Talking about people whose memories will never be washed off in sands of time, Johnny Carson is one of them. Johnny was an American comedian and talk show host who hosted The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson for 30 solid years (1962 – 1992)
Johnny Carson’s Biography/Wiki
Johnny was born in Corning, Iowa, on October 23, 1925, as John William Carson to a power company manager, Homer Lloyd “Kit” Carson and his beautiful wife, Ruth Elizabeth (Hook) Carson – who was of Irish descent.
He grew up in different towns – Avoca, Clarinda, and Red Oak in southwest Iowa before moving to Norfolk, Nebraska at the age of eight where he began developing his entertainment skills. After Johnny found a book on magic at a friend’s place at the age of 12, he straightway, bought a magic kit and began practising his skills on friends and family members using card tricks.
He got the needed support early enough from his family, who didn’t shoo him off but encouraged him. In fact, his mom was one of his first biggest fans, at the age of 14, his mother sewed him a cape, and his first performance was staged in front of the local Kiwanis Club – where he debuted as “The Great Carsoni” and was paid $3 a show.
Many other performances soon followed at local picnics and country fairs. To earn additional money, Johnny got a part-time job at the Granada Theater where he worked as a movie usher selling Saturday Evening Post subscriptions from door-to-door.
As a high school student, Carson also developed his skill in comedy and writing by writing a humor column for the Norfolk High newspaper, he also contributed random notes of levity to the school’s yearbook.
It was not until after high school that Carson encountered Hollywood for the first time. Determined to try out his entertainment skills, Johnny hitchhiked to Hollywood but was arrested and fined $50 for impersonating a midshipman – well this story has often regarded as an apocryphal.
Carson joined the United States Navy in 1943, received a V-12 Navy College Training Program training at Columbia Universit and Millsaps College respectively. He was commissioned an ensign and assigned to the USS Pennsylvania in the Pacific. While in the Navy, Johnny was well known for his entertainment skills and for being a source of comic relief when needed.
After his discharge from the Navy, Carson entered the University of Nebraska where he bagged a degree in journalism with the intention of pursuing a career as a comedy writer. When he this wasn’t working out, he switched to radio and speech. He earned $1 a week writing comedy program on Lincoln’s KFAB radio station titled Eddie Sosby and the Radio Rangers.
Carson’s broadcasting career kicked off properly in 1950 after he bagged a B.A in Radio and Speech with a minor in Physics the previous year. He first began with hosting a morning program on Omaha’s WOW-TV, titled The Squirrel’s Nest. He also served as a disc jockey on the WOW radio. In no time, Johnny increased his earnings by taking up jobs as master of ceremonies (MC) at local church dinners, attended by some of the same politicians and civic leaders whom he had ridiculed on the radio.
The Rise To Stardom
Carson’s rise to stardom came in 1951 when a friend recommended him for the job of a staff announcer at KNXT-TV in L.A. This opportunity gave rise to a Sunday afternoon broadcast, called Carson’s Cellar, which was budgeted at 25 dollars per show. As his popularity on the show grew, a great fan of the show named Red Skelton, hired Carson as a writer and supporting player on his CBS-TV program.
Then came the stroke of luck – during a rehearsal one night, Skelton couldn’t perform because he was down with cold and Carson had to replace him as the clown prince of the night and that was it. Carson from that moment went from hosting one show to the other – including The Johnny Carson Show, Earn Your Vacation, Who Do You Trust?(Do You Trust Your Wife?). He was a guest, then regular panelist on the show To Tell the Truth, from 1960 – 1962.
The Tonight Show
Due to the success of Carson’s skills on ABC’s Who Do You Trust?, NBC invited him to come take over The Tonight Show which was first hosted by Steve Allen, and then Jack Paar – Jack Paar left the show in 1962.
Johnny initially refused the offer as he saw it as a great challenge interviewing celebrities for 120 minutes. But after the likes of Jackie Gleason, Bob Newhart, Joey Bishop and Groucho also turned down the job, NBC approached Carson convincing him he was the man for the job. So he signed on with NBC in 1962 and ran it successfully for 30 years.
About 50 million people were said to have watched his final broadcast in 1992.
Johnny Carson’s Spouse, Children
Carson was married four times and divorced thrice. He was first married to Jody Wolcott from 1948 – 1963. Their union produced three sons, Richard, Charles, and Cory. (Richard, unfortunately, died in an auto accident in 1991).
In less than a year, he got married to Joanne Copeland and by 1972, they were divorced. His third marriage was to Joanna Holland— the couple got a divorce in 1983. After his third marriage failed, Carson remained unmarried until June 1987 when he married his fourth and final wife – Alexis Maas, they remained married until his death in 2005.
Johnny Carson’s Death, Net Worth
The TV legend died in January 2005 at the age of 79. Carson who had been a chain smoker for many years announced in 2002 that he was suffering from emphysema.
Carson had a net worth of $300 million. Before he left The Tonight Show in 1992, his annual salary was $25 million and at his death, he left about $200 million to charity.