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
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
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."
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.
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."