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JOHNNY CARSON by Henry Bushkin


by Henry Bushkin

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-544-21762-1
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

The King of Late Night’s lawyer, confidant, tennis partner and butt of his “Bombastic Bushkin” gags appraises their 18-year relationship.

Mainly due to the often bitter jokes he began making about marriage, often at his own expense, around the time of his expensive divorce from his third wife in the early 1980s, Johnny Carson (1925–2005) is known for his marital troubles. Though the late-night host is also known for his reclusiveness from the Hollywood scene—a reputation Bushkin demonstrates was not entirely warranted—most casual observers may not know that Carson had difficulty with all sorts of relationships, beginning with his praise-stingy mother Ruth, whose approval Carson vainly sought until her death, and continuing with his three sons (Carson admitted to being a poor, distant father). Fresh out of Vanderbilt Law School at 23, Bushkin began working for Carson in 1970 and had, arguably, the closest and sturdiest relationship with Carson of the entertainer’s entire life until its acrimonious end in 1988 (“Johnny terminated our relationship in a mere three-minute conversation….There was no final act”). The secret to his success? At the expense of his own marriage and relationships with his children, Bushkin made it his career to keep Carson happy at all hours of the day and night. This might mean getting him a contract with NBC that made him the highest-paid entertainer in the world. It could also mean breaking and entering into Carson’s second wife’s adulterous “love nest” to gather evidence for divorce, listening to a drunken Caron’s self-psychoanalysis at an after-hours watering hole, disappearing discreetly when one of the boss’s many voluptuous playmates appeared, or stepping between Carson and people he wanted to hit or who wanted to hit him.

Carson partisans may find this memoir self-serving (what memoir isn’t?), but most readers will be captivated by this high-definition, off-camera, extreme close-up view of the enigmatic entertainer.