Lincoln Journal Star from Lincoln, Nebraska on January 24, 2005 · 4
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Lincoln Journal Star from Lincoln, Nebraska · 4

Lincoln, Nebraska
Issue Date:
Monday, January 24, 2005
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4A Uiicoln loumal Star Monday, January. 24. JOHNNY CARSON 2005 SiSsVS- ' 21;, Nebraska neighbor was For something in the neighborhood of 30 years, johnny Carson wasTI IE most famous Nebraskan. Never mind that he left his homiMtate in 1950 and spent his remaining 44 years in Los Angeles and New York. Carson embraced his Nebraska roots all the while he hosted "The Tonight Show," putting the nation to bed for decades at 1 1 :30 p.m. Eastern 10:30 p.m. Central on NBC. . Taking over for Jack Paar on Oct. : 1,1 9li2, Carson Jogged more than 7,500 hours of airtime before retiring May 22, 1992. During his three-decade run, he became one of the most powerful men in Hollywood and one of the most beloved figures in America. It has often been said that part of Carson's appeal was based on his Midwestern upbringing, allowing him to easily serve as a kind of comic everyman and giving his show an underlying genial decency, even though his rapier-like wit could cut with the best of them. One thing is certain: Carson de- Norfolk mourns loss of favorite son BY JOSH SWARTZLANDER ' Lincoln Journal Star ; Johnny Carson became known as the late-night king of American comedy, but he never forgot his hometown of Norfolk. Norfolk residents on Sunday expressed grief about the death of the former host of NBC's "The Tonight Show." "I was surprised and saddened," said Sheryl Schmeckpeper, president of the Elkhorn Valley Historical Society. The society oversees the Ekhorn Valley Museum, which has an 11, 000-square-foot display of Carson memorabilia, including Em mys, magazine Covers and other awards. . . "It's a sad day for not only Norfolk, but for America," she said. "He left a huge impact on this community, one that will never be forgotten." . Carson donated more than $5 million to organizations including a cancer radiation center, a theater and die museum in the Nor-- folk area., Carson lived in Norfolk from age 8 until he joined the U.S. Navy after ' high school graduation in 1943. "I fe didn't forget his hometown," Carson Continued from Page 1A said college friend and former Ne-; braska Cov. Charlie Thone. He covered all with a distinctly Midwestern likability, a balm that kept America united in front of "The Tonight Show," even when some viewers suspected he didn't like Richard Nixon and others thought him unhip to the sexual revolution. "He hit this consistent, responsive chord with people," said Ron Hull, former director of Nebraska Educational Television, "He was as sharp as could be, but there was nothing threatening about him, and it made him welcome in people's living rooms." Carson invaded Norfolk's living rooms early, practicing magic tricks in the homes of friends and neighbors. He began his career at the age of 13, when he made $3 doing magic at the Norfolk Young Men's Club. Doyle Busskohl, a Carson classmate and now a Phoenix retiree, remembers the teenaged entertainer pretending to stomp out a cigarette on a friend's living room floor. The friend's mother didn't get the joke. "This lady about died," Busskohl said. Carson took his act with him to the University of Nebraska, where he majored in radio and speech. "The Great Carsoni," a magic act performed with the help of girlfriend and eventual first wife Jody Wolcott, wowed NU crowds, as did Carson's comedic roles in various university plays and skits. Thone described his fellow Phi Gamma Delta fraternity boy as a loner others gravitated toward. "He was good looking," Thone said. "As smooth as glass. ... We always knew this guy had 'it,' whatever 'h' is." Carson left Nebraska for a Los Angeles radio job two years after graduation. A decade of television iOU 'What is your fondest memory Greg Maschman, 44, accountant As lithe shows, the fun niest moments and all the support he gave back to Nebraska." Thl feature runs weekly. If 1. KENT W0LGAM0TT Journal Star Staff Writer fined the late-night talk show format, especially the opening monologue, which he turned from a nighdy stand-up routine to an indispensable cultural barometer. Carson was evenhanded in his political barbs. But when a particular politician became the center of the monologue night after night, it wasn't a good sign. Such was the case for Spiro Agnew and Richard Nixon, who provided Carson with some of his most memorable material from 1972 to 1974. said David Busskohl of Norfolk. Busskohl's father went to high school with Carson. "Johnny Carson has been so generous to Norfolk," Busskolil - said. "He's kind of put us on the national map." Fred Egley, who said he taught Carson in physical education classes at Norfolk High School in 1939, said he saw potential immediately in the young entertainer. "He was a live wire," Egley said. "He had no problem in physical education." In 1942, Carson entertained the high school football team at its end-of-the-season banquet, Egley said, - "He was just one of the boys then, but we saw some potential." Egley said Carson was as kind to him as he was to the entire community. He said that during a trip to California in the 1970s, Carson allowed him to come backstage to see his "Tonight Show" dressing room. "He meant a lot to Norfolk," Egley said. "We're going to miss him. ' We'll probably- never have another person who will be as kind as he was to this community." Reach Josh Sw'artzlander at 473-7120 or writing jobs, game-show hosting and a short-lived variety show followed. Then, in 1962, Jack Paar left NBC, handing "The Tonight Show" keys to Carson. The Norfolk boy-doubled Paar's audience in 15 years. The son of a Nebraska light & Power Co. lineman was making $1 million a year in the 1960s and $5 million annually in die 1980s. Carson's retirement was marked both by a lack of cameo appearances and generosity to Nebraska. . He gave millions to Lincoln's Lied Center for Performing Arts and millions to the city of Norfolk. Last : year, he gave S5.3 million to the ; temple Building, home to the UNL Theater Department. That gift came after the University of Nebraska Foundation prepared a DVD reminding Carson of the college days he spent in the Temple basement. Carson called within a week, pledging to help. "I think, even though he was perceived by many as a sophisticated, urbane man, in his heart he was always proud to be a Nebraskan and to be a graduate of the University of Nebraska," said Lucy Comine, director of the foundation's special projects department. The foundation also mailed Carson a copy of his senior thesis, the analysis before anyone felt the need to analyze Carson's own comedy. That reel-to-reel tape bookends news last week that the retiree still occasionally wrote jokes for the "late Show with David Letterman." Before late-night fame, and after it, he loved comedy. . "And so it has come to this," Carson said, signing off on May 22, 1992, his last "Tonight Show." "I am one of the lucky people in the world. I found something that I always wanted to do and I have enjoyed every single minute of it." Reach Matthew Hansen at 473-7245 or Josh Swartzlander and wire services contributed to this report Eileen Port, 87, retired, Lincoln 'I! diought he was just neat. I loved him. He was funny, a great comedian and had a tremendous sense of humor." you have Ideas for what to ask fellow Carson was also clever enough to turn some ofhis humor on himself, particularly his divorces. While he was far too Garbo-esque to be confessional, making fun of himself did nothing but endear him to an already appreciative audience. But Carson, who wrote much of his own material, was far more than just a stand-up comic. Effortlessly cool, he handled guest after guest night after night with grace and humor and never seemed to be thrown off his game by anything, from zoo animals on die loose to inadvertently risque comments diat raised eyebrows in the 1960s and '70s but are commonplace today. There won't be anodier Johnny Carson for many reasons, most importantly, the splintering of die television audience. When he turned "The Tonight Show" into must-see TV diere were only the diree networks and, after the late local news, his was pretty much die only game in town. The other networks ran a r ' v-vr 4 ;. associated press file photo Entertainer Bette Midler caresses talk show host Johnny Carson during his next-to-last taping of "The Tonight Show" on May 21, 1992. Carson's zany characters made for classic moments BY SUSAN KING ; Los Angeles Times . HOLLYWOOD Johnny Carson's legacy is not one of catch ; phrases or famous one-line jokes. It was his physical shtick - his trademark golf swing at the end of every monologue and the trip on stage when he made his entrance as the bumbling Carnac the Magnificent. It was his perfecdy timed deadpans and slow-burn reactions. .: It was his gallery of zany characters whom audiences never tired of during his -. three-decade NBC tenure. . . ' Here's a look at some key moments in the history of Carson's reign on "The Tonight Show": 1964: Carson introduces two of his most popular characters: the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-silly mind reader Carnac the Magnificent and the crabby, wisecracking Aunt Blab-by. But the biggest laugh of the year perhaps the biggest in the history of "The Tonight Show" came when singeractor Ed Ames demonstrated how to throw a tomahawk, only to hit a cardboard dummy in the crotch. 1966: Carson begins "The Mighty Carson Art Players," a sketch format that, over the years, saw him parody such personalities as President Reagan and actor Karl Maiden (hawking a credit card). 1971: Carson debuts as the lascivious Art Fern, host of the "Tea Time Movie." With his pencil-thin mustache, slicked-back hair and tacky suits, Fern would peddle products, seduce his buxom co-hostess and give nonsensical directions to the Slauson freeway cutoff. . 1977: Carson introduces the last of his great characters, the super- of Johnny Carson?' Bob Bishop, 73, retired, Lincoln he things he did for Nebraska. fj Particularly the generosity he gave to the Norfolk area." Nebraskans, please call the City Desk a late-night icon plethora of talk shows against his, hosted by the likes of Joey Bishop, Merv Gnllin, AlanThicke, Joan Rivers, Pat Sajak and fellow Nebraskan Dick Cavett. None made -much of a dent in Carson's ratings. These days, Jay I no who took over "The Tonight Show" from Carson, and David Letterman, who Carson wanted to be his successor, split the late night audience. ABC's "Nighdine" and Jimmy Kimmel also get a chunk of viewers and each of the dozens of cable channels takes a little bite. So diere will never again be a national late-night icon, ala Carson. Nor is it likely there's anyone out there with die sapie combination of humor, unflappability and good old entert ainment skills Carson brought to his show. Nebraskans were always proud to be associated with him. Unlike many born in the state who achieve fame, riches or bodi elsewhere, Carson generously gave back to his home state and to the University of Nebraska, his alma f. y C f is Guests on Johnny's couch More than 22,000 guests appeared on "The Tonight Show" during Johnny Carson's 30-year tenure as host. That's enough to fill a couch 8 miles long. A sampling: Movies: ' Woody Allen, Fred I Astaire, Lauren Bacall, Warren Beatty, Marlon Brando, . Cher, Glenn Close, Sean Conne.ry, Kevin Costner, Joan Crawford, Tom Cruise, Billy Crystal, Tony Curtis, Bette Davis, Kirk Douglas, Michael , Douglas, Faye Dunaway, Clint Eastwood, Henry Fonda, Judy Garland, Lillian - Gish, Gene Hackman, Tom Hanks, Rex Harrison, Charlton Heston, Dustin : Hoffman, William Holden, Anthony Hopkins, Rock Hudson, Burt Lancaster, Jack Lemmon, Steve Martin, Walter Matthau, Robert Mitchum, Eddie Murphy, Gregory Peck, Sidney Poitier, Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Stewart, John Wayne, Orson Welles, Robin Williams, Natalie Wood. Television: Steve Allen, Lucille Ball, Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Bill Cosby, Walter Cronkite, Ted Danson, Sammy Davis Jr., Jackie Gleason, Arsenio Hall, Pee-wee Herman, Bob Hope, Danny Kaye, Michael Landon, Angela Lansbury, Dean Martin, Groucho Marx, Mary Tyler Moore, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, Jack Parr, Burt Reynolds, Don Rickles, Roy Rogers, Roseanne, Tom Selleck, Phil Silvers, Red Skelton, Ed Sullivan, Danny Thomas. Music: Paul Anka, Louis Armstrong, Tony Bennett, Clint Black, David Bowie, James Brown, the Carpenters, Ray Charles, Bing Crosby, Placido Domingo, Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman, Jimi Hendrix, Lena Home, Jefferson Airplane, John Lennon, Liberace, Little Richard, Madonna, Johnny Mathis, Paul McCartney, Bette Midler, Liza Minnelli, Luciano Pavarotti, Paul Simon, Frank ' Sinatra, the Supremes, Lawrence Welk, Stevie Wonder, 21 Top. . - Sports: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Muhammed Ali, Arthur Ashe, Wilt Chamberlain, Wayne Gretzky, Magic Johnson, Billie Jean King, Sugar Ray Leonard, Mickey Mantle, Joe Namath, Pete Rose. 1 Politics: Bill Clinton, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Nancy Reagan, George Wallace. From wire reports patriotic but dim-witted Floyd R. Turbo, who would deliver bombastic editorials dressed in a checked buffalo jacket and an earflap hat. 1992: On the next-to-last show Clay Bradley, 48, commodity trader, Lincoln y parents .didn't let me watch television on school nights. But when I was in high school I would sneak in and watch the Carson monologues. That was the extent of my school night television watching." at 473-7306. If you want to respond mater. There was somediing distinctly Nebraskan in Carson's retirement. An intensely private man, when Carson retired, he retired, refusing to continue to chase the spotlight of celebrity. - That decision helped him avoid the sad end met by such idols ofhis as Jack Benny. But it also left the luster ofhis work on "The Tonight Show" to shine long after he left die air. j-. . , .; , Those who never saw "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" live can watch selected monologues, comedy sketches and interviews on DVD and see part of the magic. But there's nothing a replay can do to replicate the anticipation for Ed McMahon's "H-e-e-e-e-re's Johnny" and die laughs from the dead-on observations of our culture Carson provided every night. Late night TV will never get bet-ter than that. " Reach L. Kent Wolgamott at 473-7244 or V ' i V ' ' A' . c on May 21 the final installment that featured guest stars Bette Midler brings Carson to tears when she serenades him with the standard "I'll Be Seeing You." Today's interviews Leena Pumel, 27, receptionist, Lincoln ' never really watched . his show. I never really watched TV. But I think it's sad because he was an icon for the time he was on the air." to this question, click the Sound Off Johnny Carson Oct. 23, 1925: Bom in Corning, Iowa. 1939: Begins entertainment career with a magic act called "The Great Carsoni" in Norfolk, where he grew up. 1945: Serves as U.S. Navy ensign and entertains men aboard the USS Pennsylvania. 1947: Attends University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he is allowed to be late for his first class so he can work at local radio station KFAB. 1948: Dresses in drag to become first man to emcee female Co-Ed Follies Show at NU. 1949: Earns bachelor of arts degree in radio and speech with a minor in physics. 1949: Marries Jody Wolcott, with whom he has three sons; they divorce in 1963. 1950-53: Lands a job as staff announcer for KNXT, now KCBS-TV, in Los Angeles) in Los Angeles, where he soon hosts "Carson's Cellar." 1954: At 29, Carson becomes host of his own network show, "Earn Your Vacation," while also appearing as a substitute host for another up-and-coming TV personality, Jack Paar, on CBS's "The Morning Show." Carson continues to appear on CBS until 1956. 1957: Moves to ABC as host of a new daytime game show, "Who Do You Trust?" 1958: Sits in for "Tonight Show" host Jack Paar. Oct. 1, 1962: Groucho Marx Introduces Carson to late-night TV audience as host of NBC's "The Tonight Show." 1963: Marries' Joanne Copeland; they divorce nine years later. 1967: Walks out on "Tonight" for several weeks until network lures him back with contract that reportedly pays him more than $1 million a year. 1969: Picks up biggest-ever ratings by featuring wedding of eccentric singer Tiny Tim to Miss Vicki live on the "Tonight" show. 1972: "Tonight" moves from New York to Burbank, Calif.; he marries Joanna Holland; they -divorce in 1985. 1980: Receives Academy of Television Arts and Sciences' prestigious Governors' Award. In the 1980s, Carson reportedly is the highest-paid performer in television history with a $5 million "Tonight" salary alone. ' . He also performs in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, N.J., and hosts the Academy Awards five times in the '70s and '80s. 1986: Wins George Foster Peabody Award. 1987: Inducted into ATAS Hall of Fame; marries fourth wife, Alexis Mass. July 1988: Has then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton on "Tonight" a few days after Clinton comes under widespread ridicule for a boring speech at the Democratic National Convention. 1989: American Friends of Hebrew University honors him with Scopus Award for humanitarian efforts. 1991: Son Ricky, 39, dies in car accident. May 1992: Retires from "Tonight Show"; wins Presidential Medal of Freedom and Amencan Comedy Lifetime Achievement Award. 1993: Receives Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement Award; says he has no need to return to limelight, saying: "I have an ego like anybody else, but I don't need to be stoked by going before the public all the time." 2002: Tells Esquire magazine: "I just let the work speak for itself." . Jan. 23, 2005: Dies of emphysema at his home in Malibu, Calif. Sources: Journal Star archives; University of NebraskaUncoln; The Associated Press; and photos by Ken Blackbird and Dior Azcuy Anna Mae Ketterer, 87, retired, Lincoln just liked htm. Ial- . wavs watched Johnny carsoa logo at www.Joumalstar.i i ' .

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