IN MEMORY OF JOHNNY CARSON
Johnny Carson & Me
Johnny Carson, holding back tears,
thanks his fans during his final
episode of 'The Tonight Show'
Johnny opened the doors
for our Ann's TV career
Ann Jillian needed the big lift an appearance on "The Tonight Show
with Johnny Carson" could give her fledgling TV career in 1981. This is her account of her dealings with the King of Late-Night,
augmented by her fellow columnist and husband, Andy Murcia,
who was and is her personal manager.
By ANN JILLIAN
with ANDY MURCIA
I first met Johnny Carson when I made my debut on "The Tonight Show " on September 24, 1981.
I was a "first-timer" on the show, so they scheduled me to be his final guest of the evening. That was a tradition, but it also was practical. If the show started running too long and they had to cut somebody, it would be the newcomer,
When Johnny introduced me, I was nervous, but not scared as I was going to sing first and wouldn't have to just start right in talking with one of the most famous men in show business, the king of late-night television.
If Johnny felt I was a worthy guest, it was normal for him to invite me over to sit in the chair and chat with him. Since I was very secure in my singing, I put everything I had into a great Carol Bayer Sager song called Im Coming Home Again. Its a very dramatic, big, act-closing sort of song. I sang the heck out of it (and have the tape to prove it).
The NBC studio audience gave me a standing ovation. I tell you this not to blow my own horn but because I think its what convinced Johnny to call me over for a chat.
As he stood up, clapping right along with the audience, he did that tie-fixing gesture he always did to indicate this was something worthy or special. I milked the applause as any ham would have done and somehow skipped over to the chair.
Johnny could not have been nicer. He had a few questions that his staff thought would be icebreakers and the conversation just sailed on from there. I told him how I had seen him on the freeway one day after I had just taped the pilot for my TV series "It's A Living." I had held up my script cover at him, waving like a mad woman. I even told him about the Big Apple cap I 'd been wearing that day.
"Dont you remember? I asked.
Johnny went with it and said he remembered but with the cap and all he just thought it was some lonely guy from Sunset Boulevard!
He got a big laugh. There were other big laughs for both Johnny and me along the interview way. Johnny was king at feeding the guest a line so they could be funny and he seemed to know if you had another line to say or not. He knew and loved Rosalind Russell and he knew I was in the movie Gypsy with her, so I told how she once stuck a hatpin in her head by accident. Then he said something funny back to me and off we went--about four minutes altogether.
As the show came to an end, his other guest, comedian Robert Klein, leaned over and said, on camera, "Nice job, Ann,. First time on 'The Tonight Show,' wow!
He and Johnny led more applause from the audience and then Johnny did what we later learned was considered his stamp of approval for a female guest: He came out from behind his desk and did a little jitterbug dance with me.
I was always grateful to Johnny for that appearance as it opened the door to all the other talk shows for me. The thinking was, "If you were good enough for Carson, you were good enough for any of the others."
Of course, it wasn't easy for a newcomer to get booked on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson." One difficulty was getting by one fellow, who shall remain nameless, who did much of the talent booking for the show. He sat at a desk in a little trailer, playing with a pencil, interviewing prospective guests while trying to act like Johnny.
My husband Andy, who's my manager, and I went to the trailer and I watched this guy do his thing. We thought it all very comical. I found it hard to keep from laughing long enough to actually answer his questions. I guess this guy had seen Andy and I laughing all the way to the parking lot. As a result, he got all insulted and took my name off the "good guest" list.
Andy fixed that quickly enough. He went to Joyce Selznick, a dear friend who was a real power behind the scenes. She talked to Johnny's producer, Freddie De Cordova, and had me put back on the list. I must say, this guy from loony tunes never got over it.
A few weeks after my debut on Johnny's show, Andy and I went to dinner at the Palms restaurant in Hollywood. We had a short wait at the bar for a table and there was Johnny waiting for his guest to arrive and his table to be readied. We chatted for a few minutes and, of course, Andy and I thanked him again for the opportunity he had given me.
Johnny got called first as his special table was ready. After he left I realized that I was wearing a satin "John Davidson Show "jacket that John had given me that afternoon when I taped his talk show. Johnny never made a comment about the jacket even though were sure he'd seen it. Im sure the jacket thing did not bother him as I was invited back on Johnny's show four times after the jacket incident.
We also knew Johnnys brother, Dick Carson, who was directing the old "Merv Griffin Show" in those days. I found both the Carson brothers to be clean-cut Midwestern-type gentlemen of good taste. Johnny, like his brother, was not a show-off. They were both just quiet, hard-working guys, who kept mainly to themselves.
You didn't get to know Johnny real well. If you were a guest on his show, that was about as close as you ever got to him. He was not overly friendly, but Andy and I figured he was just a private type of person. We respected that. We think ones personal time should be spent with friends, doing what you enjoy. There will be no memorial service for Johnny. I find that in keeping with how he conducted his private life.
Though our dear friend Steve Allen invented "The Tonight Show" format and was its original host, we also know that Johnny put his own unique stamp on it. Johnny will be remembered as a man who kick-started a lot of careers, mine included.
And he did so regardless of that silly little guy who sat in that trailer with the real Johnnys pencil.
©2005 by Ann Jillian Murcia and Andy Murcia. The photo is courtesy of NBC and is their copyrighted property, all rights reserved. This column first posted Jan. 24, 2005.
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