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A revealing and incisive account of the King of Late Night at the height of his fame and power, by his lawyer, wingman, fixer, and closest confidant
From 1962 until 1992, Johnny Carson hosted The Tonight Show and permeated the American consciousness. In the ’70s and ’80s he was the country’s highest-paid entertainer and its most enigmatic. He was notoriously inscrutable, as mercurial (and sometimes cruel) off-camera as he was charming and hilarious onstage. During the apex of his reign, Carson’s longtime lawyer and best friend was Henry Bushkin, who now shows us Johnny Carson with a breathtaking clarity and depth that nobody else could.
From the moment in 1970 when Carson hired Bushkin (who was just 27) until the moment 18 years later when they parted ways, the author witnessed and often took part in a string of escapades that still retain their power to surprise and fascinate us. One of Bushkin’s first assignments was helping Carson break into a posh Manhattan apartment to gather evidence of his wife’s infidelity. More than once, Bushkin helped his client avoid entanglements with the mob. Of course, Carson’s adventures weren’t all so sordid. He hosted Ronald Reagan’s inaugural concert as a favor to the new president, and he prevented a drunken Dean Martin from appearing onstage that evening. Carson socialized with Frank Sinatra, Jack Lemmon, Jimmy Stewart, Kirk Douglas, and dozens of other boldface names who populate this atmospheric and propulsive chronicle of the King of Late Night and his world.
But this memoir isn’t just dishy. It is a tautly rendered and remarkably nuanced portrait of Carson, revealing not only how he truly was, but why. Bushkin explains why Carson, a voracious (and very talented) womanizer, felt he always had to be married; why he loathed small talk even as he excelled at it; why he couldn’t visit his son in the hospital and wouldn’t attend his mother’s funeral; and much more. Bushkin’s account is by turns shocking, poignant, and uproarious - written with a novelist’s eye for detail, a screenwriter’s ear for dialogue, and a knack for comic timing that Carson himself would relish. Johnny Carson unveils not only the hidden Carson, but also the raucous, star-studded world he ruled.
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.
66 of 74 people found this review helpful
Any additional comments?
This is a book I recommend, however it has a deceivingly narrow focus. It's about the author's experience with Johnny. This is good and bad. It lacks the all encompassing perspective but it shows many telling specifics. The author walks a fine line effectively of appreciating and respecting Carson while telling us, alas, many behind the scenes defects in the iconic persona. Dick Hill is great as always as the reader
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
Would you consider the audio edition of Johnny Carson to be better than the print version?
NO! I'm deleting this audiobook from my library and ordering the print edition. What a waste of money.
What didn’t you like about Dick Hill’s performance?
Everything. Listening to his ridiculously over-emphatic performance is like being repeatedly hit over the head with a blunt object, and I was only able to stand it for 20 minutes or so. I finally had to give up, even though I was extremely interested by the book itself.
Any additional comments?
Warning to potential buyers: listen to an audio sample before purchasing. If you can deal with the narrator's performance, more power to you. If you're like me, you'll order the print or Kindle edition.
30 of 36 people found this review helpful
Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?
It provides interesting information about Carson but too much about Bushkin himself.
What was your reaction to the ending? (No spoilers please!)
Did Dick Hill do a good job differentiating all the characters? How?
Not a good actor.
Could you see Johnny Carson being made into a movie or a TV series? Who should the stars be?
Who would be the main character, Bushkin or Carson?
Any additional comments?
The book is worthwhile but should not be presented as a biography of Carson. It is a memoir of one person's years with Carson.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
What did you like best about Johnny Carson? What did you like least?
Just began the book, and almost deleted it after listening to the narrator. His voice is far too animated-moves up and down to an extreme as if he is reading a children's bedtime story. My wife was in the car with me and said she could not listen to it so I stopped.
If you’ve listened to books by Henry Bushkin before, how does this one compare?
Have not read any others
Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Dick Hill?
Anyone else. Dick Hill should not narrate books-period!
If this book were a movie would you go see it?
Any additional comments?
Read the book and skip the audio book. Hope I can get through this as I am looking forward to a good story.
20 of 25 people found this review helpful
Where does Johnny Carson rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?
The horrible narration makes a fair assessment impossible to determine.
How did the narrator detract from the book?
The narrator's self imposed inflections detracted from the book. Whether it was from his wry expressions or from overly exaggerated utterances, the narrator believed he was bigger than the story itself. In fact, his voice created interpretations of the material that may not have been the author's intent. The narration is so bad that the publisher should have another recording produced and delete this version altogether.
Any additional comments?
I enjoyed the insight into Carson's life. As an individual who grew up watching him regularly, I could imagine him saying some of the lines in the book and appreciated the opportunity to remember him in that manner. <br/><br/>Now, about that awful narrator...
10 of 13 people found this review helpful
Man! Talk about the clown at midnight after the mask drops . . . sheesh! Carson was Mephistopheles to the author’s Dr. Faustus. For those old enough to remember Johnny Carson’s preeminence on television, his veneer of Mid-western values, Bushkin’s book turns things inside-out. Johnny was a misanthropic reprobate who generated millions for NBC by doing the impossible: entertaining night-after-night for decades, watched by unflagging millions. He was the network’s golden cash cow. Lawyer and friend, Henry Bushkin, was his minion, his “Swiss army knife,” always on call even in the wee hours, enamored by the glitz in orbit around his boss, catching dollars that filtered down. He served a man of quick mood swings. There was “good Johnny” and “bad Johnny,” writes Bushkin. “Good Johnny was charming, ultra-generous, and hilarious. “Bad Johnny” brooded, threw tantrums, held grudges, was thrown down stairs for putting the moves on a mob girl, was invited to fight by Wayne Newton (Carson chickened out), all the while demanding absolute loyalty from his (few) intimates. He sometimes carried a licensed 38 pistol on his hip. He detested crowds and lived in luxury. Carson quotes are sprinkled with the “F” word used as noun, verb, and expletive. Women came and went on a conveyor belt during all his marriages. “A stiff ***** has no morality,” Johnny tells Bushkin. After a while the author gives in and becomes a sort of Carson Mini-me, albeit an increasingly rich one. For those of an age to remember Johnny this is a thoroughly intriguing read worth the dough. I loved it.
7 of 9 people found this review helpful
Growing up watching Johnny Carson gave me a quest for more information about him. This book certainly provided an insight into the very private Johnny Carson. Henry Bushkin is fair in his comments on Carson, he certainly credits him for making his career and describes the wild ride they took together. I don't know if I should envy Bushkin or pity him and that's is exactly what Bushkin was trying to explain. Imagine you're just a regular person who happens to a an attorney and at a very young age you are thrown into the deep end of the pool rubbing elbows with television and movie stars, jetting around the world with Carson as his best friend/personal assistant, it was certainly a 24/7 job.
I was very interested in the deals Johnny turned down regardless of money either because he didn't feel it was worth the trouble. At the end of the book I didn't think any less of Carson if anything I learned just how generous he was which in a strange way balanced, in my mind, the many mood swings his followers had to endure.
The book moves very quickly and I was sad when it ended. It is easy to follow. It took a short while to get use to the narrator's voice but once I did he was fine, he was easy to understand but his voice is a bit scratchy.
7 of 9 people found this review helpful
I’ve listened to 130 Audible books so far, and this one was only my fourth biography/autobiography, the other 3 being Winston Churchill, David Attenborough and Tiger Woods. Those 3 people don’t have very much in common and my fourth choice, Johnny Carson, doesn’t help to establish a pattern.
I don’t know what made me choose this book. I have never seen the ‘Tonight’ show and am (or was) very unfamiliar with Johnny Carson’s work, but something tempted me and I bought the book, and enjoyed it thoroughly.
Johnny’s story is told from the perspective of his lawyer. Henry Bushkin. When Bushkin met Carson he was a young man just starting out in his career, and he was flattered and astonished when Carson decided to put his faith in him and appoint Bushkin as his attorney. Bushkin is modest and doesn’t sing his own praises too loudly, but he must have been a brilliant lawyer because he sorted out Carson’s perilous financial position and dismissed all the parasites who had been exploiting Carson. Bushkin then became Carson’s Everything-Man, sorting out all Johnny’s personal and professional problems, which were manifold.
Why did Carson have so many problems for Bushkin to solve? Because, although he was charming, witty, handsome and a great talk-show host, he was an utterly selfish egomaniac. He was a hedonist who drank heavily, smoked four packets of cigarettes every day and had casual sex with countless women. He enjoyed being rich but didn’t like to put much effort into the lucrative business interests supplementing his income, such as posing for photographs advertising the range of clothing bearing his name. Johnny’s amoral lifestyle created lots of problems which Bushkin solved resourcefully and tactfully until he eventually grew tired of the role after 18 years, when they parted acrimoniously.
Was Johnny Carson all bad? Not quite. He would occasionally do an impulsive good deed and could be very generous, but instances of brutal nastiness are more the norm according to Bushkin’s account of their time together. This book is a fascinating insight into the relationship between 2 very interesting people.
8 of 11 people found this review helpful
As much of an autobiography of Mr. Buskin,, Johnny Carson the book gave credence to the not often discussed dark side of many comedians. Sad to think someone who gave joy to so many was an unhappy man.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful