Wheeere’s Johnny?


Tuesday May 15th, 2012 – Fox Lake, IL

   This year marks the 50th anniversary of Johnny Carson’s remarkable thirty year run as host of “The Tonight Show”, and there’s a well produced two hour documentary chronicling his life and career on PBS. I watched it last night with some friends, and all of us were riveted to the screen.

What an astounding career Johnny had. He ruled the roost for three decades, and then went out on top and never looked back. It’s hard to believe he’s been off the air for twenty years now, but the tens of millions of us that still remember him will see him as a star forever. He was the king.

A career like that comes along so rarely, it sets the standards for a generation of others who are never able to come close. Too many things have to come together at once, and only an extremely small amount of lucky sperm club members ever get to take that ride. Other than Johnny Carson, who comes to mind in any field? I can think of Babe Ruth, Charlie Chaplin and Elvis Presley.

Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan both had spectacularly impressive careers and made huge marks in their respective fields, as did Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra. They would all probably get a significant number of votes if there were a poll of the all time greats, but I don’t want to argue.

My point is, very few ever get to take the big ride and wear the crown as the undisputed king of any field. Johnny Carson was the king of late night television, and there are millions of witnesses that would testify accordingly if asked in or out of a court of law. His star status is unquestioned.

Besides the issue of talent, there’s always the luck factor. Timing is imperative, and without it talent is useless. Elvis came along at exactly the right time for what he was doing. He did what he did first, and he did it best. Rush Limbaugh would be another example of that kind of timing.

Johnny Carson came along right as TV was starting. His family moved to Omaha, and he got a job as an announcer on the only station in town. He was also good looking and that didn’t hurt in the least. He was the total package that came along at exactly the right time. Of course the talent was there too, but all the other ingredients combined with it made him the superstar he became.

It was interesting to learn some things I hadn’t known previously. Apparently, his mother had a way of stinging him with things she said about his career through the years. She didn’t seem very impressed with all his success, just as I read Steve Martin’s father was cold and aloof toward him as well. Far too many performers of all kinds get into performing only to seek parental approval.

The documentary also talked about Johnny’s relationship with his three sons and how it wasn’t great, nor was his track record of marriage. He was human as we all are, and had dents in his can too apparently. Most of us can’t relate to those kinds of dents, even though we’d like the chance. Just because somebody is on top of their field doesn’t mean they don’t have human foibles also.

Who’s to say any of us would be able to handle that situation well? Put any of us in the million dollar hot seat pressure cooker and see what we do when everyone has their eyes focused on our every move. Johnny pulled it off for thirty years, and he’ll never be equaled. The world is a very different place now, but he had his run. Wheeeeeere’s Johnny? In a prominent place in history.

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