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Johnny Carson Kindle Edition
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We have heard for years that Carson was aloof, demanding, and harsh -- but never read proof like this. As his fame and power grew so did his ego, and his suspicion of everyone around him, from NBC, to friends and family, and eventually Bushkin himself.
Carson nursed a terrifying, irrational hair-trigger temper and numberless grudges. It is difficult to square our memories of the genial, gracious late-night star who chatted up tourists playing "Stump the Band" with Bushkin's portrait of the compulsive, drunken womanizer who nearly got himself rubbed out for trying to take a Mob figure's girl to bed. Or the lunatic egomaniac who required a personal apology from President Reagan after his equally out-of-balance wife Joanna dissolved into hysterics over the location of her seat at Reagan's inaugural celebration.
"He's insane," Bushkin says he muttered to a companion after a Carson outburst ruined a vacation on a luxury yacht in the Mediterranean, and as you read Bushkin's account you will come to think so too. He forces you to reappraise Johnny even if you revered his work on TV.
There's a searing view of Carson suffering at the hands of his cruel, critical Midwestern mother -- her refusal to express love or approval explains a lot of his pain and relationship failures. But Carson made things worse with his addictions to alcohol, tobacco, and especially beautiful women. He was married four times but Bushkin shows he had no interest in fidelity; he seems to have acquired wives the way most people buy cars or refrigerators -- as necessary appliances. Bushkin names plenty of Other Women, from Oscar winners to Vegas showgirls.
For all the juicy star gossip here there is quite a lot missing. Not a word about Carson's comedic technique, the mannerisms he stole from Jack Benny and Fred Allen, or the day-to-day workings of the little universe he controlled, "The Tonight Show." Nothing about the strangest video document of Carson, the 1982 NBC special "Johnny Goes Home," which followed him back to Nebraska and laid the man bare -- weird and counterintuitive for so private a man. (He dedicated it, no doubt futilely, to his mother and father.) Numbing detail about certain financial deals gone wrong, but only a few breezy sentences about the one everyone wants to hear about -- Johnny's investment in the ill-fated DeLorean car company.
Carson not only couldn't pick winning investments, he had no gut for what worked in the entertainment world outside "The Tonight Show" bubble, and no interest in learning. His Carson Productions produced tons of TV duds and Carson hated its one unqualified hit, the movie "The Big Chill." Johnny eventually shut down his production company, like a lot of his ventures, because he couldn't be bothered and hated doing business. Despite his professed disinterest in money, Bushkin's management skills meant he left an estate of $450 million at death.
But by Carson's passing in 2005 Bushkin was, of course, long gone from the king's court. Carson eventually dismissed almost everybody in anger; Bushkin should have seen it coming. In their 18 years together Bushkin rose from meek sycophant to Hollywood power in his own right, and Carson liked sycophants. He mimicked too many of Carson's self-destructive tendencies, divorcing his wife to gad about the south of France with Johnny with stars like Joyce DeWitt or Mary Hart on his arm, billing everything back to NBC. (He seems remorseful now, though not about the millions Johnny put in his pocket.)
Fascinating and highly readable, "Johnny Carson" is not just a show business memoir but a Shakespearean tragedy: a Boswellian view of a tragic hero of our culture, a genius beloved by millions who made himself unlovable. It will make you reconsider not only Carson but many a star you think you know, especially those who "wear well," as the saying goes, in TV. My goodness, the price that is paid for keeping the show going -- by them and those around them.
Bushkin lived within Carson's life as friend, protector, brother, fixer, financial advisor, business partner, legal consultant, and most of all personal attorney. This man spent an impressive number of years on call to a client who demanded time, and service
24/7, 365 days a year!
Buskin was there though the Tonight Show's last years in New York and its huge run of success in Burbank throughout the 70s and 80s.
This is not a bio, this is the backstory that Bushkin experienced together with, and in the service of, Johnny Carson during those successful years.
Bushkin does well in making his case that Carsons personality defects were the result of uneven parenting (he had a cold, dominant mother who withheld any approval).
Carson is legendary for being cold, moody, and at times vicious.
During Buskin's years he saw Carson live the high life of the middle aged superstar: smoking ( four packs a day), drinking to excess, affairs, cars, money, homes, parties, hobnobbing among the stars, the divorces, the bad and the brilliant business deals.
Johnny Carson was a cold, empty, alienated, sometimes vindictive, and often angry man. This was the life he created and chose to live. With Bushkins help much of the bad deals of his past were cleared up, and others made Carson wearily to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.
The book is often painful to read. It also deals much with Carson's business (this is authored by his long time lawyer, after all). It also has information about the stories we've all heard about for so many years: The Wayne Newton affair, Joan Rivers, what really caused Johnnys divorces etc.
This book may be the only one of its kind to be ever written about such a private man.