lived until he was inducted into the US Navy in 1943, that he started his show business career. At age 14, Carson began appearing as the magician "The Great Carsoni" at local venues.

In 1962, Carson was chosen by NBC to succeed the controversial Jack Paar and his The Jack Paar Tonight Show (1957). Paar had decided to quit the show and begin a once-a-week show for NBC in prime time on Friday nights. Carson would never be controversial like Paar, preferring to good-naturedly skewer politicians and celebrities in his opening monologue and staging stunts such as the on-stage marriage of retro-singer Tiny Tim to his "Miss Vicky" in 1969. His popularity with the late-night audience became so great, and the income from advertising on his show so profitable that, in 1967, NBC had to lure Johnny back to The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962) after a walkout with a three-year contract guaranteeing him a minimum of $4 million. In the early 1970s, TV Guide reported that Carson was earning $2 million a year, making him the highest paid TV entertainer ever, a record he repeatedly surpassed, pulling down a then-record $5 million annual salary in the 1980s. Carson created a sense of intimacy with his guests and audiences that made him the unvanquished "King of Nighttime TV". Countless talk shows hosted by the likes of Joey Bishop and Dick Cavett and other non-talk show programs were launched against him year after year only to fail, with the notable exception of ABC News Nightline (1980) halfway through his reign. Aside from his loyal audience, Carson was beloved by his guests and the legions of young comics whose careers were launched on "The Tonight Show", colloquially known as "The Johnny Carson Show". His tempestuous love-life, which included two high-profile divorces, became the fodder of such celebrity staples as "The National Enquirer" and later "People Magazine", and he was even the subject of a roman a clef pulp novel in the early 1970s. There have been at least seven published biographies of Carson.

After brief stints on radio stations in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska, Carson's career was exclusively in television, starting with work at Nebraska TV stations in the late 1940s which preceded his 1951-53 skit program Carson's Cellar (1953) on Los Angeles station KNXT-TV. Attracting the attention of the industry, he was hired as a comedy writer for The Red Skelton Hour (1951) which provided him with a career breakthrough when Skelton was injured backstage and Carson substituted for him, delivering his first monologue before a national audience. This led to a stint as the host of the quiz show Earn Your Vacation (1954) and the variety showcase The Johnny Carson Show (1955) in 1955-56. The man who would soon become the most famous late-night TV personality in history hosted the daytime game show Who Do You Trust? (1956) from 1957-62, teaming up with long-time sidekick Ed McMahon in 1958.

Before his triumph on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962), Carson tried his hand at dramatic acting, appearing in "Three Men on a Horse" (episode # 1.29) during the inaugural season of Playhouse 90 (1956) in 1957. In 1960, he shot a pilot for a prime-time TV series, "Johnny Come Lately", that was not picked up by a network. Carson had sat in for "Tonight Show" host Jack Paar in 1958 and, when Paar left the show four years later, NBC chose Carson as his replacement, taking over the cat bird seat on Oct. 2, 1962. The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962) became a major phenomenon in American pop culture in the 1960s and beyond. Sidekick McMahon's "Heeeeere's Johnny!!!" introduction of Carson became a cultural catchphrase, memorably re-prised by Jack Nicholson in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980), Woody Allen's character in the Best Picture Academy Award-winning Annie Hall (1977), stand-up comic Alvy Singer, is recognized in front of a movie theater by a street tough due to his appearance on "The Tonight Show".

Aside from his banter with celebrities, he amused his audience for 30 years with broadly played skit comedy by his "Mighty Carson Players" and his spoof clairvoyant "Carnac the Magnificent". A master at quick repartee, Carson was a relaxed host with a pleasant, ingratiating manner and was quite funny as a skit comedian, but it was the monologue in which Carson's comic genius flourished. He made memorable put-downs of politicians and celebrities, a format still used by his successors Jay Leno and David Letterman and legions of comics who came after him.

But it was his ironic self-awareness that made him radically different from such monologists as Bob Hope. When a joke bombed during his monologues, Carson would do a wounded double-take as the audience jeered, fully aware of the awfulness of the joke he had just unloaded. Following these bombs with a sly, self-deprecating remark engendered a sense of intimacy between Carson and his fans. Carson typically moved the blame for a groaner onto his joke writers, which created a "We're in this together" camaraderie with his audience that spawned a whole new era of self-referential comedy, perhaps best epitomized by Letterman, the man Carson wanted to succeed him on "The Tonight Show".

A liberal in the increasingly liberal age of the 1960s and 1970s, so powerful were his opening monologues that by the early 1970s, he could actually affect society at large outside of the pop culture realm. A joke about a shortage of industrial grade toilet paper caused a national panic and a run on all grades of t.p., with a resulting shortage of the product about which he had kidded. Playing off current events such as the Watergate crisis, his comic evisceration of President Richard Nixon was credited with some critics as exerting such a drag on Nixon's approval rating that it made his resignation possible, if not inevitable. After Carson's reign, it became increasingly de rigueur for politicians to appear on late-night TV talk shows and bear a host's jibes in order to stump for votes. Carson's connection with the American culture was so absolute, it contributed to one of his few failures, the rejection of "The Tonight Show" in the early 1980s by British audiences who could not understand the topical references of his monologues. And his audience's identification of Johnny with the "Tonight Show" effectively stopped him from work in other media. In the mid-1960s, Carson's agents wanted to trade on his vast popularity to position him in motion pictures as the "New Jack Lemmon", but Carson never made the foray outside of television. His connection with the movie industry remained his hosting of three generations of stars and his memorable turns as the host of five Academy Awards telecasts from 1979 to 1984. In that role, he generally is regarded as the best successor to long-time Oscar host Bob Hope. He did stretch his wings as a producer, his Carson Productions producing TV pilots and series, TV movies and Late Night with David Letterman (1982) in addition to his own talk show.

The six-time Emmy-winner considered a follow-up to "The Tonight Show", but nothing caught his interest and he spent the last decade of his life in a quiet retirement in Malibu, California, as befitted his private nature. Thus, it was "The Tonight Show" that remains his creative legacy. Unlike every other TV star, he remained on top until the very end, the show winning its ratings period every year for 30 years. When Carson retired, his last appearance was one of the highest rated late night TV shows ever.

"I have an ego like anybody else", Carson told The Washington Post in 1993, "but I don't need to be stoked by going before the public all the time". Frederick De Cordova, the producer of "The Tonight Show" throughout Carson's 30-year run, believed that Johnny never pressured himself to launch a follow-up as he already had achieved unprecedented success on TV. "He is one of a kind, was one of a kind", De Cordova said in 1995. "I don't think there's any reason for him to try something different". Carson, who was suffering from emphysema and had quadruple bypass surgery in 1999, died peacefully at the age of 79 on the morning of Sunday, January 23, 2005, surrounded by his family and friends. In terms of career longevity, popularity, peer respect and impact on the medium, Carson ranks with Lucille Ball and Jackie Gleason as one of the greatest stars of television. Not only will Johnny be sorely missed, he WAS sorely missed by his legions of fans after his retirement.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Jon C. Hopwood

Spouse (4)

Alexandra (Alexis) Maas (20 June 1987 - 23 January 2005) (his death)
Joanna Carson (30 September 1972 - 30 August 1985) (divorced)
Joanne Carson (17 August 1963 - 21 June 1972) (divorced)
Joan Morrill (Jody) Wolcott (1 October 1949 - 25 May 1963) (divorced) (3 children)

Trade Mark (3)

His unmistakable laugh
Golf swing at the end of his The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962) monologues
Jokes about his alimony payments

Trivia (49)

(March 19, 1999) Underwent emergency quadruple bypass surgery at Santa Monica Hospital (CA) after suffering a severe heart attack.
Lived in Norfolk, Nebraska from age 8 until he was inducted into the US Navy in 1943. Carson made monetary donations totaling nearly $5 million to causes and organizations there, including the Carson Regional Cancer Center (named after his parents), the high school's Johnny Carson Theater, the Norfolk Public Library, the Norfolk Arts Center, the Elkhorn Valley Museum and Research Center, and the Lifelong Learning Center at Northeast Community College. He last visited Norfolk in 1997 when he attended his former penmanship teacher Fay Gordon's 100th birthday party.
Was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1987.
Served in the U.S. Navy, 1943-1946.
Until the record was broken by Bob Barker in 2002, hosted the same network series for the longest time: 29 years, 7 months, 21 days.
Had a lifelong interest in magic, and started performing in the community as a 14-year-old magician/comic, under the name "The Great Carsoni." Plied his magic tricks in early performing days of the 1950s in places like the Seven Seas lounge in Omaha, Nebraska.
Once appeared on New American Bandstand 1965 (1952) and stood in for a drummer.
One of his early jobs was as a ventriloquist.
At the tenth anniversary party for The Tonight Show, he announced that he and former model Joanna Holland had married that afternoon, shocking friends and associates. [September 30, 1972].
Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992.
First wife, Joan "Jody" Morrill Wolcott, was his college sweetheart. They divorced and later, in 1990, she lost a suit trying to increase the alimony that she was receiving.
In April 1967 he walked off The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962) convinced that NBC had violated his contract by showing reruns during an AFTRA strike. He refused to go back to work when the strike ended and won a new contract that reportedly guaranteed him an income in excess of $4 million for the following three years.
Served on the USS Pennsylvania.
The story goes he met his last wife, Alexis Mass, when he saw her strolling along the beach near his Malibu home holding an empty wine glass. He left his house and offered to fill the glass up for her.
Son Richard Wolcott Carson was killed on Jube 21, 1991 after his car plunged down a steep embankment along a coastal road. The accident apparently occurred while he was taking pictures along a paved service road off Highway 1 near Cayucos, north of San Luis Obispo (CA). Johnny Carson had two other sons: Christopher, named after his paternal grandfather, and Cory Carson.
Son of Homer Carson, who was manager of the Iowa-Nebraska Light & Power Company, and homemaker Ruth Carson.
On March 8, 1983, Joanna Holland filed for divorce. Under California's community property laws, she was entitled to 50% of all the assets accumulated during the marriage, even though Carson earned virtually all of the couple's income. During this period, he joked on The Tonight Show: "My producer (Frederick De Cordova) really gave me something I needed for Christmas. He gave me a gift certificate to the Law Offices of Jacoby and Meyers". The divorce was settled in 1985 with a whopping 80-page settlement, Holland receiving $20 million in cash and property.
Brother of Dick Carson, and Catherine Carson.
Member of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity.
Although he announced during his final The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962) that he hoped to return soon with a new project, he chose to fully retire from the public eye instead and has declined invitations to appear on talk shows and NBC anniversary specials. He has made a few exceptions to over the years: he provided a guest voice for The Simpsons (1989) (the famous Krusty the Clown Telethon episode), and he brought the house down with a brief, surprise appearance on Late Show with David Letterman (1993) to congratulate Letterman on his new show.
After a protracted divorce from his second wife, Joanne Carson, she got nearly half a million dollars in cash and art and $75,000 a year in alimony for life.
His very first guest on The Tonight Show was Groucho Marx, who introduced Carson. Reacting to the ensuing applause, Carson said, "Boy, you would think it was Vice President [Lyndon Johnson]". Johnny's last guest was Bette Midler, who sang him out.
Co-wrote "Johnny's Theme" with Paul Anka when he signed on in 1962 as the new host of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962).
Biography in: "Who's Who in Comedy" by Ronald L. Smith. Pg. 95-97. New York: Facts on File, 1992. ISBN 0816023387
During one live dog-food commercial on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962), when a stunt dog failed to appear on cue, Johnny came out on all fours, panting and licking announcer Ed McMahon's hand, to keep the commercial going.
Celebrated New Year's Eve once in his teens by shooting off his father's rifle at midnight, accidentally taking out the family water heater.
Was a member of the exclusive Hollywood Gourmet Poker Club with fellow card players Chevy Chase, Martin Short, Steve Martin, Carl Reiner, Barry Diller and Neil Simon.
When Carson announced his impending retirement, there was fierce competition between David Letterman and Jay Leno to be Carson's "Tonight Show" successor. Leno eventually won the coveted spot, and an angry Letterman moved over to rival network CBS to host a competing show. Many, including Leno, took Carson's walk-on appearance on Late Show with David Letterman (1993) as a signal from Carson that he preferred Letterman to Leno. (Carson has never appeared on Leno's show to congratulate his "Tonight Show" successor).
In January 2005, one-time Late Show with David Letterman (1993) producer Peter Lassally revealed that Carson occasionally contributed material for Letterman's monologues. What he missed most in retirement was performing his own "Tonight Show" monologues, according to Lassally.
In addition to his walk-on appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman (1993) stage, he also appeared on another episode in a filmed segment where Letterman has car problems while visiting Hollywood and Carson drives past, shaking his head in disapproval.
Won Kennedy Center Honors in 1993.
Had once been considered for the part of "Rob Petrie" on what subsequently became The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961).
In 1949 received a Bachelor of Arts degree in radio and speech (with a minor in physics) from The University of Nebraska.
"'I'll be right back.'" Carson, when asked what he'd like for an epitaph at a press conference after he'd accepted Harvard University's Hasty Pudding Club Man of the Year Award, 1977.
Bob Hope, commenting on Carson's retirement, said it was like "a head falling off Mt. Rushmore. He's had a profound impact on millions of lives. He changed people's sleeping habits, sex habits and their midnight eating habits."
He made one foray into movies - he played himself in the 1964 Connie Francis movie, Looking for Love (1964). The MGM flick didn't do that well, and Carson was never seen in movies again - except for those contemporary films where The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962) is playing on a TV set in the scene.
He was a fan of Elvis Presley.
Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives". Volume 7, 2003-2005, pages 65-68. Farmington Hills, MI: Thomson Gale, 2007.
While serving in the Navy during WWII, Carson filled in for an absent Rita Hayworth during a USO performance by Orson Welles's 'Mercury Theater Wonder Show' in which he had to be sawed in half by Welles.
Taught himself how to speak Swahili before going on trips to Africa during his retirement.
Was considered for the role of Cookie in the Elvis Presley picture G.I. Blues (1960), according to the Hal B. Wallis papers at AMPAS Library.
While in the US Navy during World War II (1943-1945), he was an undefeated amateur boxer, posting a record of 10 wins. Most of his boxing matches were held on the USS Pennylvania, the ship on which he served.
According to the PBS series American Masters (1985), Carson was seen by more people on more occasions than anyone else in American history.
Uncle of Jeff Sotzing.
Mill Creek Entertainment has issued a four-DVD boxed set called "Johnny Carson: Late Night Legend", consisting of more than 23 hours of shows culled from his late-night talk show, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962).
Inducted into the Nebraska Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame in 1987.
Former stepfather of Joe Holland.
Interviewed in "The Great Comedians Talk About Comedy" by Larry Wilde.
His brother Dick Carson was the one time producer/director of the Merv Griffin Show in the 1970s. Dick Carson was also director of over 3200 episodes of The Wheel of Fortune.

Personal Quotes (39)

Married men live longer than single men. But married men are a lot more willing to die.
If life was fair, Elvis [Elvis Presley] would be alive and all the impersonators would be dead.
People will pay more to be entertained than educated.
If it weren't for Philo T. Farnsworth, inventor of the television, we'd still be eating frozen radio dinners.
Happiness is seeing the muscular lifeguard all the girls were admiring leave the beach hand in hand with another muscular lifeguard.
New York is an exciting town where something is happening all the time, most of it unsolved.
The Hollywood tradition I like best is called sucking up to the stars.
Happiness is your dentist telling you it won't hurt and then having him catch his hand in the drill.
[December 1967, interview in "Playboy" magazine] It's silly to have as one's sole object in life just making money, accumulating wealth. I work because I enjoy what I'm doing, and the fact that I make money at it-- big money--is a fine-and-dandy side fact. Money gives me just one big thing that's really important, and that's the freedom of not having to worry about money. I'm concerned about values--moral, ethical, human values--my own, other people's, the country's, the world's values. Having money now gives me the freedom to worry about the things that really matter.
[December 1967, interview in "Playboy" magazine] Find me any performer anywhere who isn't egocentric. You'd better believe you're good, or you've got no business being out there.
[on late-night television programs] We're more effective than birth control pills.
[1993, interview in "The Washington Post"] I have an ego like anybody else, but I don't need to be stoked by going before the public all the time.
I'm often asked, "What is your favorite moment during the 30 years you hosted ["The Tonight Show"]?" I really don't have just one. The times I enjoyed the most were the spontaneous, unplanned segments that just happened, like Ed Ames' infamous "Tomahawk Toss" that produced one of the longest laughs in television history. When these lucky moments happen, you just go with them and enjoy the experience and high of the moment.
I wanted the show to make the most of being the last area of television that the medium originally was supposed to be - live, immediate entertainment. I decided the best thing I could do was forget trying to do a lot of pre-planning. It all boiled down to just going out there and being my natural self and seeing what would happen.
[on the spontaneous nature of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962)] I never analyze it. Analyzing it would just be a waste of time. I just go out and do it. Like George Burns said, "If it gets a laugh, it's funny."
[on why The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962) avoided controversial topics] I think it would be a fatal mistake to use my show as a platform for controversial issues. I'm an entertainer, not a commentator. If you're a comedian your job is to make people laugh.
[on his public persona] I'm basically not a public person. It's like [Jackie Gleason] said, "If you go out all the time to restaurants and so on, people say, 'Oh, he's everywhere', and if you stay home and eat dinner, they say, 'Oh, he's a recluse'."
[December 1967 interview by 'Alex Haley (I)' in "Playboy" magazine, on speculation that he was anti-social] I couldn't care less what anybody says about me. I live my life, especially my personal life, strictly for myself. I feel that is my right, and anybody who disagrees with that, that's his business. Whatever you do, you're going to be criticized. I feel the one sensible thing you can do is try to live in a way that pleases you. If you don't hurt anybody else, what you do is your own business.
[To frequent guest Joan Embery, of The San Diego Zoo, after the marmoset she had brought had climbed on Carson's head and urinated] I'm glad you didn't bring a baby elephant.
[on the secrecy behind his nightly monologue] It's always been a ritual with me. I don't show it to Freddie [executive producer Frederick De Cordova] or Ed [sidekick Ed McMahon] or anybody. If you don't show it to anybody, then you get fresh reactions.
[May 1991] I can empathize with President [George Bush]. I know what it feels like having a young guy waiting around for you to keel over.
[July 1991] In Los Angeles, the big story is that Police Chief Daryl Gates announced his retirement. It'll be sometime next year. Why can't a guy just retire without making a big deal of it?
If variety is the spice of life, marriage is the big can of leftover Spam.
I now believe in reincarnation. Tonight's monologue is going to come back as a dog.
[on Ronald Reagan] The President has asked for severe cuts in aid to the arts and humanities. It's Reagan's strongest attack on the arts since he signed with Warner Brothers.
Egyptian President Sadat [Anwar Sadat] had a belly dancer entertain President Nixon [Richard Nixon] at a state dinner. Mr. Nixon was really impressed. He hadn't seen contortions like that since Rose Mary Woods.
I've seen Don [Don Rickles] entertain 50 times and I've always enjoyed his joke.
We have certain high standards on this show and some day we hope to live up to them.
I still, believe it or not, have dreams in which I am late for The Tonight Show It's a performer's nightmare, apparently. I've checked with other people, and it occurs to them frequently. And it's frightening. Because I'm not prepared. It's show time and I'm going on-and I've got nothing to say! Jesus! I wake up in a sweat.
I think I left at the right time. You've got to know when to get the hell off the stage, and the timing was right for me. The reason I really don't go back or do interviews is because I just let the work speak for itself.
[on returning to NBC] That ain't gonna happen. That ain't gonna happen. Uh-uh. I know NBC means well. But I am retired. I ain't going back on television. I made that decision a long time ago and it's served me well.
[to Miss Piggy who had asked him, 'Can you stand there in your rented tuxedo and honestly say that I am not Oscar material?'] Oscar Meyer, maybe.
We played in England for a while and we were not, as you say, a big smash. It's a pretty Americanised show and I think one of the problems was that here we're on every night, night after night, and I think the show played in London at different times late at night and only once a week, and I don't think that people got the chance to really get into the rhythm.
You don't have long to get used to Benny Hill. You can laugh right away. He's a funny guy.
[asked why he didn't keep the controversial edge that his predecessor Jack Paar has brought to The Tonight Show] I think that shows that have gone in just for controversy, to bring on two people of opposing view is very easy night after night. It's easier to that kind of show then it is to get laughs.
[asked about his goal in life] To be a good person, a worthy citizen, and to rip NBC off for everything they've got.
[during his monologue] My name is Johnny Carson, I've devoted a lifetime to comedy, and the next 90 minutes are going to seem like a lifetime to you.
[to Frank Sinatra] When you're in a romantic mood, who's records do you put on?
[on his first night hosting The Tonight Show] I have only one feeling as I stand here knowing that so many people are watching - I want my na-na!

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