Heeeere's to Johnny...: Johnny Carson, 1925-2005

Adam Williams

Johnny Carson was a comedic genius and lord of the evening talk show format whom generations of viewers welcomed into their homes for roughly three decades.

Johnny Carson

As the King's English has gradually become a language of clichés and slang, the misuse of descriptive words is commonplace. Few things are truly great and fewer people are legends, but Johnny Carson was both. In actuality he was beyond great or legendary... he was a comedic genius and lord of the evening talk show format whom generations of viewers welcomed into their homes for roughly three decades.

Carson's success came by way of numerous unique personal attributes. He was focused yet modest, strong willed yet flexible, intensely private yet accessible. He possessed a sly wit and self effacing sense of humor, as well as the courage to fail in front of his audience then laugh it off. His deadpan delivery was laced with honesty and a genuine passion for the topics he was discussing or lampooning, and he treated guests with respect and encouragement. Most importantly though, he was the consummate regular guy, and his "Aw shucks" sensibilities belied his stature as one of the most powerful men in entertainment circles. Carson forged a relationship of trust with his audience, entering into living rooms not as a famous personality but as an extended family member.

In the fickle world of television, Carson reigned supreme for over a quarter century, shrugging off contenders and pretenders to his late night throne with ease. Countless programs came and went during Carson's tenure, with but a handful of survivors. Even those who staked their claim paled in comparison; Leno lacked Carson's endearing charm and Letterman was too smarmy, relegating them to distant second although both were considered Carson's heirs apparent (with Leno given the final nod for The Tonight Show).

The beauty of Johnny Carson came through with each night's work, whether the evening's broadcast was hitting or missing. Some of Carson's funniest experiences occurred when he was striking out, making himself the good natured butt of the joke and allowing viewers to laugh at him and with him. The program itself was also an example of creative brilliance as it consistently offered something for everyone, from music and movie stars to comedy skits and wild animals. Despite the countless guest appearances he hosted, Carson was at his best interacting with regular people who had interesting or peculiar tales to tell. He had a knack for getting the most out of their stories, without coming off as condescending or disinterested. Fortunately, many of these classic moments are captured on The Tonight Show video anthology marketed several years ago.

The importance of Johnny Carson goes far beyond his years behind The Tonight Show's desk however. His career transcended mere success, earning him the rare distinction of cultural icon. For baby boomers who came of age watching Carson, to the budding comics and actors who gained their initial national exposure on his stage, Johnny Carson will always remain an indelible part of their existences. Who can forget the impeccably tailored dinner jackets and golf swing, or his faithful lieutenant, Ed Mc Mahon and band leader Doc Severinsen? Carson was the embodiment of professionalism and class in life and entertainment, and someone who touched individuals in a manner that few, if any, are capable of. There will never be another television personality the likes of Johnny Carson.

Now with his passing, it is appropriate to offer one final thank you and salute:

The King is dead... Long live the King...

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.