For close to 30 years, The Tonight Show screened on US television, leaving it etched in the memories of several generations. Its host, Johnny Carson, was known for his charismatic on-screen persona and his ability to crack one-liners. From his personal struggles to the one guest he absolutely hated after having them on the show - can you guess who it is? Learn some secrets about his life, the truth about his manhood being just one.
Johnny Carson's Life SecretsPublished 1 year ago
Johnny was married four times in total, but the second of these marriages raised some eyebrows when the truth of their private lives became public. Carson met Joanne Copeland, a Pan-Am stewardess in 1960 when he was hosting the game show Who Do You Trust? Ironically, it turned out that both of them began affairs soon after their marriage. She with sports figure Frank Gifford, and he with a string of women.
A marriage like this was doomed to fail, but the pair managed to stay together for nine years, eventually divorcing in 1972. What was more surprising is that the pair seemed to stay on good terms after the split, with Joanne publicly voicing her support for Carson and his show. She believed in his potential and would go on to support him in his career.
Though both parties were at fault in this troubled marriage, it still hurt the talk show host to find out that his wife Joanne had engaged in an affair. These feelings only came to light years later in 2013, however, with the release of a tell-all memoir written by Carson’s former lawyer Henry Bushkin.
In the book Bushkin recounts that the two of them broke into the apartment where the affair was taking place, hoping to find some concrete evidence. Bushkin was opposed to the idea, after all, breaking was illegal, but he eventually allowed himself to be convinced by his distressed client. It turns out there was plenty to be found, and Carson broke down in tears at the discovery, lamenting the sad state of his marriage.
Inside the apartment, which was Joanne’s second home, the pair made some discoveries that would bring the talk show host to tears. Around the house were several photos of the man in question, Frank Gifford, as well as some lingerie on the couch. This was enough evidence for Carson, who then started binge drinking with his regular drinking pal Ed McMahon.
Despite what Johnny saw as clear-cut evidence, the affair was never really confirmed, as the Joanne and Frank Gifford never became a couple. Frank would go on instead to marry talk show host Kathie Lee Epstein – who would become Kathie Lee Gifford. Frank and Kathie’s marriage took place 15 years after the alleged affair, but she did once ask him about it jokingly on The Today Show. His short reply was, “I couldn’t remember” and “maybe?”.
Johnny Carson liked to be in Texas. He was practically searching for reasons just to be there. Well, in the latest memoir by Carson's legal adviser Henry Bushkin, we understand why. He had an affair with, who Bushkin refers to as "Miss Texas".
As much as Carson wanted to find evidence about his wife, turns out he was quite a philanderer himself. Bushkin wrote that the affair lasted for eight or nine years!
During the 30-year run of The Tonight Show, Johnny interviewed hundreds, if not thousands of guests. It’s only natural that out of this huge number, some would be his favorites, and others not so much. What his audience might not have realized though, is that some of his guests rubbed him up the wrong way. The worst of these was the well-known comedian Bob Hope.
So just exactly was Carson’s problem with Hope? According to the talk show host, he was frustrated that his guest would not engage in real conversation, instead of relying on pre-scripted jokes to get through the interview. A former writer for The Tonight Show, Andrew Nichols, supported Johnny’s claim, saying, “There was nothing spontaneous about Hope. He depended on his writers all the time. Johnny was very quick on his feet and was very well-read. He learned Swahili, Russian, and astronomy. He wanted to talk to people who were engaged with the real world. Unfortunately, there was nothing to talk to Bob about.”
Due to his celebrity status, Bob Hope appeared on the talk show many times over the years. And as time went on, Carson’s frustration with guests only continued to grow. Hope’s eyesight and hearing deteriorated, making it hard for him to even understand the interview questions.
The only way around this obstacle was for Carson to stick to a rigid interview format that was provided by the comedian’s staff. Johnny had to ask the questions in a set order so that Hope could know which answer to give. As well as being frustrated by his guest, Carson was also distressed to see how the TV icon was aging, saying, “If I ever end up like that, guys, I want you to shoot me.”
Alcohol wasn’t the only addiction that Carson suffered from. The talk show host was well known for his love of women, and being married didn’t prevent him from chasing them. Even the risk of losing a divorce settlement didn’t stop his womanizing ways. While separating from wife number two Joanne, he began an affair with Playboy bunny Angel Tompkins, against his lawyer’s advice, only replying “[!@#$%] him. A stiff [!@#$%] has no conscience.”
After divorce number two, Carson married again, this time to Joanna Holland, but his infidelities continued. He attempted to make up for his affairs by giving her extravagant presents, such as diamonds, an apartment at The Pierre and a Rolls-Royce Corniche. This may come as no surprise to hear that these gifts didn’t compensate for his cheating ways, and the marriage ended in divorce.
The divorces, the alcohol issues, the countless infidelities, Johnny seemed to have problems in so many areas of his life. But rather than take a look at his behavior and take some responsibility for his actions, he placed the blame squarely with another person. He claimed his mother Ruth was not only cold and heartless but also the cause of all his problems.
The only thing he had to say about her was, “She is the harshest son of a [!@#$%] I have ever known.” A comment which he repeated often. He even managed to blame her for his failed marriages, saying that she had messed with his life, and that “there is no freaking way I could ever impress her. She’s Lady Macbeth!” His relationship with his mother never improved, and his feelings remained so strong that he refused to attend her funeral, stating only, “The wicked witch is dead.”
These days we have more consideration for people with all kinds of body shapes, but back in the 1960s and ‘70s, there wasn’t so much care taken about offending larger people. And Johnny certainly never let a fear of upsetting people stop him from telling the jokes he wanted to tell.
Johnny even turned his offensive humor on veteran actor Raymond Burr, teasing the man about his weight during the show’s opening monologue when he was appearing as a guest. He made appearances in both 1968 and 1976 but was so outraged by Carson’s remarks he refused to return.
Outside of his television success, Johnny looked for ways to diversify his fortune. He even considered getting involved in property, and in 1980 was close to purchasing the Aladdin Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, which would have been a significant investment. Ultimately, he decided not to go ahead, and the hotel was later purchased by Wayne Newtown. Although the two had never competed directly, the media portrayed Carson as being the “loser” in this situation, which didn’t sit well with the TV host.
Johnny hit back in the only way he knew how: by using his television show to insult the other man. He made cracks about Newtown’s sexuality, which nowadays might not seem so serious, but at the time, maintaining a masculine persona in the public eye was very important. As you might expect, these jokes would create an ongoing rift between the two men.
Years later, the rift remained, prompting Newtown to speak out publicly about it. During an appearance on Larry King Live, he commented “Johnny Carson is a mean-spirited human being. He was deeply hurt by people for some reason, and at one point, he decided to take all his pain and anger out on me, and I was not going to let him lash out on me anymore.”
Even this public denouncement of the talk show host didn’t stop the jabs, and eventually, Newton had no choice but to take on Carson face to face. He went to Johnny’s studio and threatened the man with violence if he didn’t quit with the jokes. This personal approach did the trick, and Newtown was free of the insults.
Other celebrities were in Carson’s bad books too, even without a particular incident that sparked off the dislike. He had it in for the host of The Tomorrow Show Tom Snyder, a man he considered to be boring and lacking talent. It wasn’t an opinion that many others shared, however, as Snyder went on to host Tomorrow with Tom Snyder and later The Late Late Show with Tom Snyder.
Carson was open about his dislike for the man too, publicly slamming the man one night in the late 1970s. After a couple of glasses at LA restaurant Chasen’s, Johnny treated fellow diners to a long rant about everything he hated about Snyder.
The Tonight Show wasn’t just a wild success for Carson’s career, it also helped launch several famous television stars. After appearing as guest hosts of the show, both Joan Rivers and John Davidson went on to host talk shows of their own. Rather than be happy for them, Johnny was reportedly angered by the development, considering it very disloyal.
Part of the problem was that their shows conflicted with his in the television timeslots. Rivers’ show aired on Fox at the same time as The Tonight Show, running for two years before being canceled in 1987. In an interview on Larry King Live, Rivers admitted that even though her show didn’t last long, it permanently ruined her friendship with Johnny Carson, who never talked to her again.
Publicly, their feud was all about Rivers getting her own show, but there were rumors that the rift might have been for more emotional reasons. Many people believe that as co-hosts Carson and Rivers become more than professionally acquainted. Rivers later released a book that claimed the two had actually engaged in an affair, despite the fact she was married to Edgar Rosenberg.
Whether it was true about Carson or not, Rivers admitted to being unfaithful to Edgar during the course of their marriage. In 1987, after 22 years of marriage, she asked him for a separation. Shortly afterward, Rosenberg committed suicide leaving his wife and daughter completely devastated.
The rumors about Joan and Johnny weren’t helped by the fact that she publicly commented on his manhood. In an interview in 2014, she revealed to reporters, “I saw it in real life. How do you think I got on the show in the first place?!”
Rivers also revealed she had seen a sex tape that Carson had made, and insisted that the woman involved certainly hadn’t been his wife. She stated jokingly, "obviously the wife that he made it with wasn’t his wife at the time that he made it. Once you’re married, you don’t wear knee pads.”
During his show, Johnny was constantly making jokes, but one joke, in particular, went on to have serious repercussions, and this time not due to being offensive. In December 1973 he thought it would be funny to report that there was a national shortage of toilet paper. Some viewers didn’t see the humor in this and took it seriously, running out to stock up on toilet roll.
This panic buying from his viewers spread across the country, resulting in his joke becoming a reality. The shortage that resulted from this prank had manufacturers and shops placing a ration on toilet paper until the rumors stopped spreading. It caused so much chaos that Carson was forced to make a public apology. Even the New York Times commented on the prank, saying it was a “classic study” of how gossip is spread.
One thing no one could have foreseen from this prank-gone-wrong was one portable toilet company trying to get on the bandwagon. Taking advantage of Carson’s popularity, they named one of their toilets “Here’s Johnny”, which was the famous phrase that Carson walked on stage to for his show.
Carson was not going to let his catchphrase be used without consent, and especially not for this kind of product. He sued the company, claiming he had the rights to the phrase “Here’s Johnny”. It was no easy process however, with the ensuing court battle going on to last ten years and two appeals. The court eventually ruled in Carson’s favor, prohibiting the company from using this phrase in their marketing or signs. Despite the ruling, Braxton, the toilet company, is still trying to reclaim the name for their use.