Surprising Secrets From The Johnny Carson Show
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson was a staple of its time. It was the most modern format of live television at the time, and it was known as the late-night talk show. The Johnny Carson Show was original and authentic, but it was also controversial.
Carson had various topics on his show, frequent animal guests, and he often included facts from his personal life on the show. Although Carson was funny, he wasn’t perfect. He would often make jokes about other celebrities, which was a big no-no of the time. Plus, there were lots of rumors and controversies that never really “stuck” — until now. Some of Carson’s real-life facts and disputes with various people will surprise you, including the guest that Carson simply couldn’t stand.
20. Unhappy Married Life
Johnny Carson was a beloved television icon, but off-screen, he wasn’t a saint. He is known for being cruel toward others and showing them frequently disrespectful. Can this behavior be linked to his turbulent married life?
One of Carson’s nastiest displays comes from a time he publicly humiliated his new wife on their honeymoon. In 1987, this famous television host married Alexis Maas (his fourth wife). As newlyweds, they went to Italy to enjoy some personal time. However, Carson quickly fell into a foul mood and told his new wife, in front of others, “We’ve been married for three weeks. If you say something like that again, this marriage won’t last another three weeks.”
19. Strained Relationship
Carson has a big family from his first marriage. He got three sons in his first marriage, and he never had any other children with his other three wives. His son, Rick Carson, had significant challenges mentally, that no one talked about. People kept any mental-related conditions more private.
Rick Carson was committed to a mental hospital, and his father refused to see him. On June 21, 1991, Rick drove his vehicle near the scenic coastal town of Morro Bay, California, when it plummeted 125 feet down an embankment. He was killed instantly. Johnny talked about his son on his show and paid tribute to him, but it didn’t change the fact that their relationship was strained.
18. Carson Drinking Habits
Carson was known for his drinking. His associates claim that his worst qualities came out when he was drunk. Some would even call him a mean drunk. In 1982, Carson was caught driving his DeLorean while under the influence of alcohol.
One incident many still remember. In October 1987, NBC had a 25th-anniversary party, and Johnny and his son Rick got into a verbal fight, both severely under alcohol. Witnesses recall that Carson was the aggressor. He lost his temper and began yelling. Johnny even pulled back his fist to slug his son, but somebody stepped in and pulled him away. In 1982, Carson was caught driving under the influence of alcohol. He received a sentence of three years’ probation.
17. Carson Was Open About His Addiction
Carson was honest about his addiction. He knew that he has a problem, and Johnny loved to avoid media because he knew that he would have to confront his issues. Therefore, he started talking about his addiction indirectly, and he joked about addiction.
In a 1977 interview with 60 Minutes, Carson admitted there was a time when he used to drink, and he didn’t handle it well. “I don’t handle alcohol well at all, no. Really don’t,” said Carson. “Oh, Ed [McMahon] and I have had some wonderful times in the past.” Maybe there is something in show business that can’t make a deal with their additions.
16. His Marriage Was Doomed From The Start
One of the most infamous relationships Johnny Carson had was with his second wife, Joanne Copeland. In 1960, Johnny and Joanne went on a first date, the two fell in love, and soon afterward they were married.
Sadly, this marriage didn’t last, because the two separated in 1972. Close friends and family expected this to happen because these two were often marred in public. Although they were separated, Joanne continued helping Johnny with his career and supporting his professional success.
15. Johnny Was Very Jealous Partner
In 2013, Johnny Carson’s former lawyer, Henry Bushkin, wrote a tell-all book about Johnny Carson. The most shocking moments included Johnny’s relation with Joanne, his second wife. Henry claimes that Johnny asked him to find evidence of his wife cheating on him.
Henry also said that Johnny was wearing a revolver, although he had never explained why he was wearing a gun in the first place. The lawyer, Henry Bushkin, refused to collect evidence but then decided to go and found various scandalous items, including lingerie. Since Johnny can’t confirm this, it should be taken with a reserve.
14. Johnny Hated Planned Questions
Bob Hope is perhaps the most widely known and loved stand-up comedian in America. This famous actor died in 2003 when he was one hundred years old. Living for a century comes with few downsides, like loss of hearing and eyesight. Still, Hope was active on TV until his very end, and he was frequently seen at Carson’s.
When Hope was in the show, Carson had to stick precisely to the notes his staff gave him. For example, if he asked a question out of order, Hope might answer a different question. One of the writers recalls how angry Carson became after one of the shows featuring Hope. Carson said to his writer, “If I ever end up like that, guys, I want you to shoot me.” Not cool from Carson. Still, regardless of irritation, Hope kept coming on the show.
13. Carson Was a Womanizer
Like many men in show business, Carson was a womanizer. He had multi marriages and harsh divorces, but that still didn’t stop him from meeting new ladies.
Carson was prone to having affairs while being married. While he was married to Joanne, he had a relationship with a Playboy model named Angel Tompkins. His wife knew about his infidelity. She consistently received expensive gifts from him: from an apartment at The Pierre, to a Rolls-Royce Corniche, to diamonds, all as compensation for his many indiscretions. Still, they did divorce eventually.
12. Johnny Had Many Personal Problems
Off-screen Johnny Carson had a life full of personal problems. He struggled every day. He had issues with his family, friends, lovers, and even children. Unlike many others, Carson claimed to know the root of all his problems. He blamed his mother, Ruth.
When speaking of his mother, he only had one thing to say. “She’s the toughest son of an [expletive] of them all.” He also blamed her for all of his failed marriages. He also add: “There is no goddamn way to please that woman. She’s Lady Macbeth! My marriages failed because she [expletive] me up!” When she died, he did not go to her funeral. He said, “The wicked witch is dead.”
11. Carson Loved Unusual Jokes
Fat jokes are not a new thing now – moreover, they are so popular that no one can tell for sure who started them. One thing is for sure: Carson was no stranger to fat jokes. He was comfortable with putting people in weird positions in front of millions on national television.
Veteran NBC actor Raymond Burr was the source of many of Carson’s fat jokes. He finally became incredibly angry over Carson’s continuing fat jokes, and he refused to appear on The Tonight Show. He did appear at least twice, in 1968 and in 1976.
10. Carson Had a Beef With Wayne Newton
In 1980 Carson was going to acquire the Aladdin Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. However, a competing group led by Wayne Newton successfully bought the property. This was strictly a business thing, but Carson wasn’t ready to let it go, because media portrayed Carson as someone who lost the deal.
Carson started telling jokes on his show about Newton, who didn’t take it lightly. Newton had spent a great deal of effort, building a masculine image, and back then, sexuality and masculinity were sacred. This created significant tension between two celebrities, and Newton decides to take a bold move. Newton barged into Carson’s office and threatened to fight him unless the jokes stopped. Carson took it seriously and finally ended the jokes.
9. Dealing With Joan And John
When former Tonight Show guest hosts John Davidson, and Joan Rivers got their talk shows, Carson was furious. He saw this as a personal move, disloyalty, and direct competition with his show.
Rivers’ show was on Fox Network. Her time slot directly competed with Carson during the 1986–1987 season. Her show was later on canceled. However, Carson refused to ever again speak with her.
8. Johnny And Joan Had a Secret Past
Joan Rivers and Johnny Carson had a long-standing feud that everyone knew. Little is knowns that these two had a big secret that shocked everyone. Joan Rivers wrote a book, and in it, she claimed that she and Carson had an affair.
The affair allegedly took place during Joan’s marriage to Edgar Rosenberg. Although Joan and Edgar were married for 22 years, Joan was not always faithful during their marriage. Edgar ultimately committed suicide, which was devastating to Joan and their daughter Melissa.
7. Carson Made People Buy Toilet Paper
What if the world ran out of toilet paper? Carson was a real fan of real-life situations. During one show, he sparked panic when joked about an alleged shortage of toilet paper.
After the show, consumers emptied stores, causing a real shortage that lasted for weeks. Both stores and toilet paper manufactures had to think about their supplies and ration them until the panic ended. Carson later apologized in January 1974 for the incident. The New York Times called this incident a “classic study” of how rumors spread.
6. Johnny Sued a Portable Toilet Manufacturer
A portable toilet company wanted to use the name “Here’s Johnny” for their portable toilets. However, this phrase was a big problem because it was used to introduce Johnny Carson on his show.
In 1977, Carson successfully sued a manufacturer of portable toilets. Carson stated that he is the one with a right to publicity of that phrase, and the courts agreed after a legal fight. That legal fight lasted for a decade. To this day, the company is still trying to reclaim the name.
5. He Did a Favor to Sinatra
Frank Sinatra produced President Reagan’s 1981 Inaugural Gala. He requested Carson to host the event, and he would consider it a “personal favor.” If Carson refused, Sinatra would take it as a personal insult.
Carson reluctantly agreed, although he wasn’t pleased about how the event was proceeding. When he was told that the hosting request actually came from Reagan himself, Carson, who had served in the Navy during World War II, replied, “Ronnie does know that I answered my country’s call once already, doesn’t he?” The anti-social host was miserable at the event.
4. Johnny Loses Faith
Carson died in 2005, and many paid their tribute to this famous TV host. The overall impression was that the King of Late Night left a significant legacy. Interestingly, what Carson felt about the future of television wasn’t hopeful.
“Not long before he died, Johnny went to dinner with Garry Shandling and Jerry Seinfeld, and went on about his disappointment in the direction television was going, with its tabloid nature and reality garbage,” said filmmaker Peter Jones. “He had said he was sickened by what was going on and was glad he got out when he did.”
3. Carson Really Disliked This Famous Person
In Richard Little’s 2016 memoir called Little by Little: People I’ve Known and Been, he alleged that Johnny Carson hated him. Moreover, Richard claimed that he was banned from the show because Johnny had an extremely thin skin.
Lawyer Henry Bushkin, who wrote a biography about Johnny, also added that Richard “brought out the worst in Johnny.” Although some also attribute Johnny’s hatred of Richard to Johnny’s alcoholism, as he was a notoriously mean drunk.
2. Johnny’s Pretty Blonde
Carol Wayne was an actress and model who was best known for her work on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, where she played the “Matinee Lady”. Carol was known as a blonde lady who many claimed no one acted better than her.
However, it was due to her work on The Tonight Show that Carol ultimately experienced her downfall and subsequently, her mysterious death. After the Tonight show was shortened from 90 minutes to 60 minutes, Carol’s character was discarded from the new format. She began to fall on hard times financially, and according to some, turned to drugs and alcohol. She allegedly also turned to escort to pay the bills. Her body was found floating in shallow water in a Mexican bay. The water was only four feet deep, and she was found fully clothed. She also tested negative for drugs and alcohol, so her death was extremely mysterious. Until this day, her death remains a mystery.
1. Here’s Johnny!
It seems that when you are in to show biz, you can’t avoid specific claims and rumors. For years, there were rumors that Carson was a perpetrator of many acts of sexual harassment both to women that worked on the show and guests of his long-running show.
However, no lawsuits ever came to fruition, but many claims that this is up to the time that the show ran and also because Johnny had some great lawyers. Since Johnny passes away, it’s highly unlikely that any kind of lawsuits will appear. Still, as the stars get older, there will be more new life memories. So maybe someone will elaborate on these rumors more.