May 12, 2018 | Matt
Johnny Carson was the quintessential American late night talk show host. He was the host of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson from 1962 to 1992, and was one of the most beloved men in entertainment. He’s still regarded as the grand patriarch of the format.
Carson the man could be very different than Carson the host. He was a strong personality, whose career was fraught with many more controversies and bruises than made it to the screen. These facts about Carson may shock you.
Carson Was A Mixed Bag
Carson, as with many celebrities of the day, had some very real and very active personal demons. He was known for his heavy boozing, womanizing and fiery temper. At times, these problems caused serious personal and professional problems for him. Many of them went above and beyond the general carousing we associate with the rich and famous.
He Blamed His Domineering Mother
Carson traced the genesis of his character flaws to his mother Ruth Hook Carson. He called her “Lady Macbeth” and “The toughest son of a b**** of them all.” Johnny’s relationship with her was so fraught with problems that he did not even attend her funeral. Remarking upon her death, he said drolly, “The wicked witch is dead.”
Carson Could Be A Bad Husband
Off camera, Carson had a reputation for treating people who annoyed him harshly. It was also apparently very easy to get on his bad side. One such person was Alexis Maas, his fourth wife, who endured a public humiliation when she said something to irritate her new husband on their honeymoon.
In 1987, Carson and Maas embarked on their honeymoon to Italy. It would prove a less than pleasant affair. Despite traveling on a luxury yacht, Carson’s mood quickly soured. When she made a seemingly benign comment that irritated him, he responded, “We’ve been married for three weeks. If you say something like that again, this marriage won’t last another three weeks.”
They Stuck Together
The marriage lasted beyond the threatened three weeks. In fact, the two remained married until Carson passed away in 2005. Since his death, Maas has remained completely removed from public life. It is not known whether or not she has dated since Carson.
Carson Could Also Be A Bad Father
Johnny Carson had three children during his life, all with his first wife Jody Wolcott. Of his three children, his rockiest relationship was probably with his son Rick. Rick, like his father, was also an alcoholic. Rick also suffered from mental health problems that Johnny was woefully inadequate to address in a supportive or constructive way.
Rick Visits A Mental Hospital, Johnny Doesn’t
During a crisis moment, Rick was committed to a mental hospital. Johnny, in response, refused to go visit him. He was known for being a distant father. Once, Rick was thrilled to receive an invitation from dad to play tennis on his private tennis court. Johnny had owned the court for more than twenty years at the time.
Rick Died Tragically
Richard Carson died on June 21, 1991. He was taking a scenic drive near Morro Bay, California when his car careened over an embankment. He plummeted 125 feet to an instant death. Johnny was emotionally distraught by the tragedy, paying tribute to him on his show.
Johnny Was A Huge Drinker
As mentioned previously, Johnny Carson was known for his love of drink. It was a habit that he passed on to his son Rick. The two men’s alcoholism once created a perfect storm aboard a cruise ship that almost resulted in them coming to blows.
A Boozy Night
NBC threw a party on the Queen Mary to commemorate the 25th anniversary of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Along with Johnny and much of the cast and crew, Rick Carson was also in attendance. The drank flowed and the two got increasingly drunk over the course of the night.
Johnny Loses It
At one point, Johnny went to check on his son, who was extremely drunk. An explosive screaming match ensued. According to people who were there, Johnny initiated it, completely losing his cool. At the height of the hostilities, Johnny reared back with his fist to punch Rick, but someone intervened in time.
He Drank And Drove
Admittedly, drinking and driving was much more culturally acceptable during Carson’s day than it is now. Nevertheless, his alcoholism did get him in trouble with the law for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated. Despite his celebrity status, he still had to pay the price.
Tamir’s DeLorean SiteCarson was known for driving a DeLorean, the car made famous by Back to the Future. He was caught driving it drunk in 1982 and pleaded no contest to his misdemeanor charge. He was sentenced with three years of probation.
He Had To Go To Driving School
Under the terms of his probation, Johnny Carson was forced to attend a driving program for people caught drinking and driving. He was also only legally allowed to drive back and forth from work, and could not carry any passengers, including animals.
Carson’s Alcoholism Was Public Knowledge
After a time, it became known that Carson had a drinking problem. He was known for dodging the media, in order to avoid questions about his alleged alcoholism. Carson later adopted a slightly glib attitude towards his boozing.
He Admitted To Not Being Able To Drink Responsibly
During a 60 Minutes interview in 1977, Carson remarked, “I don’t handle alcohol well at all, no. Really don’t… Oh, Ed and I have had some wonderful times in the past.” The Ed in question was Ed McMahon, also an alcoholic, who was a spokesman for Budweiser and sold his own brand of vodka.
Carson’s Jokes Weren’t Always Flattering
Carson was known for telling jokes that were often at other people’s expense. Some had thicker skin than others. Carson’s ribbing burned a bridge with one major celebrity guest, who boycotted the show.
Raymond Burr Hated Carson
Considering how taboo jokes about people’s weight are now, it’s easy to forget just how common they used to be. Johnny Carson repeatedly mocked actor Raymond Burr’s weight, and Burr did not take it well. After he’d had enough jokes, Burr reached an ultimatum.
Raymond Burr had difficulty being cast in roles due to his weight. When Carson started making jokes about it during his monologues, Burr started refusing to appear on the show as a guest. Although he is not particularly large by today’s standards, at the time, his weight was so unusual that his name became synonymous with obesity, and was commonly used as a punchline.
In an interview with US Weekly some years after he announced his boycott, Burr remarked, “I have been asked a number of times to do his show and I won’t do it. Because I like NBC. He’s doing an NBC show. If I went on I’d have some things to say, not just about the bad jokes he’s done about me, but bad jokes he does about everybody who can’t fight back because they aren’t there. And that wouldn’t be good for NBC.”
Carson’s Marriages Were Rocky
Johnny Carson was married four times. His second marriage, to Joanne Copeland, was marked by infidelities, potentially. They were married in August of 1963, the same year Carson divorced his first wife, Jody Wolcott. They started dating in 1960, when Carson was the host of the game show Who Do You Trust?
She Had An Affair With Frank Gifford
In a recent expose, Carson’s former lawyer Henry Pushkin claims that Joanne Copeland had an affair with football player Frank Gifford, and that Carson was heartbroken and irate over the affair. Copeland denies that the affair ever occurred.
They Were Married For 9 Years
Carson and Copeland were married until 1972, until Carson’s show moved from New York to Burbank. They were divorced after nine years of marriage. Despite their troubles, Copeland remained supportive of Carson and his career in showbusiness.
Did Carson Break Into Copeland’s Apartment?
In his book, Henry Bushkin describes a fairly harrowing episode in which Carson recruited him to help break into his wife Copeland’s private apartment to look for evidence of an affair with Frank Gifford. Copeland has vehemently denied the claim, calling Bushkin’s account “fiction.”
Inside the Apartment, Carson Breaks Down
According to Bushkin, the two men broke into an apartment in New York that Copeland kept secretly. Inside, they found multiple framed photos of Gifford. Carson allegedly leaned against a wall and started weeping.
Carson Carried A Gun?
Bushkin claims that as a distraught Carson wept, his raincoat fell open to reveal a .38 revolver in a hip holster. Copeland has called Bushkin “delusional,” and says that while she did keep a private apartment, it was for her secretary. She does say that Carson was jealous of her friendship with Gifford, which she insists remained platonic.
Bushkin Resists, At First
Bushkin claims that at first, he refused to be an accomplice in Carson’s snooping. But after some persuasion, he gave in and joined his boss on his clandestine info gathering mission. What they found shocked them, but perhaps it did not surprise them.
They Found Lingerie In Her Apartment
Inside the apartment, in addition to the framed photos, Bushkin says they discovered lingerie. Lingerie that was presumably unfamiliar to Johnny. He did not take it well.
When he found the lingerie, Carson spiraled into a depression. Bushkin claims that a griefstricken Carson went on a boozer with Ed McMahon. Considering Carson’s other drinking exploits, at least this part of the story seems credible.
Carson May Have Had Extramarital Affairs
Carson was known for allegedly being a philanderer. In the midst of divorce proceedings with Joanne Copeland, there is reason to believe that he may have also been in the midst of an affair with a Playboy model named Angel Tompkins.
Carson’s alleged infidelity is also detailed in Bushkin’s book. Bushkin claims that he warned Carson not to continue his affair, saying that Carson could potentially jeopardize any settlement he might win in the divorce if his activities were discovered. “[Redacted] him. A stiff [redacted] has no conscience,” Bushkin claims he responded.
Did His Wife Know?
Joanne may have known about Carson’s infidelities, if he was, indeed, having them. Bushkin says that Carson sent her very expensive gifts, ranging from apartments to Rolls-Royces to jewels, by way of contrition.
Carson Disliked Bob Hope As A Guest
Carson, as the reigning king of late night, had a constant parade of the rich and famous marching to and from his interview couch. He didn’t get along with all of them. Foremost among the guests Carson did not enjoy spending air time with was the legendary comedian Bob Hope.
Hope Came With A Script
Unlike the current talk show format, where interviews are almost entirely scripted ahead of time, Carson liked to actually riff extemporaneously with his guests. Hope, apparently, couldn’t hang. Johnny hated that he could not coax any kind of genuine conversation out of the man.
The Riffless One
Andrew Nicholls, who was Carson’s co-head writer at the time, says, “There was nothing spontaneous about Hope. He was a guy who relied on his writers for every topic. Johnny was very quick on his feet. Very well read. He was a guy who learned Swahili, learned Russian, learned astronomy. He appreciated people who he felt engaged with the real world. There was nothing to talk to Bob about.”
Their Relationship Further Deteriorates
As Hope got older, his eyesight and hearing began failing noticeably. Oftentimes, during his guest appearances on Carson’s show, he couldn’t hear the interview prompts. Carson became even more aggravated by his encounters with Hope than he had previously been.
Sticking To The Script
Carson reportedly had zero wiggle room to improvise with Hope, because he would become confused or simply not notice that they had deviated from the script. If Carson asked him something they hadn’t rehearsed, Hope would simply provide an answer for the question he expected to be asked.
Carson Couldn’t Take It
Understandably, Carson could barely cope with his exasperation over the Hope interviews. One of his writers recalls Johnny remarking after a particularly brutal Bob Hope chat, “If I ever up like that, guys, I want you to shoot me.”
Carson Was Outmaneuvered By Wayne Newton
In 1980, Johnny Carson was set to buy the Aladdin Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. A group helmed by singer Wayne Newton bought it first, though. Carson was irritated to find that the media was reporting the story as some kind of triumph over him by Newton.
Johnny Responds Very Poorly
A defensive Carson went on the air to deliver a number of jokes at the expense of Wayne Newton, implying that the man was gay. This escalated a gentlemen’s business quarrel into a full-blown public feud between the two. Newton had been a guest on Carson’s show many times and was shocked by the new treatment.
The Beef Escalated
Newton says that he repeatedly attempted to get in touch with Carson to talk about the jokes, but Carson ignored him. When the olive branch treatment didn’t work, Newton tried the cudgel.
The Feud Was Never Settled
Newton and Carson never buried the hatchet. During an appearance on Larry King Live many years later, Newton said that “Johnny Carson is 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.”
Newton Threatened To Fight Johnny Carson
After his peaceful petitions failed, Newton went to confront the man in person. According to Newton, he went to the Burbank NBC studios, walked into Johnny’s office, asked manager Freddy de Cordova to leave them alone, and then threatened to beat Carson.
Newton says of the confrontation, “…I said to Mr. Carson, I said, I don’t know what friend of yours I’ve killed, I don’t know what child of yours I’ve hurt, I don’t know what food I’ve taken out of your mouth, but these jokes about me will stop and they’ll stop now or I will kick your ass.”
Carson Reportedly Hated Tom Snyder – A Lot
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson was immediately followed by the Tomorrow Show, hosted by Tom Snyder. Carson reportedly had no respect for the man, finding him talentless. After Tomorrow with Tom Snyder was canceled, he was offered The Late Late Show with Tom Snyder.
Carson May Have Assaulted Snyder In Public
Among the many salacious anecdotes in Henry Bushkin’s Carson book was a story about Johnny trying to choke Tom Snyder in Chasen’s, then the most elite restaurant in LA. Carson, two glasses of wine into his evening, noticed Snyder also sitting in the restaurant. Bushkin said Carson erupted, “Why the [redacted] is he staring at me? I’m going to go over there and kick the [redacted] out of that guy.”
Did Carson Attack This Man?
As Bushkin tells it, Johnny Carson lunged for Snyder’s throat, intending to choke him. Someone intervened in time to deflect it, and then Ed McMahon got between the two of them while Bushkin held Carson’s arm.
Carson Felt Betrayed When Joan Rivers Got Her Own Show
Joan Rivers was a regular guest host on the Tonight Show. It should not have been a huge shock to Carson when she was offered her own talk show. But it was. Carson was apparently enraged by the news, seeing her success as a personal affront. He reportedly had a similar reaction when guest host John Davidson was offered his own show.
Joan Has A Brief Run
Rivers was offered a spot hosting her own show on Fox, The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers. It was in the same time slot as Carson’s show, much to his chagrin. It ran from 1986 to 1987, when it was canceled. Rivers said in a 2009 interview with Larry King that after she accepted the offer, she and Carson never spoke again.
Carson Was Especially Hurt By Rivers’ Defection
It was not uncommon for Tonight Show guests to get their own platforms. Alan Thicke, David Brenner, Pat Sajak and Joey Bishop all did, and Carson had a routine of inviting them onto his show to wish them luck before their shows debuted. He also had them back on after their shows were all canceled. He did not extend these courtesies to Rivers, who didn’t appear on the show again until 2014, when Jimmy Fallon hosted it.
The Affair Might Explain It
So why did Carson take her move so personally? In a book, Rivers claims that she and Carson had an affair while Joan was married to Edgar Rosenberg. In her signature blunt fashion, she revealed their involvement to a reporter point-blank, when asked about Carson’s rumored sex tape.
Rivers Lays It Out
A TMZ reporter asked Rivers if she had any interest in seeing the tape. She responded, “I did. I saw it in real life.” The reporter countered, “You and Johnny never really had…” Rivers interjected, “Sex? It depends what you want to call it.”
They Had a ‘Bounce’
As Rivers was signing autographs, she continued. “If you’re Johnny, you call it a one-night bounce.” If they bounced, that might explain why Carson felt so personally aggrieved by her decision to accept Fox’s offer.
Rivers Hit Rock Bottom After Being Canceled
When Rivers was fired from her hosting position in 1987, it unraveled her life. Carson’s stony, persistent cold shoulder could not have helped. Driven to compete despair by his shortcomings as Joan’s manager and producer, husband Edgar Rosenberg killed himself in the wake of the cancellation.
Rivers Also Became Suicidal
The grief of her husband’s death, coupled with her new status as a pariah in the entertainment world, drove Joan Rivers to the point of taking her own life. She also discovered that Edgar had squandered their money on bad investments. To top it off, her daughter blamed Joan for Edgar’s suicide.
Saved By A Dog
Rivers, on the brink of suicide, sat on her bed with a pistol in her lap. Her yorkshire terrier Spike (not pictured) jumped on her lap, sitting on the gun and saving her life in the process. Reflecting on the dog, Rivers realized that if she killed herself, nobody would care for it due to its generally vicious demeanor. Her life, and her second-wind career, were saved. She lived to age 81.
Carson Accidentally Started A Panic Over Toilet Paper
On a lighter note, Johnny Carson has been blamed for inciting a toilet paper shortage, when he made a joke during the opening monologue of a December, 1973 episode of The Tonight Show. The joke referenced a story about a looming shortage of toilet paper. A panic ensued, with many Americans rushing out to make bulk paper purchases.
A Real TP Shortage Ensued
After the initial toilet paper purchase blitz, many Americans arrived at stores to find the TP shelves empty. This reinforced the perception that there was a real drought. Carson’s joke had contributed to an actual supply bottleneck. He wasn’t solely responsible, but he was still contrite about his contribution to the scare.
He Apologized Publicly For The Toilet Paper Misstep
Addressing his viewers after the furor died down, Carson said, “I don’t want to be remembered as the man who created a false toilet paper scare. I just picked up the item from the paper and enlarged it somewhat… there is no shortage.”
Another Toilet Story
A misguided company that manufactured portable toilets thought it would be a good idea to make “Here’s Johnny” their slogan. Carson and his legal team obviously had a bone to pick with them, considering it was the phrase used to open every show.
Carson sued the company in 1977. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan sided with Carson, telling the Braxton company that they were not permitted to use “Here’s Johnny” in relation to their products. A verdict that they probably should have seen coming.
The Battle Is Still, Bafflingly, Raging
Believe it or not, the company is still trying to assert its legal right to use the “Here’s Johnny” phrase on their toilets. Despite Carson being granted right of publicity for the phrase. Pick your battles.
He Had Bee With… Mr. Rogers
Of all human beings to ever live, there has been nobody less deserving of mockery than Fred Rogers, host of the immortal Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Carson, however, lampooned him on The Tonight Show, playing a cynical Rogers who tried to manipulate children into sending him their parents’ money and gives a birds-and-bees lesson with dolls.
Why Mr. Rogers?
Rogers was, understandably, not amused by Carson’s deeply cynical and unprovoked swipe. It wasn’t the only one, either. Carson had made several such jabs at Rogers, with a through-line of insinuation that Rogers was a fraud. It staggers reason why Carson would pick him out for mockery – maybe he was just too defenseless a target.
Mr. Rogers Responds
Mr. Rogers appeared on The Tonight Show in 1983, with Joan Rivers as a guest host. The audience tittered, perhaps nervously and perhaps derisively, at the man. Soon, a hush fell over the studio as Rogers, in his signature gentle voice, expressed the importance of treating children with respect. He then sang “It’s You I Like” to a visibly choked up Rivers.
He Also Had Beef With Sinatra
Frank Sinatra was asked to produce Ronald Reagan’s 1981 Inaugural Gala. Sinatra, in turn, asked Carson to host the show, framing it as a “personal favor.” Carson begrudgingly agreed to MC the event, for fear of insulting Frank.
The Show Must Go On
Carson was very annoyed by his obligation to host the Gala, and didn’t like how it actually panned out. Matters were made worse when he discovered that Reagan himself had requested Carson, through Sinatra. “Ronnie does know that I answered my country’s call once already, doesn’t he?” Carson remarked, in reference to his WWII Navy enlistment.
Carson Rebuffs Dean Martin
Carson apparently spent much of the Gala seething about Sinatra. As with many of his peers with whom he had a convivial relationship in front of the camera, things were quite different offscreen. The Gala really went south when Dean Martin arrived for his spot clearly drunk. Carson flatly refused to introduce him.
He Hated Modern Television
Later in his life, Carson was privately very vocal about how much he hated the direction television had gone after he relinquished his hosting spot. He may have repeatedly mocked Mr. Rogers on national TV, but reality shows were somehow more de classe.
Carson Vents At Dinner
Peter Jones has an interesting story about Carson. “Not long before he died, Johnny went to dinner with Garry Shandling and Jerry Seinfeld, and apparently went on about his disappointment in the direction television was going, with its tabloid nature and reality garbage. He had said he was sickened by what was going on, and was glad he got out when he did.”
Leno Takes The Throne Despite Carson’s Wishes
After Carson abdicated his hosting spot in 1992, Jay Leno was chosen to replace him. This was a very controversial move, as David Letterman was considered by many to be a better fit. Including by, it was later revealed, Johnny Carson.
Richard Little Claims Carson Despised Him
Rich Little, famous impressionist, claims in his memoir Little by Little: People I’ve Known and Been, that his impression of Johnny Carson earned him abiding contempt from the man. Little claims that Carson went as far as to ban him from the show.
Was Johnny That Think Skinned?
Despite being all smiles when Little would impersonate him on camera, Little claims that he secretly couldn’t stand the impressions. Little’s mimickry didn’t always fly with his subjects. Paul Lynde also apparently hated Little’s impression of him.
Or Was It Just The Booze?
In his book, Henry Bushkin corroborated Richard’s perspective, saying the impressionist “brought out the worst in Johnny.” Some people think that Carson’s reaction to Little was mostly fueled by being a temperamental drunk, instead of thin skin.
The Tonight Show Made, Then Broke, Carol Wayne
Carol Wayne was a regular on the Tonight Show. She played the recurring character of the “Matinee Lady,” and was typecast as a clueless blonde. She was popular, and her appearances on the Tonight Show landed her spots on other shows, including The Red Skeleton Show. However, her rise to fame would be cut short.
She Met a Tragic End
Wayne was a very popular fixture on The Tonight Show and it looked like she would be in steady work for a long time. In addition to playing the Matinee Lady, Wayne was also cast in several films (including the Peter Sellers cult classic The Party). However, changes at The Tonight Show led to the end of her career, and possibly her life.
Cut For Time
To be clear – we are not saying that Johnny Carson was directly culpable for Carol Wayne’s bankruptcy and death. However, he was among those pushing to shorten the Tonight Show‘s runtime from 90 to 60 minutes. The reduction led to David Letterman getting his own show, and to The Matinee Lady segments being cut.
No More Matinee Lady
Without The Matinee Lady, Carol Wayne had no way to get screentime on The Tonight Show. Despite her other work, The Tonight Show was still her main venue into mainstream exposure. After it was revoked from her, she spiraled.
She Turned To Drugs And Alcohol
Wayne had great difficulty making ends meet. She allegedly got heavily involved in booze and drugs. There is also a rumor that Wayne became an escort. Her personal relationships deteriorated, and she ended up dating a used car salesman named Edward Durston, with whom she spent her last days.
The Circumstances Of Her Death Were Mysterious
While on a trip to Mexico, Durston (not pictued) and Wayne got into an argument while walking on the beach. Durston left her there, and never saw her again. Her body was discovered floating in a shallow bay three days later, fully clothed.
It Was Ruled An Accident
No drugs or alcohol were found in her system after she died. The picture was made more confusing by the fact that her body was found in a mere four feet of water, shallow enough for her to stand up in. So what happened?
Was It Really An Accident?
Ed had reportedly already left town before she died, and also left her luggage at the airport. Some people speculate that he was somehow directly involved in her death. The case is still unsolved.
Carson Filled Controversial Shoes
While Johnny Carson had multiple private scandals, Jack Paar, the Tonight Show host who Carson took over for in 1962, was a publicly controversial figure. Throughout his career with NBC, he befell multiple tiffs with the viewing public, who occasionally found his material and choices as host outrageous.
The Public Has Always Been Overly Sensitive
During his tenure as host of The Tonight Show, Paar managed to enrage the country multiple times. They were mad at him for interviewing Fidel Castro, for kicking a drunk Mickey Rooney off the show, and, more than anything else, for telling a long-winded, very funny (look it up, worth your time) and innocuous joke about bathrooms.
Paar Walks Out Mid-Show
NBC cut the joke from the broadcast without asking or even notifying Paar. The next night, an emotional Paar responded to their censorship, and an outbreak of salacious newspaper headlines about it, that he was leaving The Tonight Show because the constant public outrage was taking too much of a toll on him and his family. “There must be a better way of making a living,” he said with a breaking voice before walking off set.
Paar Returned Three Weeks Later
Jack Paar returned to The Tonight Show three weeks later, after NBC apologized and permitted him to tell the joke on air. He later admitted to Dick Cavett that walking off like he did was a huge mistake. Paar was reportedly a highly emotional man, whose personality could make filming difficult. And like Carson, he held grudges.
The Effects Of The Walkout Lingered
Although he continued hosting the show for two more years until handing the reins to Carson, the shadow of Paar’s abrupt departure continued to hang over him. When he did relinquish the hosting spot for good, he cited the grueling schedule as the reason. However, some think his attitude had soured towards the job in general.
He Offered A Salty Farewell
On March 29 1962, Jack Paar aired his final episode of The Tonight Show. It was rife with condemnation for people in the press who had antagonized him over the years, most prominently Dorothy Kilgallen and Walter Winchell, gossip columnists. He didn’t appear on The Tonight Show again until 1986.
Carson Defended Bert Parks
Johnny Carson wasn’t all vinegar. He did have strong friendships and loyalties within show business. Among them was Bert Parks, a singer and announcer who hosted the Miss America beauty pageant for more than two decades. When his career was threatened, Carson went to bat for him.
Parks Was Old News
Parks hosted the pageant and sang its famous anthem, “There She Is, Miss America.” He held the position for more than twenty years before TV executives decided he had grown too old for the job, and fired him abruptly. Carson was indignant and took up his case.
Carson Goes To Bat
When Parks was shown the door in 1979, Johnny Carson used his platform to try to get him re-instated as host of the pageant. Carson wasn’t the only person who was insulted by his firing. Nevertheless, the effort proved unsuccessful.
He Has An Infamous, Secret Sex Tape
Somewhere out there, there is a Johnny Carson sex tape. It became publicly known in 2014, when whoever owned it tried to sell it to Carson’s estate. They refused, and threatened a lawsuit in the event that it was ever released.
You Still Cannot See The Tape
The tape allegedly shows Carson with one of his wives. The video was (is?) only offered to private collectors, and nobody has made it available to the public. Perhaps that is for the best.
Rumor Has It…
A few people have seen the tape and they report that the ‘gift of gab’ wasn’t Carson’s only gift. Time will tell if the tape will ever be available for general viewing.
Carson Helped Tank A Presidential Run
Johnny Carson, along with the other late night talk show hosts of the era, had a major influence on the 1988 presidential election, which was carried by George H. W. Bush. Bush defeated Democratic challenger Michael Dukakis, who only carried ten states and Washington, D.C. Dukakis won the Democratic nomination over Gary Hart, whose extramarital affair, publicized by Carson, among others, destroyed his chances.
News Of The Affair Destroyed Hart’s Political Career
A photo emerged of Gary Hart with a woman named Donna Rice in an intimate posture during a boat trip. The picture was published in the New York Post and the late night world seized upon the story for material. Until the scandal broke, he was considered a shoe-in for the Democratic nomination. Had he not had the affair, Bush may well have lost the election and our political reality could be very different.
Was Johnny Culpable?
Johnny Carson’s political leanings remained strictly enigmatic on The Tonight Show. It is also a stretch to suggest that he was responsible for Hart’s fall from public grace, as the story was being carried by multiple news outlets. However, some people do feel that Carson’s frequent reference to Hart’s sex scandal in his monologues helped drive the nail deeper into his coffin.
The name of the yacht Hart was photographed on with Donna Rice was named “Monkey Business.” Hart and William C. Broadhurst, who leased the yacht from owner Donald Soffer, took two women on an overnight cruise to Bimini. A singularly reckless move for a politician, surpassed only by the recklessness of photographing it. The boat’s name was, to be fair, too rich for any self-respecting late night host to not capitalize on.
Not Everyone Was Amused
Carson’s influence over Hart’s destiny was significant enough to draw comment from public figures. Greg Dawson, a prominent television critic, remarked about the Monkey Business schtick, “Isn’t it reassuring to know that the identity of the next president of the United States could be decided in large part by Johnny Carson’s joke writers? Is this a great democracy or what?”
Hart Withdraws His Candidacy, With Fiery Words
While we take these kinds of media scandals revolving around politicians’ private lives for granted now, Hart was one of the first people to be on the receiving end of it. During his resignation press conference, he had very strong words for the press, who he felt had persecuted him. “If someone’s able to throw up a smokescreen and keep it up there long enough, you can’t get your message across. You can’t raise the money to finance a campaign; there’s too much static, and you can’t communicate.” He went on to say, “I watched journalists become animals, literally.”
Carson (And Bill Cosby) Were Irritated By Morrissey
Admittedly, it is not difficult to be irritated by Morrissey. Johnny Carson had Bill Cosby on The Tonight Show as the guest the night Morrissey was the musical act, and things did not play out to their liking. The young crowd could not have been more indifferent towards Carson and Cosby, waiting impatiently for Morrissey to take the microphone.
Nobody Cared About The Rest Of The Show
Carson’s monologue was met with total indifference, and it quickly became clear that nobody was there for Johnny or Cosby. The rest of the show crawled along at a painfully tortured pace until it was time to introduce Morrissey, when the studio went berzerk.
Morrissey Is Finally, Painfully Introduced
When Carson started to introduce Morrissey, he was already being drowned out by the sound of his audience screaming in expectant joy. “Morrissey had to leave, but we do have Jerry Vale for you,” he quipped, and then threw his hands in the air as the crowd screeched. He couldn’t even finish the entire intro, simply pointing to the band in the midst of the verbal fracas.
Sally Field Dated Him And Hated It
Sally Field, during an appearance on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen, said that her relationship with Johnny Carson was an uncomfortable one. Their dating life together did not exactly sound like the stuff of romcoms.
The Octopus And The Guppy
When Andy Cohen asked Field to describe her relationship with Carson, she replied, “The octopus and the reluctant little guppy.” The implication being that Johnny was extremely handsy with her, and she did not enjoy it.
A Reluctant Date
Sally Field actually dated Johnny Carson, but by her account, it was vaguely in contrary to her wishes. She says she wasn’t actually that into him, but couldn’t find a polite way to say no to him. She eventually did, and her alibi was bizarre.
She Faked A Mental Breakdown
Unable to find the words to dump Carson, Field instead feigned a mental health episode to justify her absence from his life. She said she pretended to have a mental breakdown in order to avoid seeing him. And to avoid telling him how she actually felt.
Allergic To Confrontation
During her What Happens Live interview, Field said that she was totally unable to maturely turn people down. She said she eventually decided that the best way out was “to tell people I had lost my mind.” This is how she extricated herself from her relationship with Carson.
She Was Committed, Kinda
“I told him I was having a breakdown and being sent away. I couldn’t figure out how just to say I really am just not into this. I just said, ‘I’m so sorry. I have to go away. They’re putting me in a home.”
Bob Crane Could Have Had Carson’s Spot
Bob Crane was a well-known radio and TV personality who had caught the eyes of NBC producers. He was being considered as Jack Paar’s replacement after Paar vacated The Tonight Show. Ultimately, Crane decided not to take the job, which significantly altered the course of both his and Carson’s careers.
Crane Picked Hogan’s Heroes Instead
Crane turned down The Tonight Show, but it wasn’t a fatal mistake. It might not have been a mistake at all. Crane is still remembered for his role on Hogan’s Heroes. And if Crane had taken the job, Johnny Carson would have never been a household name.
Crane Was Murdered
Tragically, Bob Crane was discovered murdered in a hotel room in 1978. He died of bludgeoning wounds and the murder weapon was never found. The case is still unsolved, but his son suspected one of his friends. The suspicious was proven incorrect by a 2016 DNA analysis that fingered a culprit whose identity is unknown.
He Was Involved With DeLorean
Johnny Carson was an early adopter of the DeLorean, the trendy sports car that was designed by John DeLorean. The DeLorean was made famous by being the centerpiece of Back to the Future. Carson was one of the largest investors in the company. Which wasn’t necessarily a wise decision.
John DeLorean Was Allegedly A Drug Trafficker
In 1982, John DeLorean was arrested for attempting to traffick $24 million of cocaine, during a sting operation. He cried entrapment and was later acquitted. However, the scandal stripped the DeLorean name of most of its prestige.
It Was A Bad Investment
As DeLorean’s reputation dwindled, so did the value of Carson’s investment. Spielberg actually chose to include a DeLorean in Back To the Future after the cocaine scandal broke. He had considered using a refrigerator for the time travel vessel instead, but worried that kids might get trapped in old refrigerators as a consequence. It wasn’t as big of a shot in the arm to the DeLorean empire as it could have been.
He Didn’t Socialize With Guests
Johnny Carson maintained an icy demeanor with guests to his program. Unlike other late night hosts such as Merv Griffin, Dick Cavett and Mike Douglas, he did not make a habit of socializing with the celebrities who appeared on his show. His manner towards them on screen was also markedly more impersonal than other hosts.
He Would Cut Guests Off
Not only would Carson not fraternize with guests before or after interviews, he would also intervene if he thought they weren’t holding up their end of the discussion. He was known for cutting talks short if he felt they were going stale.
There Were Exceptions
If Carson had a guest he particularly admired, he would be less standoffish. One standout example was Orson Welles. His crew was surprised to find him actively soliciting the filmmaker’s company before the show filmed, which was very unusual for him.