Johnny Carson, the king of late-night TV, has died and with him an era like no other. For 30 years he brought laughter into our homes with his late-night antics and I will never forget him.
When Johnny took over for Jack Paar in 1962 it started a whole new world of comedy. Johnny and his sidekick, Ed McMahon, attracted a large viewing audience to stay up late and watch the Tonight Show. He poked fun at those who were watching him through their toes, which I did many times. He made fun of himself and his ex-wives, he even made fun of the President of the United States and his aides. Nobody was immune.
Think of the people he spotlighted on his show that went on to be stars in their own right - people like Barbra Streisand, David Letterman, Don Rickles, Buddy Hackett, Steve Martin, Bette Midler and Jay Leno, who took over for Johnny when he retired. If you were featured on the Tonight Show, you had to be good.
I can remember Johnny and Don Rickles with his caustic wit and the banter that went back and forth, keeping Johnny in stitches. He laughed so hard the tears rolled down his face. I think he enjoyed his guests as much as we did.
And who can forget when he had a tiger on the show that growled at him and he sprinted across the stage and jumped into Ed McMahon's arms. I almost fell down with laughter. I loved it when he had wild animals on his show. His facial expressions spoke volumes, when they put a snake around his neck, or a monkey on his shoulder. He mimicked the monkey and brought the house down with laughter.
I loved it when one of his jokes would bomb. He milked it for all it was worth and usually got the laughter going. He had some great writers, but it was his delivery and timing that made his jokes so funny.
Do you remember Tiny Tim? He appeared on the Tonight Show many times, playing his ukulele and singing in his falsetto voice. He always talked about his girl friend, a 17-year-old fan he called Miss Vickie. When he asked for Miss Vickie's hand in marriage, Johnny had their wedding on the show. Viewers everywhere tuned in to see Tiny Tim marry Miss Vickie. It was one of the largest viewing audiences in Tonight Show history.
I'll never forget when Ed Ames, singer/actor, brought down the house with his tomahawk throw. Ames played an Indian on TV's Daniel Boone series and was going to teach Johnny how to throw a tomahawk. He threw the tomahawk at a cardboard cutout of the sheriff and the tomahawk landed right in the sheriff's crotch. The audience went crazy, literally falling off their seats with laughter. That was one of the longest laughs of any of the shows. The clip showed up on all the anniversary shows and the audience loved it.
One of my favorite shows featured Johnny playing the guitar. He looked very nervous, but he played that guitar like a professional. He wiped his brow when he was finished and said, "That is harder than it looks."
Whether he was showing his skills as a magician or giving his monologue to his audience, he was a great comedian and I was sorry to see him retire. He filled our late nights with laughter and wonderful entertainment. There will never be another Johnny Carson. We'll miss him!
Betty Kuhn of Boardman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.