"I know a man who gave up smoking, drinking, sex, and rich food. He was healthy right up to the day he killed himself." (Johnny Carson)
A lot of ink has been spilled covering the lives of history's most influential figures, but how much of the forest is lost for the trees? In Charles River Editors' American Legends series, listeners can get caught up to speed on the lives of America's most important men and women in the time it takes to finish a commute, while learning interesting facts long forgotten or never known.
Among America's comedians, few - if any - have had the kind of influence on pop culture and society like Johnny Carson, the iconic host of The Tonight Show from 1962-1992. In addition to winning too many awards to count, Carson is proof that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, as admitted by subsequent comedy show hosts like Jay Leno and David Letterman, who not only vied to replace Carson but also used his format for their own shows (and still continue to do so).
Carson may have pioneered the format of The Tonight Show, but he had already been involved in comedy for decades before then, starting with performances as "The Great Carsoni" when he was still a teen. The magic shows and comedy continued into college, where he had a running gag about interviewing pigeons on rooftops, asking them about a local political controversy. Carson's work was hailed by comedians like Red Skelton, who invited him to become a writer for him, and Jack Benny, who invited him onto the show, all before he had turned 30.
For several years during the 1950s, Carson rotated around various daytime shows as host, meeting important friends like Ed McMahon along the way, but he made it big when he replaced Jack Paar as host of The Tonight Show in 1962.