Secrets And Drama From Johnny Carson And The Tonight Show

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson helped shaped what we know now as the typical late-night television format, i.e., a host interviewing a guest star. And while this particular talk show was a staple of its time, it had its fair share of issues.

From Carson’s four failed marriages to a guest star he couldn’t stand, the late-night talk show host was far from perfect. Keep reading; some of these behind-the-scenes secrets might surprise you!

Johnny Carson And The Toilet Paper Shortage Of 1973

Johnny Carson And The Toliet Paper Shortage Of 1973
Archive Photos/Getty Images
Archive Photos/Getty Images

If you thought 2020 was the only toilet paper shortage in the history of America, you’d be sorely mistaken. In December of 1973, Johnny Carson made a joke on his late-night television show about an alleged toilet paper shortage.

With the millions of viewers his program had, the joke sparked panic. Stores were cleared of toilet paper, resulting in manufacturers having to ration their supplies until the panic died down. The New York Times said the incident was a classic example of how rumors are spread.

Carson’s Former Lawyer Henry Bushkin Spills The Tea

Carson's Former Lawyer Henry Bushkin Spills The Tea
Laura Cavanaugh/Getty Images
Laura Cavanaugh/Getty Images

In his tell-all book about Johnny Carson, the TV host’s former lawyer, Henry Bushkin, spills some major tea. In the book, he discusses Carson’s second wife, Joanna Copeland, and her supposed affair with Frank Gifford.

Instead of filing for divorce right away, Bushkin says Carson had him go over to the apartment they lived in and search around for any evidence of an affair. Carson was a complete mess over the thought of his wife cheating.

Bushkin Does Johnny’s Dirty Work

Bushkin Does Johnny's Dirty Work
Sonia Moskowitz/Getty Images for East Hampton Library
Sonia Moskowitz/Getty Images for East Hampton Library

After learning about his wife’s supposed affair with Frank Gifford, Johnny Carson had his lawyer Henry Bushkin investigate. At first, Bushkin was against the idea of snooping around but eventually made his way to the apartment.

There, he found more than one questionable piece of evidence, including lingerie. Ironically, Gifford doesn’t remember the affair! On the Today Show, he joked about not remembering having an affair with Joanne Copeland.

Estranged Relationship With His Son Rick

Estranged Relationship With His Son Rick
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

No stranger to strained relationships, it might not come as a surprise to learn that Johnny Carson was an estranged father. One of his three sons, Rick, struggled with mental illness. As it wasn’t something discussed in those days, Carson didn’t visit Rick once he was admitted to a hospital.

While dreamers would hope the father and son would reconcile, they never did. Rick passed away in 1991, and Carson paid tribute to him on his show, but that doesn’t make up for the fact they didn’t have a relationship.

One Drink Too Many

One Drink Too Many
Keystone Features/Getty Images
Keystone Features/Getty Images

As part of the entertainment industry, Johnny Carson was known to partake in a drink or few. Unfortunately, he was also one of those people who couldn’t control his anger when indulging in the habit.

Things went particularly bad during his 25th-anniversary party. There, he and his estranged son, Rick, were a few drinks deep. They got into a huge screaming match with one another, in front of network executives, Carson’s co-workers, and friends and family. Whoops.

Fat Jokes Got Old

Fat Jokes Got Old
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

While fat jokes aren’t new in the public sphere, Johnny Carson had a habit of bringing them a bit too far. He didn’t mind calling an overweight person out in front of the millions of viewers who tuned into his show.

NBC actor Raymond Burr was the source material of more than one of Carson’s jokes. The actor actually got so fed up with Caron’s sense of humor that he refused to appear on The Tonight Show. Of course, Burr did wind up on the show twice, in 1968 and 1976.

“The Wicked Witch,” AKA Carson’s Mother

Frank Edwards/Fotos International/Getty Images
Frank Edwards/Fotos International/Getty Images

It’s safe to say Johnny Carson had his fair share of personal issues, from his drinking to failed marriages. Interestingly, Carson blamed a singular person for his personal relationship mishaps: his mother.

During an interview, Carson said, “She’s the toughest son of a…of them all. There is no … way to please that woman. She’s Lady Macbeth! My marriages failed because she…me up!” He wasn’t even sad to see her go, saying, “The wicked witch is dead.”

Sally Field Pretended She Was Being Admitted To An Insane Asylum

Sally Field
NBC
NBC

While Sally Field and Johnny Carson had an alleged relationship, the actress really wasn’t into it. During an interview on Watch What Happens Live, she actually admitted to having to resort to a certain lie because she doesn’t know how to say no!

Field said, “I told [Johnny] I was having a breakdown and being sent away. I couldn’t figure out how just to say I’m 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.'”

In 60 Minutes, Carson Speaks Of Addiction

In 60 Minutes, Carson Speaks Of Addiction
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

It took some time, but Johnny Carson finally spoke out about his strained relationship with adult beverages. During an interview with 60 Minutes correspondent Mike Wallace, Carson spoke of his personality while drinking and how it wasn’t like a normal person.

He said, “And when I did drink, rather that a lot of people who become fun-loving and gregarious and love everybody, I would go the opposite, and it would happen, just like that.”

Joanne & Johnny Didn’t Work Out

Joanne & Johnny Didn't Work Out
Max B. Miller/Fotos International/Getty Images
Max B. Miller/Fotos International/Getty Images

A running theme with Johnny Carson was his strained relationships with his family. So, it isn’t surprising that he and his second wife Joanne Copeland divorced after nine years of marriage.

Even though their split was very public, Copeland continued to back Carson in his entertainment endeavors, supporting his strive and TV legacy that was sure to come with being the host of a popular late-night talk show. She was completely dedicated.

The Fourth Time Is Not The Charm

The Fourth Time Is Not The Charm
Darlene Hammond/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Darlene Hammond/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Johnny Carson is known to have a bit of a disrespectful attitude when it comes to others. And while one would think that personality trait wouldn’t translate over to a marriage, it did. Carson married his fourth wife, Alexis Maas, in 1987, and one aspect of their honeymoon wasn’t exactly loving.

While out at dinner, Maas said a fleeting remark. Carson’s response, obviously, was, “We’ve been married for three weeks. If you say something like that again, this marriage won’t last another three weeks.” Yikes.

His First Marriage Was Doomed From The Start

His First Marriage Was Doomed From The Start
Archive Photos/Getty Images
Archive Photos/Getty Images

In 1949, Johnny Carson married his first wife, Jody Wolcott. Unfortunately, their marriage was doomed from the start. Their relationship was erratic at best, and infidelity was just a normal part of their lives.

So, when their 1963 divorce came about, people weren’t exactly asking what happened to the loving couple. Carson clearly wasn’t heartbroken over their split, considering he went on to marry his second wife, Joanne Copeland, that very same year.

Three Years Probation And Limited Driving

Three Years Probation And Limited Driving
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Johnny Carson was no stranger to adult beverages, even though his worst qualities came out while drinking. His indulgence caught up to him in 1982, though, when he was caught driving his DeLorean under the influence.

Escaping jail time, Carson was sentenced to three years of probation with a mandatory program for drivers. He was also only permitted to use his car to drive to and from work. Anything else was against his sentence.

Bob Hope Was Giving Carson No Hope

Bob Hope Was Giving Carson No Hope
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

One of the guests Johnny Carson could have done without on his talk show was Bob Hope. With his eyesight and hearing going with old age, it was difficult for Hope to pick up every question Carson threw at him.

Obviously, this tested Carson’s patience like no other. One of The Tonight Show writers recalls how angry and annoyed Carson was after an interview with Hope. The host said, “If I ever end up like that, guys, I want you to shoot me.”

Gifts Didn’t Keep Carson’s Third Wife Around

Gifts Didn't Keep Carson's Third Wife Around
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

After his divorce from Joanne Copeland was settled in 1972, Carson wasted zero time saying “I do” again. that same year, Carson secretly wed former model Joanna Holland, to the complete surprise of his friends, family, and colleagues.

Unfortunately for Holland, just because they wed, that didn’t mean Carson’s womanizer ways were behind him. He tried to make up for his affairs by showering Holland with elaborate gifts, such as a Rolls-Royce Corniche. She divorced him in 1985.

Publicly “Losing” Wasn’t Okay With Carson

Publicly
NBC Television/Getty Images
NBC Television/Getty Images

In 1980, Johnny Carson was in the middle of a huge deal, acquiring the Aladdin Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Close to making a deal, the hotel and casino were bought out from under him by a group led by Wayne Newton.

Not enjoying the media’s portrayal of him as “losing the deal,” Carson went on to make more than one joke at Newton’s expense. It was the start of their high-profile public feud.

Words Have A Way Of Hurting A Person

Words Have A Way Of Hurting A Person
Helmut Reiss/United Archives via Getty Images
Helmut Reiss/United Archives via Getty Images

During a guest appearance on Larry King Live, Wayne Newton discussed his rivalry with Johnny Carson. And what he had to say wasn’t good! During the interview, Newton said, “Johnny Carson is a mean-spirited human being.”

Continuing, he said, “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.”

The End Of A Rivalry

The End Of A Rivalry
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

After some time, Wayne Newton became fed up with Johnny Carson’s mean-spirited jokes. It was the final straw. So, Newton took it upon himself to either end the ridiculous feud or go out fighting.

Newton wound up going to Carson’s studio, threatening to fight the late-night TV host unless he agreed to stop his cruel jokes. Carson wasn’t looking for a fight. He took Newton’s threat seriously and stopped his jokes.

Carol Wayne’s Mysterious Death

Carol Wayne's Mysterious Death
NBC
NBC

While vacationing in Mexico with used car salesman Edward Durston, Carol Wayne mysteriously died. After allegedly having an argument on the beach, Edward left Wayne. Several days later, her body was found floating in a shallow bay, fully clothed.

Weirdly enough, Edward had already skipped town, leaving Wayne’s luggage at the airport. The workers at the hotel they were staying at were the ones to identify the body. To this day, no one really knows what happened to Johnny Carson’s sidekick.

Carson Had A Frien-Emy In Tom Snyder

Carson Had A Frien-Emy In Tom Snyder
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

If there was one person, Johnny Carson couldn’t stand, it was fellow host Tom Snyder. The host of the Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder, Carson thought poorly of him, saying Snyder was a no-talent bore.

One night while out for drinks in Los Angeles, Carson did his typical thing, having one too many drinks, and went off on how much he disliked Snyder and his program. It probably wasn’t the most professional thing Carson could have done!

McMahon’s Catchphrase Made Its Way Into Pop Culture

McMahon's Catchphrase Made Its Way Into Pop Culture
NBC Television/Getty Images
NBC Television/Getty Images

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon’s iconic catchphrase “Heere’s Johnny” pretty much go hand in hand. What McMahon probably didn’t realize, though, is that the catchphrase he used at the start of each segment was going to play a huge role in pop culture.

In 1980, actor Jack Nicolson used the famous line in the thriller film The Shinning. While McMahon probably didn’t expect the line to be used by a guy chasing his family with an ax, it’s turned into one of the more memorable moments in film history.

There Was No Hope Having A Conversation With Bob Hope

There Was No Hope Having A Conversation With Bob Hope
Keystone Features/Getty Images
Keystone Features/Getty Images

Johnny Carson had a stream of guest stars on his show. But there was one person who Carson could have done without, Bob Hope. Carson was all about real-world discussions, and Hope was all scripted with no actual thoughts.

During an interview, one of Carson’s former writers, Andrew Nicholls, said, “There was nothing spontaneous about Hope. He was a guy who relied on his writers for every topic. There was nothing to talk to Bob about.”

Johnny Sued A Company Using The “Here’s Johnny” Catchphrase

Johnny Sued A Company Using The
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Apparently, Johnny Carson had a bit of an issue when it came to toilets because he not only sparked a toilet paper shortage in 1973, but he sued a portable toilet company. Braxton wanted to use the catchphrase “Here’s Johnny!” for their product.

Of course, Carson wasn’t having any of it since that’s how he was introduced each segment of his talk show. After a legal battle that spanned a decade and two appeals, the court ruled in Johnny’s favor.

Joan And Johnny Had An Interesting Relationship

Joan And Johnny Had An Interesting Relationship
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

While Johnny Carson was annoyed at the fact that Joan Rivers left his show for her own, that didn’t mean their relationship was always strained. On the contrary, Rivers explained in her book that the two were actually very close once upon a time.

And when she says “close,” she means the two had an affair at some point in time while she was still married to Edgar Rosenberg. Talk about a complicated relationship.

Mr. Roger’s Wasn’t Keen With A Certain Carson Skit

Mr. Rodger's Wasn't Keen With A Certain Carson Skit
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

If there is one person most people can rally behind, it’s Mr. Rogers. His message of love, happiness, and being kind to neighbors is a message that’s hard to make fun of. But Johnny Carson found a way!

In one of his skits, Carson makes fun of Mr. Rodgers by making an anti-Mr. Rogers character. This character preached stealing money from parents so his show wouldn’t go under. Obviously, the real Mr. Rogers didn’t appreciate the satire, and Carson later apologized.

DeLorean Was Carson’s Ride Or Die

DeLorean Was Carson's Ride Or Die
Betty Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Betty Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

When John DeLorean started the DeLorean Motor Company, Johnny Carson was one of his primary investors. Known for the infamous time machine DeLorean in Back to the Future, Carson was sure the company was going to take off.

It didn’t. DeLorean was actually caught with $24 million worth of substances he was attempting to traffic. Even though he wasn’t sentenced to any time in prison, DeLorean’s reputation and Carson’s hefty investment swiftly went under.

Carson Wasn’t Amused With Frank Sinatra’s “Personal Favor”

Carson Wasn't Amused With Frank Sinatra's
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

In 1981, Frank Sinatra asked a “personal favor” of Johnny Carson to host Ronald Reagan’s Inaugural Gala. Of course, a personal favor for Sinatra didn’t go unanswered, or it would have resulted in a personal insult.

So, a reluctant Carson hosted the event. He was anti-social during the event, and when it came to his realization that it was Regan who requested Carson, the host said, “Ronnie does know that I answered my country’s call once already, doesn’t he?” Carson was a WWII veteran.

He Could Dish It Out But Couldn’t Take It

He Can Dish It Out But Can't Take It
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Allegedly, Johnny Carson disliked Richard Little. In Little’s 2016 memoir, Little by Little: People I’ve Known and Been, he discusses how he was banned from Carson’s show, explaining that the host has very thin skin.

Apparently, Carson could dish it out, but when someone came back at him with an impression he didn’t like, that was the end of it. In his book, Carson’s former lawyer Henry Buchkin said Richard brought out the worst in Johnny.

Amuse Him Or Get Out

Amuse Him Or Get Out
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Unlike other late-night hosts such as Dick Cavett, Mike Douglas, and Merv Griffin, Johnny Carson wasn’t one to have fun or mingle with his guests. He was very matter of fact, not pretending to enjoy the interview if it wasn’t going according to plan.

Carson also didn’t feign amusement, only laughing when he actually found something his guest said to be funny. Carson’s staff was beyond surprised when he acted out of character, such as seeing guest Orson Welles before the start of the show.

Carson Was Outraged When The Miss America Host Was Fired

Carson Was Outraged When The Miss America Host Was Fired
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

While he was a television announcer and singer, Brett Parks was probably best known for his involvement with the Miss United States beauty pageant. For years, Parks hosted the event. He even sang the iconic “There She Is, Miss America” song!

A long-time fan of the pageant, Johnny Carson, loved watching Parks. So, it’s understandable that he was outraged when Parks was fired for old age. Carson even led an on-air campaign trying to get his fellow host reinstated.

Guppy Meet Octopus

Guppy Meet Octopus
Daniel SIMON/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Daniel SIMON/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

During one interview with Andy Cohen on his show Watch What Happens Live, Sally Field explained her bizarre relationship with Johnny Carson. And to say it wasn’t normal would be an understatement.

When asked about her and Carson’s relationship, Field said it was like “The octopus and the reluctant little guppy.” an answer to which Cohen responded, “He was all hands with you.” Ironically, Field and Carson had an alleged relationship at one point in time.

Carson Didn’t Like John Davidson & Joan Rivers Getting Their Own Shows

Carson Didn't Like John Davidson & Joan Rivers Getting Their Own Shows
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

As it turned out, Johnny Carson was a bit of a jealous man. When his guest hosts John Davidson and Joan Rivers got their own shows, he saw it as the biggest betrayal since their shows were now his direct competition.

Even though Rivers’ show was canceled a few years after it aired, Carson still didn’t make amends. According to Rivers, Carson never spoke to her again after she got her own show.

Paar Paved The Way For Carson

Paar Paved The Way For Carson
CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images
CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

After he pretty much walked off the set of The Tonight Show, Jack Paar left the country (because extreme measures needed to be taken, apparently). Even so, he was persuaded to come back and host the show for a few more seasons.

Eventually, the censorship and schedule just became too much for the host. And his actual departure paved the way for Johnny Carson to step in and begin his tenure as the host of The Tonight Show.

Old Episodes? Toss Them

Old Episodes? Toss Them
Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Archived footage is a normal organizational technique used by many networks nowadays. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a common practice during the early years of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Only 33 episodes between 1962 and May 1, 1972, are still in existence.

This is because the network would reuse tapes, seeing no need to save old episodes. Carson was actually a huge proponent for this practice, once remarking that the network should “make guitar picks” out of old episodes. He saw no use for them.

Carol Wayne As Carson’s Blonde Bombshell

Carol Wayne As Carson's Blonde Bombshell
NBC
NBC

Although she was an actress and model, Carol Wayne is probably best known for her work as the Matinee Lady in The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson‘s popular Art Fern’s Tea Time Movie sketches.

During her time on the show, Wayne appeared in more than 100 sketches alongside Carson. She is probably the most well-known “Matinee Lady.” After her death, Carson even took the skit off the air for an entire year.

Hollywood Isn’t A Synonym For Rich

Hollywood Isn't A Synonym For Rich
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Even though Ed McMahon was in Hollywood for a number of years and part of popular shows like The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, he wasn’t actually rich. The opposite, actually. McMahon had to foreclose on his Beverly Hills mansion in 2008 because he was behind in payments — $644,000 on his $4.8 million mortgage, to be exact.

McMahon and his wife Pam Hurn discussed their financial struggles on Larry King Live.

A “Private” Tape Went Public

A
Art Zelin/Getty Images
Art Zelin/Getty Images

Johnny Carson was a lot of things, but understanding when someone does him wrong was not one of those traits. So, he definitely would have had more than a few nasty things to say about the person who leaked a “private tape” in 2014.

According to TMZ, the tape is of a young Johnny Carson and one of his wives. When offered to his estate for a nice chunk of change, they refused. Instead, they said they’d sue if it were ever released.

Monkey Business Made It Almost Too Easy For Carson

Monkey Business Made It Almost Too Easy For Carson
National Enquirer/Getty Images
National Enquirer/Getty Images

When the scandalous affair between Gary Hart and Donna Rice was published, Carson couldn’t help but joke about it, especially considering a boat they were photographed on together was named Monkey Business.

As he had a lot of material to work with, a television critic couldn’t help but say, “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?”

Carson Got Away With A Lot Of Potential Lawsuits

Carson Got Away With A Lot Of Potential Lawsuits
Ron Eisenberg/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Ron Eisenberg/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

During his time as the host of The Tonight Show, Johnny Carson got away with more than one potential lawsuit. When it came to his female guest stars, Carson was a bit inappropriate.

Unfortunately, during a time when women didn’t report harassment, Carson wasn’t sued or brought to a court of law. Even though he has since passed, many of Carson’s former female guests and workers have spoken out against the host.

The Direction Of Television Wasn’t Good In Johnny’s Eyes

The Direction Of Television Wasn't Good In Johnny's Eyes
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Johnny Carson made it known that he was not pleased with the direction of television networks. During an interview, filmmaker Peter Jones said, “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.”

Jack Paar Wasn’t Cut Out For The Biz

Jack Paar Wasn't Cut Out For The Biz
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Before the host position went to Johnny Carson, Jack Paar was the main man of The Tonight Show. From 1957 to 1962, Paar went under many controversies with his risque jokes and memorable guests, including a drunk Mickey Rooney and even Fidel Castro.

But it was after one questionable joke that was censored by the network that Paar was done with the late-night show. In the middle of the broadcast, Paar quit, saying, “There must be a better way of, uh, making a living than this.”

Democracy And Humor

Democracy And Humor
NBC Television/Getty Images
NBC Television/Getty Images

On what would have been Johnny Carson’s 90th birthday, the New York Daily News published a special issue with some of the former host’s more memorable quotes. While Carson is definitely known for his inappropriate humor, he did have a few good quips now and again!

One quote the article opted to use dealt with politics. The quote was, “Democracy means that anyone can grow up to be president and anyone who doesn’t grow up can be vice president.”

McMahon Was Kind Of Just There

McMahon Was Kind Of Just There
Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

When it comes to The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, Ed McMahon was a staple. Ironically, though, the television personality didn’t really know what his job description was. He was kind of just there!

McMahon talked about his job during one segment, saying, “My role on the show never was strictly defined. I did what had to be done when it had to be done. I was there when he needed me, and when he didn’t, I moved down the couch…”

Johnny Wasn’t The First Choice As A New Host

Bob Crane
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

After Jack Paar left The Tonight Show, moved out of the country, came back to The Tonight Show, and permanently left, Johnny Carson wasn’t the first person in mind as a replacement. The hilarious radio host Bob Crane was first in line to take over for Paar.

As it turned out, Crane wanted to make moves in the world of TV and film, just not as a host. So, he turned the offer down and went on to become known for his role in Hogan’s Heroes.

Carson’s Way Or The Highway

Carson's Way Or The Highway
Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson was one of the top shows during the 1970s, raking in an annual sum of $50 – $60 million for NBC. That’s equivalent to $180 – $220 million in 2016 currency.

Carson became somewhat of a diva with his growing popularity, calling the shots and throwing a fit if his requests weren’t met. One such request was more time off. Carson even threatened to retire if the Network said no!

Unknowingly, Saturday Night Live Was Carson’s Doing

Unknowingly, Saturday Night Live Was Carson's Doing
Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

One of Johnny Carson’s demands was to have a shorter workweek, cutting out Saturday night filming. To make up for the empty time slot, NBC came up with the idea of Saturday Night Live. Ironically, the impromptu show idea is still wildly popular, showcasing some of the popular comedic talents of the day.

When Carson asked for shorter workweeks and shorter segments, going from 90 to 60 minutes, we doubt he thought another show was going to surpass his popularity!

During His Last Episode, Carson Had Multiple People To Thank

During His Last Episode, Carson Had Multiple People To Thank
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

During Johnny Carson’s emotional goodbye on his last day hosting The Tonight Show, he thanked multiple people for the show and his personal success. While he explained how he was one of the luckiest people in the world, Carson also said, “I want to thank the people who’ve shared this stage with me for thirty years.”

He continued by saying, “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.”

No Known Footage Of Carson’s First Episode Exists

No Known Footage Of Carson's First Episode Exists
NBC
NBC

With NBC reusing tapes for recording, the first-ever episode of Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show has been lost. There is no known footage of the episode. However, a photo and the recorded introduction of Carson by Groucho Marx has been found.

It would’ve been cool to see the entire episode, but it’s nice that some photos and various recordings have been found! The earliest full-length episode still found on tape is from April 1964 with guest Jake Ehrlich, Sr.

Carson And Sidekick Ed McMahon Had An Iffy Start

Carson And Sidekick Ed McMahon Had An Iffy Start
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Johnny Carson had a sidekick in Ed McMahon for nearly three decades, introducing the host with his iconic “Heeere’s Johnny” catchphrase. Ironically, before they became the dynamic duo of The Tonight Show, the two had a bit of a strained relationship.

First working together on the ABC game show Who Do You Trust?, McMahon recalled their relationship, saying their first meeting was “about as exciting as watching a traffic light change.” At least their chemistry got better through the years!

Carnac The Magnificent Was Carson’s Alter-Ego

Carnac The Magnificent Was Carson's Alter-Ego
NBC
NBC

One of Johnny Carson’s better-known characters on the late-night show was Carnac the Magnificent. While this particular character probably wouldn’t fly today, viewers couldn’t get enough of the fortune teller.

Dressed in turban and cape, Carson would walk onto the stage to Indian music playing in the background. Clumsily, Carson would make his way to his desk to open “never before seen questions” and answer them with his divine fortune-telling powers.

A Former Real Estate Magnate Offered To Help McMahon

A Former Real Estate Magnate Offered To Help McMahon
Duffy-Marie Arnoult/WireImage
Duffy-Marie Arnoult/WireImage

After it was publicized that Ed McMahon, former television announcer on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, was undergoing financial strain, a real estate magnate of the time offered to help. That real estate agent was none other than Donald Trump.

When asked about the offer, Michael Cohen said, “For Mr. Trump, this acquisition was not business-related, but, as he has stated, was meant to help out an American icon.” As it turned out, McMahon declined the offer, opting to do business with a private buyer.

McMahon Was “The Laugh Track”

McMahon Was
Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

After Ed McMahon passed away, many talk show hosts paid their respects to “the laugh track of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” One such host was Conan O’Brien. During one of his segments, O’Brien paid his respects to the late announcer, saying, “It is impossible, I think, for anyone to imagine The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson without Ed McMahon.”

He continued with, “Ed’s laugh was really the soundtrack to that show. [They created] the most iconic two-shot in broadcasting history. There will never be anything like that again.”

David Letterman Got A Helping Hand

David Letterman Got A Helping Hand
Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Even after his retirement from late-night in 1992, Johnny Carson still had the mentality of a television host. In 2005, it was revealed that he continued to watch late-night television, keeping in touch with many people in the industry, including David Letterman.

Interestingly, one of Carson’s friends, Peter Lassally, told reporters that the former host read the paper every day, coming up with jokes. Of course, he had no use for the jokes. He wound up, sending them over to David Letterman!

Carson’s Return To The Tonight Show

Carson's Return To The Tonight Show
NBC
NBC

After announcing his retirement from hosting The Tonight Show, Johnny Carson joked about working on other projects. He didn’t, opting instead to go into full-on retirement mode. He rarely even gave interviews!

That is, until May 13, 1994. On that day, Johnny Carson made his way back to The Late Night stage, this time being hosted by David Letterman. He was brought out to “Johnny’s Theme” and was given a 90-second standing ovation by the audience.

Memorable Quotes Never Die

Memorable Quotes Never Die
NBC
NBC

While Johnny Carson passed away in 2005, his more memorable quotes have lived on. So much so that the New York Daily News published a special issue on what would have been Carson’s 90th birthday. The issue had some of Carson’s more notable quotes, including one about impersonators and celebrities who passed away too soon.

The quote was, “If life was fair, Elvis would be alive, and all the impersonators would be dead.”

Carson Wanted To Leave The Show On Top

Carson Wanted To Leave The Show On Top
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Johnny Carson decided to retire from The Late Night Show while he was still on top. He even gave a speech to his crew, explaining his reasoning. Carson said, “Everything comes to an end; nothing lasts forever. Thirty years is enough. It’s time to get out while you’re still working on top of your game, while you’re still working well.”

The host was given a two-minute standing ovation during his second to the last segment.

The Tonight Show Was One Of The Most Emotional Experiences For Bette Midler

The Tonight Show Was One Of The Most Emotional Experiences For Bette Midler
Frank Leonardo/New York Post Archives /(c) NYP Holdings, Inc. via Getty Images
Frank Leonardo/New York Post Archives /(c) NYP Holdings, Inc. via Getty Images

Actress and singer Bette Midler once said that her time on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson was one of the most emotional experiences of her life. During her time on the show, she and Johnny did an impromptu duet of “Here’s That Rainy Day.”

Midler also got up on center stage to sing “One for My Baby (And One More for the Road),” a performance that actually got host Johnny Carson teary-eyed.

Carson’s Final Farewell Was Emotional

The Tonight Show Was One Of The Most Emotional Experiences For Bette Midler
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NBC

During his last episode of The Tonight Show on May 22, 1992, Johnny Carson gave his millions of viewers an emotional farewell. Sitting on nothing but a bar stool in the center of the set, Carson spoke to his audience, saying, “I found something I always wanted to do, and I have enjoyed every single minute of it.”

Carson considered himself to be one of the luckiest people in the world. Of course, he had others to thank for his success, though.

Steve Martin’s Tribute To Carson Was Touching

Steve Martin's Tribute To Carson Was Touching
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

After Johnny Carson’s passing in 2005, many celebrities came out to pay tribute to the late Tonight Show host. One of those people was none other than comedian and actor Steve Martin.

Speaking of his late friend, Martin said, “All of us who grew up on Johnny Carson had three decades in which to go to sleep with a smile on our faces. He loved to laugh, he loved to make you laugh, and he loved comedians and entertainers.”

Jay Leno Called Carson The “Golden Standard”

Jay Leno Called Carson The
Steve Snowden/Getty Images
Steve Snowden/Getty Images

Many of Johnny Carson’s former colleagues and peers in the entertainment industry were very upset to hear about his passing in 2005. He was an inspiration to so many and changed the way late-night television was seen by viewers.

Another former Tonight Show host, Jay Leno, paid tribute to the late host, saying, “No single individual has had as great an impact on television as Johnny. He was the gold standard.”