Friday, October 19, 2012

And Here’s Johnny!

Johnny Carson was so smooth that he stepped out of history into oblivion. Like the average parent, his legacy is only carried forward by his children, Jay Leno, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel and the other late night talk show hosts. This is where Johnny Carson differed from Shakespeare whose legacy will probably be carried on as long as consciousness exists in the universe. Before Carson we had Jack Paar, but he was sui generis and exists in the minds of a few aficionados. A good comparison would be the other confreres of Shakespeare, minor Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights like Webster and Marston. But there was something Shakespearean about Carson too, if you look at Johnny as Prince Hal and Ed McMahon as a real life Falstaff, roaring “And here’s Johnny.” And then there was Carnac the Magnificent, the famous alter ego who made intermittent appearances, in his big floppy hat, a mixture of Rembrandt and one of the great Vogue models of the 50’s. Johnny was not like the celebrities of today. You heard about Joanna Carson and his other wives, but he was curiously private, for someone who was such a dominant presence on late night television right up until 1992, when he retired from The Tonight Show and slipped into obscurity. Andy Warhol famously said that everyone has 15 minutes of fame. Johnny had 30 years, before his star burnt out.

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