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Johnny Carson
The King Of Late-Night Television

Born October 23, 1925
Died January 23, 2005



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Biography

Johnny Carson was born October 23, 1925 in Corning, Iowa. Since 1962, watching the "Tonight" show was for millions of Americans a nightly ritual, particularly Johnny Carson's opening monologue that chronicled the events of our nation for three volatile decades. It's been described as "a magnifying glass on American culture," "the nation's emotional barometer (also weathervane & thermometer)," "a national institution," and "the national comforter."

Carson is one of the most influential performers in the history of the [television] medium," wrote James Wolcott in The Village Voice. As a comedian, he is unquestionably a master. . . he has distilled the influences of Jack Benny, Jackie Gleason, Steve Allen, Jonathan Winters, Fred Allen...into a style which is perfectly calibrated to the scale of the video medium."

Many have tried to explain the secret of Carson's success: his cool, affable, understated style; his uncanny rapport with the audience and his brilliant blend of comic talent and down-home charm that disarm everyone. "Accustomed to thinking of Carson the host, we forget the range of Carson the actor-comedian," stated Kenneth Tynan. Carson is capable of daring comic one-upmanship. The way he uses the camera as a silent conspirator is probably his most original contribution to TV technique."

Growing up in Norfolk, Nebraska, Carson first practiced his entertainment skills on family members with card tricks and other magic acts learned from a mail-order kit. At 14, he was earning $3 a show as "The Great Carsoni," typical shy, uncomfortable teenager who blossomed in front of an audience, appearing in high school plays as well.

After serving in the Pacific, he got jobs writing radio comedy programs while still at the University of Nebraska. Later in Los Angeles, he became an all-purpose announcer until he was given his own program, "Carson's Cellar." This stint was short, lasting less than a year, but it attracted the attention of several big-time entertainers, including Red Skelton, who hired him to write for his television show. In a classic show business turn of events, one night the star was ill, Carson substituted, he wowed the audience, and a star was nearly born. His reward, "The Johnny Carson Show," didn't last a year, but it led to a game show, "Who Do You Trust," which became ABC's top-rated daytime program, which eventually led to an offer to replace Jack Paar as host of the "Tonight" show. "With the public," Kenneth Tynan reported, "Carson's triumph was immediate and nonpareil."

Biography Continued