Shamelessly geeky; mathematically delicious.
Bushkin's biography of Johnny Carson is a self-aggrandizing autobiographical work in disguise. Possibly worth a read if you want the dirty details on Carson's business life and failed marriages, but utterly worthless if you are more interested in his career and mastery of the craft of comedy.
As someone in my mid-twenties, I can't say that I grew up with Johnny Carson; the best I could say is that I know him by reputation. Having two baby-boomer parents, I would occasionally hear about how great the Tonight Show was during Carson's reign. I wanted a book that would take me back to that era and show me just what made King of Late-Night the royalty that he was.
I hoped for a biography that told about Johnny Carson's career, with a little insight into his personal life from someone who knew him well. I assumed Henry Buskin, Johnny's lawyer and friend, would have such a perspective. This biography just isn't it, though. Instead of focusing on Johnny Carson's craft as a comedian, which Bushkin admits himself was Carson's true passion in life, the story mostly revolves around Johnny's business and marriage troubles, with a few stories thrown in just to illustrate how Johnny Carson was a star among stars. A book mired in business nonsense, divorces, and contract negotiations? You are reminded at every turn that this book was written by a lawyer.
No time is given to Johnny Carson's youth or early career; the story opens with the hiring of Henry Bushkin, after Carson is already a star. The story ends abruptly with Henry Bushkin getting fired, with more time given to Bushkin's legal battles with Carson's financial firm than to the 30-odd years of Carson's life that followed the split. Johnny's work on the Tonight Show is only mentioned in passing from time to time, and even then it is only in relation to the business deals it facilitated. I understand that Bushkin was Johnny's lawyer and his most unique perspective comes from the legal and personal side of things, but I expect the author of a major biography to put in the effort to research and fill out the entire story of their subject's life.
In fact, taking the author into account, this book becomes more of an autobiography than anything else. I can't help but wonder if this was his intention from the start, but the publisher chose to rework it as a biography of Johnny Carson to sell more copies. It makes sense, who would want to read about the life of a less-than-world-famous lawyer when they could read about one of history's most influential television stars? But it really does the reader a disservice when you expect an account of Johnny Carson's 80-year life and you only get the 18 years that Bushkin worked for him.
Bushkin's account would make a great piece to a more complete biography, which I feel probably exists out there. But as it stands, I can't recommend this book unless you are solely interested in hearing about the life and times of a New York lawyer who worked for one of television's biggest stars.
Being a public school teacher myself, I probably enjoyed this book more than many people may. I only wish I had the resources that Mr. Danza could call on. It would be heavenly to be able to conceive an idea and actually be able to pull it off financially. But even though he had those resources, he was still a first year teacher, facing the challenges that we all face, dealing with the discipline problems we all deal with, wondering how on earth he could impact a kid's life for the better, as we all do, grading papers nights and weekends, taking them with us to family gatherings, parties, or even the movies. But with it all, it is still the most rewarding of professions. Having a student come back and tell you, "You were my favorite teacher" makes it all worth it. I think this is something that Tony Danza learned.