The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson was a cultural staple during the time that it was on the air. It premiered on October 1, 1962, and ran for almost three full decades before ending on May 22, 1922. While the show was indeed historic, it was also somewhat controversial. From Carson’s sometimes off-color jokes to his tumultuous personal life, there was constant fodder for the tabloids of the day to report on throughout the show’s impressive thirty-year run.
Carson was a man that was far from perfect, but the sort of things that people found controversial about him back in the day would hardly raise eyebrows in today’s world. That being said, he still managed to get a rise out of people when he was on the airwaves. Carson would often make jokes at the expense of other stars. And at times, his sense of humor would even make him a few enemies.
Carson’s co-host, Ed McMahon, was by his side for his entire tenure on late-night television. And every night, he would introduce him with his signature line ‘Heeere’s Johnny!’. No one knew the charismatic talk show host better than McMahon. Not long before his passing in 2009, he released his revealing book ‘Here’s Johnny’, which got published just a few month’s after Carson passed away in 2005.
In that book, McMahon revealed quite a few secrets of Carson’s off-screen persona. Keep watching to find out what some of those secrets were and what McMahon really thought about Carson after 46 years of friendship.
McMahon Dispelled The Rumor That Carson Was Cold-Hearted
While Carson’s friendship with McMahon brought both parties a lot of joy, that wasn’t a side of Johnny he often shared with others. In fact, the number of people that actually grew close enough to Carson to see beyond his infamous detachment were quite few. Because of this, Carson developed a reputation for being quite cold.
McMahon revealed in his book that the real reason why Carson was so socially aloof was that he was actually quite shy. Ed described Carson as somewhat a loner who presented himself better when the cameras were rolling than in person with other humans.
Ed even recalled a time that his friend said that he would function a lot better if people had ‘little red lights on their foreheads’. Regarding their friendship, McMahon wrote that he felt extremely lucky to be one of the people that did have one of these little red lights on his forehead, so to speak, because Carson seemed to connect with him quite well privately.
Enjoying this video so far? If so, take a second to show us a little bit of support by giving it a like and subscribing to the FactsVerse channel. Stay put, because we still have quite a bit of ground to cover. McMahon was given unique insight into the true character of Johnny Carson. You wouldn’t want to miss out on hearing what he had to say about his old friend.
Carson Envied McMahon
Even though Ed referred to himself as Carson’s ‘second banana’ in his book, he did recall a time that his old buddy told him that their was something about him that he envied. According to Ed, the thing that Carson envied most about him was his social skills when the cameras weren’t rolling.
McMahon said that Carson told him that he wished he could be more like him. Although Carson could connect with anyone of all ages on his late-night program, at parties, he could often be found tucked away by himself doing magic tricks. Humorously, McMahon said that Carson’s least entertaining trick was the one in which he would make himself disappear. That’s one way of getting out of an awkward social situation.
Carson And McMahon Shared A Birthday Tradition
Because McMahon and Carson cultivated such a special relationship, he was often able to see a side of his friend that he wished the rest of the world was privy to. One of their unique relationship highlights was how the two personalities had this tradition of calling each other on their birthdays. Every year, Carson would have a very special present for his old friend. Not surprisingly, that annual gift was a new joke.
McMahon further revealed in Here’s Johnny that Carson would sometimes treat him to a private comedy performance even when it wasn’t his birthday. One evening while aboard Carson’s yacht, Johnny suddenly felt compelled to deliver a private performance for Ed that involved several monologues, jokes, impressions, and stories that ended up going on for over an hour and a half.
Fittingly, the last time that Ed saw Johnny alive was again on his friend’s beloved boat. Once again, the two mused and laughed for nearly two hours, just like old times.
Ed Once Ruined One Of Carson’s Jokes
McMahon wrote in his book that while most of the time he managed to stay in his lane as a good co-hot, there was one time that he got in Carson’s way.
In a segment when Carson was demonstrating how to use anti-mosquito spray, he quipped that mosquitoes only ever go after really ‘passionate people’. Out of pure reflex, McMahon chimed in by slapping his wrist and exclaiming ‘There’s another one!”. While he thought that his response was pretty golden, Carson was irked because he was actually setting the joke up for himself.
During the following commercial break, McMahon apologized for ruining Johnny’s joke. Carson responded by saying that he would be able to joke all he wanted at his new job at a Chevrolet dealership.
Even though Carson was clearly joking, McMahon learned pretty quickly that his job wasn’t to be the funny one. Johnny only wanted him around to laugh at his jokes, not beat him to the punchline.
McMahon Said It Was Challenging To Be Carson’s Co-Host
After the mosquito incident, McMahon became a lot more careful about sharing his humor on The Tonight Show. For the most part, he knew when to talk and when it was time to keep his mouth shut. But sometimes, staying quiet wasn’t the easiest thing to do.
McMahon said that being Carson’s sidekick was a very ‘challenging role’. Since he had previously had his own shows, there were numerous times when Ed had to consciously stop himself from responding to something that Johnny had said.
He had to learn how to assist him without getting in his way. Learning when to be there when he was needed and when to take a step back when he wasn’t was never an easy task. On one occasion, a teen fan even told Ed that he could have been replaced by a laugh track. He replied to that fan’s snarky comment by saying that he was lucky then because a laugh track wouldn’t have been able spell Alpo, one of the program’s memorable sponsors.
Johnny Carson’s Many Failed Marriages
Carson had a reputation for being disrespectful and cruel to the people around him. One of the worst displays of his cruelty was when he was on a honeymoon with his new wife and publicly humiliated her.
The year was 1987, and Carson had just tied the knot with his fourth wife, Alexis Maas. The couple then went to Italy for a honeymoon excursion on a yacht. Carson was apparently in a very sour mood and ended up taking it out on his new wife. After Maas made a minor complaint, he told her in front of a crowd of other people that if she said something like that again, their marriage wouldn’t last another three weeks. Despite that little outburst however, Maas and Carson would remain married until his death in 2005.
Carson’s first marriage was to a woman named Jody Wolcott. The two wed in 1949, but their marriage ended up being very volatile, with both parties committing acts of infidelity. They ended up getting divorced in 1963.
Carson then married Joanne Copeland the same year he finalized his divorce with Wolcott. He and Copeland would divorce in 1972. In a divorce settlement, Copeland received $6,000 a month in alimony until she either remarried or Carson died. She ended up receiving these payments until Carson’s death.
On September 30, 1972, at a Tonight Show 10th-Anniversary party, Johnny announced that he and former model Joanna Holland had secretly gotten married earlier that afternoon, much to the shock of his friends and colleagues. Eleven years later, on March 8, 1983, Holland filed for divorce. The divorce case was settled in 1985, with Holland receiving $20 million in property and cash.
McMahon And Carson Had Worked Together Previously
Even though they would be best remembered for their work together on The Tonight Show, Ed and Johnny first got a chance to work with each other on television on the ABC game show Who Do You Trust, which ran from 1957 to 1962.
Later in his career, McMahon also hosted the original incarnation of Star Search from 1983 to 1995. From 1982 to 1998, he co-hosted the program TV’s Bloopers & Practical Jokes with Dick Clark. You might also remember him for his work presenting sweepstakes for the direct marketing company American Family Publishers. And from 1973 to 2008, he anchored and co-hosted the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon.
McMahon also made several film appearances in films such as Fun With Dick And Jane, The Incident, Full Moon High, and Butterfly.
It’s pretty remarkable reading through Ed McMahon’s book. Johnny Carson wasn’t the person that most people thought he was. While he could, in fact, be cruel and rude at times, especially when it came to his love life, it’s pretty interesting to learn how shy and introverted he was when he wasn’t in front of a camera. You would think that a man that had spent so many years on the air talking to some of the biggest celebrities and public figures of the 20th century would be fairly competent when it came to social affairs, but as Ed McMahon has shown us,he wasn’t.
Where you surprised to learn that Johnny Carson was shy? And can you think of any other stars that are also more socially awkward than we typically think of them as being? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments down below.
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