Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Book review: Johnny Carson by Henry Bushkin
Who better to write a biography of Johnny Carson than Carson's own fixer. For nearly 20 years Bushkin was the guy Johnny called in the middle of the night to help him hide the bodies. Not literally, but when he was in a jam … bad contract, bad marriage, bad obligation (professional or personal) Bushkin was the guy who did the dirty work.
We get a glimpse of one of the most private celebrities of the 20th century; he was a mean drunk, a serial womanizer, and had so much animosity to his own mom that he skipped her funeral; but little else really. There's little about the day-to-day business of the Tonight Show (Bushkin prided him self on keeping his mouth shut when at tapings), and more on the contract negotiations, playing chicken with NBC, and trips to Europe, which he enjoyed because he could walk down the street and be unbothered by fans.
If you ever envied the job of being Johnny Carson, this book might set you straight. He had millions of dollars but an equal number of people in his strata with their hand out. He had wives and mistresses, but in the end, he died alone. He ultimately cut off all real and for-pay friends.
There's a funny passage about how he had no respect at all for Fred Silverman and his programming skills (fair enough, though he made genius decisions at CBS and ABC, his programs at NBC were at best head-scratching ("Pink Lady & Jeff"). Then when Carson got a big contract to produce shows for NBC, he could do no better.
In the end, Bushkin describes their professional and personal break-up in the sketchiest of terms. One leaves with the feeling there was something much bigger going on than the explanation he gave.
Despite the gaps, it's still a must-read for fans.