“Heeeeeeeeeere’s Johnny!” For 30 years Johnny Carson made himself as the undisputed king of late night through his influential talk show The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, which was broadcast on NBC. Here are some of the interesting facts about him that you probably didn’t know.
An amateur astronomer, Johnny Carson owned a lot of telescopes. In fact, one of his friends was the astronomer and astrophysicist Carl Sagan.
If there’s one thing that Carson didn’t like among his friends and colleagues, it is disloyalty. When friend Joan Rivers had her own talk show in 1995 which was directly competing against his show, Carson became resentful by her betrayal and never spoke to her again.
Even when he was still young, Johnny Carson already knew that he had a knack for entertaining. At twelve he began to learn tricks from a magic kit he had purchased. Soon he started doing paid performances at country fairs and other events. Carson continued his career as a magician through college after his US Navy career in World War II.
Carson held very strong opinions on different socio-political issues, including racial equality and opposition to the Vietnam war. But he seldom expressed them on his show, fearing it would hurt his career.
Carson was a major investor in the DeLorean Motor Company, the brand famous for its time machine vehicle in Back to the Future films. Unfortunately, the company failed and went bankrupt.
During his lifetime Carson won several awards, among them six Emmy Awards, one Peabody Award and one Governor’s Award. He was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992 and a Kennedy Center Honor in 1993.
Despite his famously affable demeanor on camera, Carson was actually an extremely private person off-camera. He was so shy and socially awkward that he often avoided going to most parties, rarely gave interviews, and almost never got around with his guests before or after the show. Carson also turned down several movie roles offered to him, inlcuding Blazing Saddles and The King of Comedy.
Since Carson took over as host in 1962, The Tonight Show hadn’t won a single Emmy for over a decade. The snub rankled him; he even threatened to pull his show out of the Emmy race.
The Emmy committee recognized this error, and in 1975 they finally awarded the show but in a brand-new category: “Outstanding Program and Individual Achievement.” It was only in 1992 when The Tonight Show won for the first time in one of their standard categories, the “Outstanding Variety Program.”
One of the things a lot of people didn’t know about Johnny Carson is that he was a passionate jazz enthusiast. He supported several jazz musicians on The Tonight Show, including his friend, the legendary big band/jazz drummer Buddy Rich. Speaking of drummer, Carson was reportedly a talented amateur drummer himself.
Jay Leno became the new host of The Tonight Show when Carson retired in 1992. Despite that, Carson had always seen David Letterman as the “rightful successor” to The Tonight Show throne. Carson used to occasionally send jokes to Letterman, which the latter would use on his own monologues.
Letterman and Leno used to be guest hosts on The Tonight Show; the two comedians would soon become late-night rivals. With Leno now at the helm on The Tonight Show, Letterman moved to CBS and hosted Late Show with David Letterman.