Sunday, January 23, 2005

Good Night, Johnny

This morning Johnny Carson died at age 79 from emphysema. I don't think I have to inform any Americans reading this who Johnny Carson is. After all, he was host of The Tonight Show for 30 years.

Johnny Carson was born in Corning, Iowa, although his family moved across the state line to nearby Norfolk, Nebraska when he was very young. He made his debut on stage at age 14 performing magic tricks as the "Great Carsoni." During World War II he served in the Navy. After being mustered out, he worked at various Nebraska radio stations before getting a job at KNXT-TV in Los Angeles in 1950.

It was at KNXT that he hosted Carson's Cellar, a sketch comedy show. He soon found himself writing for The Red Skelton Show. One night Skelton was injured, so that Carson found himself having to stand in for the famous comic. That was Carson's big break. Carson soon found himself as host of a number of different shows. In 1954, CBS placed him on The Morning Show, their first atempt to compete with NBC's Today. That same year he as then made the host of the quiz show Earn Your Vacation. From 1955 to 1956, he had his own variety show, The Johnny Carson Show. From 1957 to 1962 he aas the host of the game show Who Do You Trust?. It was in 1962 that NBC decided he was the man to replace Jack Paar as host of The Tonight Show. He remained its host for thirty years.

Johnny's death saddens me a good deal. Carson was brilliant as the host of The Tonight Show. He was a great interviewer who also had a flair for sketch comedy. And to this day, his monologues are still unmatched for being funny. Indeed, Carson has always reminded me a bit of Jack Benny, my favourite comedian of all time. Like Benny, Johnny could be self deprecating. He often joked about his divorces and even his wealth. And like Benny, he could create laugther with a mere look. Whether Johnny Carson was the greatest late night host of all time is a matter that is up for debate, I suppose, but there are two things that cannot be debated. No one else will probably host a late night show as long as Johnny did. And I doubt anyone else will be as well loved.

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