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From 1962 until 1992, Johnny Carson hosted The Tonight Show and permeated the American consciousness. In the ’70s and ’80s he was the country’s highest-paid entertainer and its most enigmatic. He was notoriously inscrutable, as mercurial (and sometimes cruel) off-camera as he was charming and hilarious onstage. During the apex of his reign, Carson’s longtime lawyer and best friend was Henry Bushkin, who now shows us Johnny Carson with a breathtaking clarity and depth that nobody else could.
From the moment in 1970 when Carson hired Bushkin (who was just 27) until the moment 18 years later when they parted ways, the author witnessed and often took part in a string of escapades that still retain their power to surprise and fascinate us. One of Bushkin’s first assignments was helping Carson break into a posh Manhattan apartment to gather evidence of his wife’s infidelity. More than once, Bushkin helped his client avoid entanglements with the mob. Of course, Carson’s adventures weren’t all so sordid. He hosted Ronald Reagan’s inaugural concert as a favor to the new president, and he prevented a drunken Dean Martin from appearing onstage that evening. Carson socialized with Frank Sinatra, Jack Lemmon, Jimmy Stewart, Kirk Douglas, and dozens of other boldface names who populate this atmospheric and propulsive chronicle of the King of Late Night and his world.
But this memoir isn’t just dishy. It is a tautly rendered and remarkably nuanced portrait of Carson, revealing not only how he truly was, but why. Bushkin explains why Carson, a voracious (and very talented) womanizer, felt he always had to be married; why he loathed small talk even as he excelled at it; why he couldn’t visit his son in the hospital and wouldn’t attend his mother’s funeral; and much more. Bushkin’s account is by turns shocking, poignant, and uproarious - written with a novelist’s eye for detail, a screenwriter’s ear for dialogue, and a knack for comic timing that Carson himself would relish. Johnny Carson unveils not only the hidden Carson, but also the raucous, star-studded world he ruled.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Metaphorical 1 on 11-16-13
Should be called Johnny and me
Any additional comments?
This is a book I recommend, however it has a deceivingly narrow focus. It's about the author's experience with Johnny. This is good and bad. It lacks the all encompassing perspective but it shows many telling specifics. The author walks a fine line effectively of appreciating and respecting Carson while telling us, alas, many behind the scenes defects in the iconic persona. Dick Hill is great as always as the reader
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
By Pi on 10-21-13
Not for the uninitiated
Bushkin's biography of Johnny Carson is a self-aggrandizing autobiographical work in disguise. Possibly worth a read if you want the dirty details on Carson's business life and failed marriages, but utterly worthless if you are more interested in his career and mastery of the craft of comedy.
As someone in my mid-twenties, I can't say that I grew up with Johnny Carson; the best I could say is that I know him by reputation. Having two baby-boomer parents, I would occasionally hear about how great the Tonight Show was during Carson's reign. I wanted a book that would take me back to that era and show me just what made King of Late-Night the royalty that he was.
I hoped for a biography that told about Johnny Carson's career, with a little insight into his personal life from someone who knew him well. I assumed Henry Buskin, Johnny's lawyer and friend, would have such a perspective. This biography just isn't it, though. Instead of focusing on Johnny Carson's craft as a comedian, which Bushkin admits himself was Carson's true passion in life, the story mostly revolves around Johnny's business and marriage troubles, with a few stories thrown in just to illustrate how Johnny Carson was a star among stars. A book mired in business nonsense, divorces, and contract negotiations? You are reminded at every turn that this book was written by a lawyer.
No time is given to Johnny Carson's youth or early career; the story opens with the hiring of Henry Bushkin, after Carson is already a star. The story ends abruptly with Henry Bushkin getting fired, with more time given to Bushkin's legal battles with Carson's financial firm than to the 30-odd years of Carson's life that followed the split. Johnny's work on the Tonight Show is only mentioned in passing from time to time, and even then it is only in relation to the business deals it facilitated. I understand that Bushkin was Johnny's lawyer and his most unique perspective comes from the legal and personal side of things, but I expect the author of a major biography to put in the effort to research and fill out the entire story of their subject's life.
In fact, taking the author into account, this book becomes more of an autobiography than anything else. I can't help but wonder if this was his intention from the start, but the publisher chose to rework it as a biography of Johnny Carson to sell more copies. It makes sense, who would want to read about the life of a less-than-world-famous lawyer when they could read about one of history's most influential television stars? But it really does the reader a disservice when you expect an account of Johnny Carson's 80-year life and you only get the 18 years that Bushkin worked for him.
Bushkin's account would make a great piece to a more complete biography, which I feel probably exists out there. But as it stands, I can't recommend this book unless you are solely interested in hearing about the life and times of a New York lawyer who worked for one of television's biggest stars.
68 of 77 people found this review helpful