Skip to main content
CNN.com /TRANSCRIPTS

CNN TV
EDITIONS





CNN LARRY KING WEEKEND

Encore Presentation: Interview with Ed McMahon

Aired July 20, 2002 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ED MCMAHON, JOHNNY CARSON'S SIDEKICK: And now, here's Johnny!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, where's Johnny?

He dropped out of late-night and our lives 10 years ago. So why do people still rate him number one?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNNY CARSON, FORMER "TONIGHT SHOW" HOST: I just want to say a few words about diarrhea.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Who better to ask than his sidekick for more than three decades? Ed McMahon, with an album of video memories that's going to leave you laughing. All next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Good evening. What a special night we have on LARRY KING LIVE.

We have a tribute to Johnny Carson with the man closest to him for all those years, his sideman for over 30 years, including a quiz show before that. Ed McMahon is our special guest tonight on LARRY KING LIVE, and what better way to begin it than with this historic picture.

Here's Mr. Carson and Mr. McMahon 40 years ago.

Earlier moment. Will you explain this to us, please?

MCMAHON: Well, a photographer came aboard. We were down in Fort Lauderdale at the old Gold Ocean Mile Hotel (ph) for two weeks before the "Tonight Show" started.

We had just finished the quiz show, "Who Do You Trust?" We both left the quiz show and we went down to Ft. Lauderdale, everybody came down there -- the writers, the producer, the director, and so forth, and we hung around the pool and we created Aunt Blabby and Karnac and Art Fern (ph). You know, all of those characters. But a local magazine, probably when you were down there they had a south Florida something or other, the "Palm Beach Gazette" or something. They came down and the guy says, "How about a picture with you holding Mr. Carson?"

So can we see it again, because I just want to explain what it is. Here I am, and I carried him for all those years. There he is.

KING: You were like right out of the Marines there.

MCMAHON: I was, yes.

KING: Look at that swarthy look! How did you and Carson hook up first?

MCMAHON: He just called me up. Not he directly, but my next door neighbor was Dick Clark. Person to person, Edward R. Murrow, our revered former broadcaster, he did -- and remember how he used to do it, he's like you in the studio and then the cameras went to the house.

It was a big deal, you know. CBS was next door to my apartment. All my kids were excited. So we went in there. When it was over, the owner of the apartment building invited us out to a party. So I was invited, and I went down, and I got there, and this fellow named Dan Kelly (ph) said, Hey, get up and entertain these people! I said, What? He said, These people from New York. Get up and do your stuff. Get up!

So I get up on the mic, you know, good evening...

KING: You were a radio announcer.

MCMAHON: Yes, well I was on television. I had been on television. I had gone back for the Korean War and I had just come back when this happened. So anyway, I got up and entertained off the cuff, and it was pretty good, apparently, because Dick Clark's producer came up to me afterwards and asked that wonderful question: have ever thought about going to New York?

Now the answer to that, and you've said it, Larry, the answer to that is every second of every minute of every hour of every day. And he said, I'll remember that. Now, you hear that part too, I'll remember it. You never hear another thing about it.

But he was in the little theater where Johnny was doing "Who Do You Trust?"

KING: Had he started doing it already?

MCMAHON: It had been on for a year, and his announcer, a gut named Bill Nimmow (ph), got his own show. In those days they wouldn't let him do two shows, that kind of stuff. So anyway, they needed a guy.

KING: Did you hit it off with him right away? MCMAHON: Right away. Yes.

KING: Now, there's still a lot of controversy. That was supposed to be "Whom Do You Trust?"

MCMAHON: Yes.

KING: Correct English. That was the wrong...

MCMAHON: Most proper, yes.

KING: "Who Do You Trust?" was wrong.

MCMAHON: That's right, it was "whom," but we didn't care. We did four great years.

KING: Did you ever say "whom do you trust" on the show?

MCMAHON: No.

KING: Did you ever discuss the controversy?

MCMAHON: I'm not sure. I think we did one time. I think we did. I know I did in interviews, but I didn't do it on the air.

KING: Were you surprised that Johnny, and we'll get to this more in a while, did that interview with "Esquire?"

MCMAHON: Not really, only because of Bill Zemby (ph). Bill Zemby (ph) is really good. Bill had maintained a relationship with Helen -- you know Helen, you've talked to her -- and Jeff Slatsky (ph), Johnny's nephew, who runs the Carson productions, and he would go out there and drop in and have coffee.

When it became obvious it was going to happen, he came to my house, interviewed me first. We did a whole thing about, asking me what to ask. I said here are the things that you'll get good answers for. And I gave him a whole -- a list of whole things to do.

KING: But he had been turning it down so long. Last time I spoke to him, he says, if I do you, I have got to do everyone else.

MCMAHON: I know. Do everybody else. That was his standard answer. He adhered to that totally. When I see him, and it's mentioned in that article, he holds his hands up. He said, Ed, I did it. When he left, that good-bye, when he said good-bye, and they've got that great shot in the "Esquire" piece of him on that stool at the end, you know that little monologue he did at the end, and when he said he was going to come back, he really meant it.

KING: Wasn't going to come back?

MCMAHON: Remember he said if I find something that I like, I'll bring it to you again. I hope you'll welcome me as you have in the past 30 years.

When I would go in the early days, the line would be, I haven't found it yet, Ed.

That would be the answer, and that would be the end of that discussion. Now, you've been around him. You know what it is. He's either doing card tricks on the corner or he's out the door. When he tells you something, it's pretty concise, pretty to-the-point, and pretty definite.

KING: Are you surprised that the show, 10 years after he's retired, recently voted still the number one late-night host.

MCMAHON: Isn't that great? I love it.

KING: I don't get that.

MCMAHON: I'm not surprised at all.

KING: The surprising part is that a lot of people, younger people, who are in their '20s, didn't see it.

MCMAHON: I know.

KING: Did you like him right away?

MCMAHON: Very much so, yes. We hit it off right away.

KING: How do you explain that?

MCMAHON: I don't know what it was. We were two -- I describe it as two kids going down a street kicking a can, two guys that liked each other, and we just were having fun.

We enjoyed each other from day one. I think like maybe the fourth or fifth show, it was a weekly, a daily show, rather, so five shows a week, and about the fourth show he said, want to have dinner after the show? Now out of the blue that came at me. I lived in Philadelphia.

KING: You commuted?

MCMAHON: I commuted back and forth for four years. I commuted the first three years of the "Tonight Show." I'd just built a house when Dick Clark got me. I had just moved into this house that I built, and I didn't want to go to New York. I just built my dream house, and here I am in New York.

Anyway, he said, you want to have dinner? We had dinner, and that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

KING: When he took the "Tonight Show," the first few years were in New York.

MCMAHON: Yes, well, for almost ten years.

KING: Yes, and did he ask you right away to be his...

MCMAHON: No! Oh, no, that was a closely guarded secret. Nobody knew who was going to get that shot. I was hoping -- Hugh Downs, he was quite established. And Jack Parr, Hugh Downs, and Steve Allen had Gene Rayburn.

It was a tradition of second bananas coming along. But it was not a fait accompli, because NBC wanted to keep Hugh Downs. Part of the deal with Hugh Downs was that they had to get him another show, so that's how he got the "Today Show."

They put him on the "Today Show" to appease the fact he was supposed to be the guy, and Johnny wanted me, and there was a tradeoff. Johnny took their producer, if he could get me.

Now, my contract, up until the last three or four years, I had to work six months with the new guy. Whoever replaced Carson, it said in my contract, I had to be six more months with the new guy. I fought like hell to get that out of there. I finally got it out, and my contract read, when Mr. Carson says good-bye, Mr. McMahon says good- bye.

KING: We're going to be showing you a lot of taped clips tonight, and they're all available in stores. You can buy all these Carson tapes.

MCMAHON: Yes, and they're wonderful.

KING: And he supervises them?

MCMAHON: Oh, yes.

KING: We'll be back with more of the saga of Johnny Carson, best told by his friend, compatriot, co-host, anchor, whatever -- Ed McMahon. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCMAHON: Why are you putting it over on me? I just cleaned you off.

CARSON: I was just cleaning off the desk.

Yes. Why do you repeat everything?

Come on. I'll double dare you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARSON: That -- that really kicks (ph) out...

(LAUGHTER)

I told you, remember? DON RICKLES, COMEDIAN: Could I do it a couple of minutes?

CARSON: No, no! That's no fun.

RICKLES: Give me a break. I'm so lonely.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCMAHON: Is that beautiful? What a night.

KING: Rickles -- that was -- Rickles had some great moments on (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

MCMAHON: Well, you know what was so interesting about that, and you know Rickles very well, Rickles had a dresser that traveled with him, Harry Goimes (ph). And he would lay out his clothes for him. I mean, he was that -- you know, Rickles was that particular.

KING: Meticulous, yes.

MCMAHON: The collar had to be just right. The scarf, you know, everything perfect. So, to have him thrown in there soaking wet, everybody loved it. All the times he nailed me, I was rejoicing when I saw that.

KING: There were so many surprises on that show. Carson was very different from Paar. What do you think his, for want of a better term, secret was?

MCMAHON: I think it was -- he was like every man. He was, you know, being from the midwest I think gave him a kind of a demeanor and a temperament and a style that, you know, he could be the next door neighbor. You felt like you knew Johnny Carson. You know, Paar was over there. Even Steve Allen, as much as you thought you knew Steve Allen, you wouldn't think of him as your next door neighbor. But you might think of Johnny. And I think he had that. And then he could be, which is wonderful, and I hope you have a couple of these clips that are a little salty.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW")

RAQUEL WELCH, ACTRESS: It's very reassuring in a way to know that all these fans are so interested in film personalities that they would like to come, you know, and even just look at your house and your shrubs, it sometimes it's rather embarrassing.

CARSON: I'd love to see your shrubs.

(CROSSTALK)

Any opening at all, I jump right in.

WELCH: Uh-oh.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MCMAHON: He could get away with a lot of stuff.

KING: Double entendre.

MCMAHON: He was Peck's (ph) bad boy. You know, and people would say -- oh, he would say something a little naughty. And then, well, it's Johnny. You know, it's OK.

KING: He's the devil.

MCMAHON: Yes.

KING: He drove to work, right, by himself?

MCMAHON: Yes. You know, I had a car and a driver. And he drove.

KING: And the monologue, they'd work on that all day long, right?

MCMAHON: Oh, yes. He would start in the morning. And in that article in "Esquire," it has something -- in the "Esquire," it has something that's interesting, that every morning he called his production office at 10:00 -- I didn't know that -- but telling whether he's coming in or not that day. But he called Fred DeCordeva (ph) every single morning...

KING: A producer.

MCMAHON: A producer, and that's when he started. You know, he started writing in the margins of the newspaper. He'd start getting jokes, he'd start getting an idea for a sketch. He would start, like, at coffee, 7:00 in the morning.

KING: Let's show you some more examples of Johnny Carson at work with some comedians you may know. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW")

GEORGE GOBEL, COMEDIAN: Without me, your show tonight would have been nothing.

(LAUGHTER)

This is a pretty fast league here.

CARSON: Oh, this is -- the A troops are out here tonight.

GOBEL: And I'm glad you saved me now, you know, because when you come on last -- did you ever get the feeling -- did you ever get the feeling that the world was a tuxedo and you were a pair of brown shoes?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: There was a funny guy. The late George Gobel. MCMAHON: Oh, was he wonderful.

KING: Never got enough credit, I think.

MCMAHON: Never. And I'll tell you what happened that night. You know, Hope had come out as a surprise for the audience. We knew that. We didn't know that Dean Martin was going to come out. Dean Martin was walking down the hall. He had taped his show. And he was walking down the hall. And he goes, Bally (ph), what's all that laughter on there? What's going on in there? He's got a drink in one hand, a cigarette in the other. And they said, well, Bob Hope just surprised Johnny Carson. He said, well, I'm going to surprise Johnny. So he came out, total surprise to everybody...

KING: So Gobel was going to be the prime guest?

MCMAHON: He was going to be the last guest. So, they came up and said, Johnny, you can't bring out George Gobel. You know, he starts so slow. He's like mercury, he gets there but it takes him a while. So he said you can't. And Johnny said, no, you can't do that to George. He's coming out. And he gave that line, the greatest line ever. Thirty years, that was the best line ever on "The Tonight Show."

KING: Who came up with "here's Johnny."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW")

MCMAHON: Here's Johnny.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCMAHON: Me. That was my...

KING: They didn't tell you to -- that was your idea?

MCMAHON: No. Nobody ever told me not to do it. Nobody told me to do it. But I knew I was right. The next morning, after we opened on October 1, 1962, October 2, when I walked into NBC, everywhere I went, everybody I passed, was saying, here's Johnny. I said, oh, I got it. Gold.

KING: Why did he move from New York?

MCMAHON: Because we were coming out -- toward the end, we were coming out of four months a year. And it just seemed like a natural thing. We had more fun out here. The studio was so much bigger. We were in an old radio studio at NBC, 30 Rock. And it wasn't really big enough. They only had 200 and something seats.

And out in California, we had 500-something seats. You could bring a herd of elephants through the back double doors. You couldn't do that. I once did a commercial...

KING: You did a lot of commercials.

MCMAHON: I did a lot of commercials, but I did a commercial with half a car. They couldn't get the whole car in the studio, so they cut it down the center line -- swear to God -- they cut it down the center line, and they lit it so it looked like I was standing in front of a full car. But it was only half a car. So, if you want a good half a car, I know where I can get one for you.

KING: You worked with a lot of his subhosts too, didn't you?

MCMAHON: Oh, yes, I did, everybody.

KING: Shandling, Joanie Rivers.

MCMAHON: Oh, yes. Everybody.

KING: They never made up, Rivers and Carson.

MCMAHON: No. He was upset that she didn't clear it with him. That was all. You know, she should have -- everything I ever did, I cleared with him. Everything I ever did, any movie...

KING: Meaning if you were going to go on this show, to tell him you're going to...

MCMAHON: Like if I would -- yes. I would say, I'm doing Larry King, just get his appraisal of that. You know, but, I always checked. And she didn't. She should've done it. That's all. It's too bad, because she was the heir apparent. She was going to be the replacement.

KING: She would have replaced him.

MCMAHON: Yes.

KING: At the end, he was working three nights a week, right?

MCMAHON: Yes.

KING: But you had to work five or...

MCMAHON: No. I finally got that in my contract, too. Not only did I leave when he left, I only worked when he worked. Because one night, I was supposed to be there. There's a very funny thing. I don't know whether you have a piece of that. It's a very funny piece. He says to me -- he says, well, we'll do that tomorrow night. I said I won't be here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW")

MCMAHON: No. I'm going to be out of town tomorrow. So...

CARSON: What do you mean you're going to be out of town? Tomorrow's Friday.

MCMAHON: I know that, but can I take a day off once in a while. You certainly invented it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCMAHON: Oh, big laugh, because he nailed it. No, but finally I had it. He worked Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. I worked Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.

KING: Now, at the end, when it was down who was going to be the replacement, Gary Shandling had a shot at it.

MCMAHON: Oh, he turned it down.

KING: He turned -- people don't know that. He turned it down over Leno and Letterman.

MCMAHON: Yes.

KING: And Shandling was very good on that show because he would go nuts.

MCMAHON: Sure.

KING: Which helped a lot, right? Were you surprised Leno got it?

MCMAHON: Not really, no. I knew toward the end it was going to happen because Leno had done a great thing. He had gone out to all the affiliates and he had done every single affiliate party you could do. In other words, in St. Louis, they're having a big black tie affair. Leno would come in and entertain at the black tie affair. So, he did that all over the country and he built up a league of people that liked him because of that. You know what Leno is like. He's a hard worker, you know, real...

KING: Was Johnny easy to play off? You were the straight man.

MCMAHON: Oh, sure. Oh, absolutely. I mean, he'd open up, you know. All those things that you got to know and like, like how cold was it, that all came from a little glance from him because I knew he was opening up. He would open up the door. He looked at me, he says, Ed, it was so cold today. And then he gave me that look. You know, that meant come on in. And I -- how cold was it?

KING: Our guest is Ed McMahon, another American treasure. We'll be right back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW")

CARSON: Tell you, it was really hot today.

UNIDENTIFIED AUDIENCE: How hot was it?

CARSON: It was worth the trip in, wasn't it?

(APPLAUSE)

Reminds me of my old girlfriend back in Nebraska, Gina Statutory (ph). Her name was Gina Statutory and she went to Lincoln High. And she was voted Miss Lincoln because every guy in school took a shot at her in the balcony.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW")

CARSON: Want some grapes?

MCMAHON: You know, it's...

(LAUGHTER)

CARSON: What does this weigh, about 50, 60 pounds? Oops.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She weighs about -- yes, she weighs about...

CARSON: They say if you can look an animal right in the face and talk to them, they say, then they know you're not scared. ASHCROFT: !

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCMAHON: Thank God I caught him. If I ever dropped him, that would have been our last night together.

KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) with animals, didn't he? He knew how to work off them.

MCMAHON: Yes, he loved them. And here's the things he loved. He loved animals, working with animals. He loved working with kids and he loved working with the unusual, ordinary people.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: And old ladies.

MCMAHON: Yes. He loved the potato chip lady. Do you remember that night? And he reached -- she looked -- I distracted her. She had all these potato chips, I'll tell the audience, but he'd had a potato chip that looked like a little candle. One looked like a little bird. And she had this museum, the potato chip museum. And she was serious. Black velvet in front of me with the potato chip. Black velvet in front of him with the potato chip. So, I'd distract her and Johnny picks up a bowl of potato chips and clomps in. And she grabbed -- I thought she was going to die. She grabbed her heart. And I just grabbed -- I had leaned over and he'd -- and then he would play the (UNINTELLIGIBLE), oh boy, didn't know, I'm awfully sorry. So, wonderful.

KING: He was. Were there bad nights? Did Carson have any...

MCMAHON: Oh, sure. We'd have, you know -- remember, for a long time, it was five nights a week. It was every night. I mean, it was not... KING: And it was an hour and a half?

MCMAHON: An hour and a half. It was an hour and 45 minutes, the first three years.

KING: That's right. He'd go on at 11:15.

MCMAHON: Yes, 11:15. I would do the first 15 minutes with Skitch Henderson (ph). He wouldn't come out until 11:30. I had to fill the first 15 minutes with Skitch, and not be too good.

KING: So, you would have a local newscast for 15 minutes.

MCMAHON: Yes, that's right, in those days. So, anyway, we got to five nights a week. So, once in a while, there would be a night and you'd get finished and, you know, you would say oh, boy. And he would look at me and he said, well, there's always tomorrow night.

KING: He'd also -- when the monologue didn't go well, he had a great way of taking advantage of that?

MCMAHON: Right. We talked about this the other night. And I reminded him this night. And I would do some things that are pretty brave. This was a brave thing that I did. The monologue was dying. It was getting nowhere, ending really bad. And they have a thing in our business, as you know, called flop sweat. When it get tough, all of a sudden you start to perspire. You know you're in trouble.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW")

CARSON: Now, how many of you know that I'm sweating a lot right now?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCMAHON: So I look at him and again he opened up the door. I walked out. I took him by the shoulders and I spun him toward me. And I said, you're better than this. And I gave him a pep talk and I slapped him. And at that time, there was a commercial running around, and the guy gets slapped and he says, thanks, I needed that. And, of course, he...

KING: An aftershave. Aqua Velva or something.

MCMAHON: Yes, that's right. Thanks, I needed that. And then right after that, the monologue picked up. It was perfect.

KING: By the way, here is Johnny Carson's first time with Tiny Tim. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW")

CARSON: We never met until just backstage a moment ago, didn't we?

TINY TIM, ENTERTAINER: That's right, Mr. Carson. CARSON: I'll think of something. Are you married? I'll put that down as a no?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCMAHON: Now, Tiny Tim was just like that. That was not a fake.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Also, when he wound up getting married on the show, that was one of the biggest shows.

MCMAHON: It was second only to the Super Bowl that year. And it was all done with a little ad lib remark. Carson, well, when you get married, you could come back here and get married. That became the biggest thing in the world. And it was so serious. But he was like that. He would say, oh, Mr. McMahon, oh, I'm so glad you're going to be at my reception.

KING: Johnny liked him, didn't he?

MCMAHON: Yes, he did.

KING: You could tell that he did. How did the Amazing Karnac come about?

MCMAHON: Karnac, I think that came out -- I know it came out of that thing we started with, that picture down on Ft. Lauderdale. He had always had in mind this idea of the fake, you know, the fake mentalist, a guy who didn't -- you know, he didn't see the future, but he could get some jokes out of it. And it came out of that.

KING: The idea to do it with the answer, then the question.

MCMAHON: Yes. That's right. Yes. And so he did that. He may have done it on radio. He might have done in the early days in Omaha in radio. I'm not sure about that. But I know that it came up during that two-week preparation time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW")

CARSON: Karnac is attempting to divine an answer while you're sitting here giggling. May I have silence, please?

MCMAHON: Yes. You've had it many times before.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCMAHON: But all of those characters -- Aunt Blabby came up, the great character that I loved, El Moldo (ph), remember, the (UNINTELLIGIBLE), you know, he got the black hair. He looked like Doris Korlov (ph).

KING: How about Floyd Turbo (ph)? MCMAHON: Floyd R. Turbo, sure, the redneck. You know, great. But he's doing the El Moldo, and I'm in the audience. I said, I have a lady in the audience. Good, get one for me!

KING: Did you -- you did the Budweiser commercials a lot during those things. And he made fun a lot of you -- how to put this mildly -- drinking.

MCMAHON: Yes.

KING: Was that inside humor?

MCMAHON: Let me put it this way. I'm an Irishman. I was a Marine fighter pilot. We do tend to have a drink once in a while. When you get back from one of those missions, you do want to take a little taste of the sauce.

KING: And Johnny would refer to this?

MCMAHON: He would refer to this, yes. He would kid about it because Johnny was not a very good drinker, to as he would admit that. You know, a couple of drinks and it was Wednesday. You know, so he would marvel at the fact that I would keep drinking into the night. He couldn't understand that, but I had great training in the Marine Corps.

KING: Was there a lot of tension backstage?

MCMAHON: Not really.

KING: No.

MCMAHON: No, no, no. The only thing that ever, you know, would ever -- provoked him, got him slightly irritated was if things weren't running right. If it wasn't going just...

KING: I wonder where he got that from?

MCMAHON: I wonder where -- how could a broadcaster be like that? How can that possibly be?

KING: We're all so...

MCMAHON: You want things done properly.

KING: Disgrace.

MCMAHON: You came up to the post, you did your job, you did it right, why can't everybody else do that?

KING: Why can't -- why don't flicks (ph) work? We'll be right back with more of Ed McMahon, our look at Johnny Carson. Also, later, we're going to ask Ed what he's doing because he's never inactive.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW")

RICHARD NIXON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: You come over on television like gangbusters. And, boy, I'm the expert on how important that is. CARSON: You're not going to lend me your makeup man, are you?

NIXON: No. I lent him to Lyndon Johnson.

BOBBY KENNEDY, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I ride up and down in my building every day in the elevator. And I see a man that says that he's Johnny Carson. So, great to see you finally.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not really him.

CARSON: Do you feel you're easy to live with?

ELIZABETH TAYLOR, ACTRESS: Well, I'm a Pisces and we're very sensitive.

CARSON: Yes, what does that mean? I was married to a Pisces once.

TAYLOR: I'm sure you were.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Tomorrow night, Liberace's former lover, Scott Thorson, and their private affair that was not for public consumption.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW")

JANE FONDA, ACTRESS: You were talking about Zsa Zsa Gabor earlier.

CARSON: I think everybody is talking about her.

FONDA: My sons said, you know, she was on Johnny Carson show one time. She came there with a cat on her lap. And she said to you, do you want to pet my pussy? And my son said that you said, I'd love to if you'd remove that damn cat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Carson's mastery -- that was funny -- was not saying anything. Just that look at the camera said enough.

MCMAHON: That's right. It was priceless with that. And our director was so great, the late Bobby Quinn, because he would just nail -- he knew that shot was coming, so he would just nail it. But there was a line after that that's pretty good with Carson and shows his, you know, his intelligent comedy. He did a lot of intelligent comedy, which really fascinated me. But there's a line after that where he says, after that look, there's a pause and he said, I think I might have remembered that. And I'm not sure that actually happened. I don't think it actually happened. I think she made that up.

KING: She made -- I think she used -- Jane looked great, though.

MCMAHON: But his line -- he did a line one night, Larry, that put me away. We're there and he's got Fernando Lamas. And he says to Fernando Lamas, he says you came to this country in a heavy, heavy accent and you went into the movies as a romantic character, a romantic lead, with that accent. How did you think you would be successful? Why did you do that? He said, and with that heavy accent, it was a good way to meet broads. Now, that was a pretty good line. Now, it calms down and Johnny says, Nietzsche couldn't have said that better, right? Now when the show was over, I said, where in the world did Nietzsche come from. He said, never throw a thing away. Save it all.

KING: He was very bright, or is very bright. We're talking like he's dead. He is very bright.

MCMAHON: He is very bright, and is still is to this day. You know, he reads everything. When an author would be on, you know, a lot of people they have a guest, an author. They can't read the book. Johnny reads the book.

KING: He was very opinionated in his politics.

MCMAHON: Oh, sure.

KING: But he would have had, as he said in the article, boy, would he have had fun with Lewinsky and that era and some of the other characters too around, far right-wing.

(CROSSTALK)

Falwell would have been funny.

MCMAHON: Yes, that's right. He would have had a lovely time. And he enjoyed that because he was like a thermometer for the country. You know, what Carson said at night people were talking about the next day.

KING: He was water cooler.

MCMAHON: That's right. Water cooler conversation. And the next day, you got a pretty good perspective as to what was happening in the country.

KING: He would also still work Vegas, right?

MCMAHON: Oh, sure.

KING: He would go and do weekends in Vegas.

MCMAHON: Sure. You know, like Leno works, you know, every weekend to keep that edge.

KING: Leno works clubs, yes.

MCMAHON: You know, and Carson would do the same thing, sure.

KING: Here's another example of Johnny Carson at work, maybe in the sexual innuendo field, with Dolly Parton. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW")

DOLLY PARTON, COUNTRY SINGER: I've always been pretty well blessed. People are always asking if they're real.

CARSON: I would never, I would never, you see...

PARTON: No, you don't have to ask. I'll tell you what. These are mine.

CARSON: I have certain guidelines on the show. But I would give about a year's pay to peek under there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCMAHON: Before he does the snapper, the joke, he says I have certain guidelines. He's setting it up so beautifully. I have certain guidelines on the show. That makes that even funnier after he establishes that he wouldn't do it, he does it. Very funny.

KING: Do you know why he was removed from his guests? Like people who were on hundreds of times, Albert Brooks, never had dinner with him.

MCMAHON: I don't know, to be honest with you. I don't know. He just -- you know, I told you about that door opening. If the door opened, certain people he would love to be with, certain people, like Michael Landon. He and Michael Landon -- now I wouldn't think the two of them would hit it off...

KING: Different generations.

MCMAHON: But they became bosom, bosom buddies. He and Buddy Rich. He and Buddy Rich -- Buddy Rich was so...

KING: Cynical.

MCMAHON: Away from him, you know, and yet they were -- and he really went through agony when Buddy Rich died.

KING: He would also bring his personal life to the show and discuss his marriages.

MCMAHON: Oh, yes. And my marriages too, mine too. Between the three of us, between Doc, Johnny and me, there were 10 little Indians.

KING: And he was not adverse to referring to alimony and things he would have to live with.

MCMAHON: No, no.

KING: How about his clothes? I remember his clothing line with Sonny Werblin (ph), very popular for a while, wasn't it? The Johnny Carson...

MCMAHON: Yes. Well, his ties, like they would want to wear his ties, they want to wear his coats.

KING: Sport jackets.

MCMAHON: Sure. Yes.

KING: It was the Johnny Carson line. It wasn't that expensive -- it wasn't cheap, but it wasn't $300.

MCMAHON: No, but it was not a high, high line. No. But it was perfect for, again, mid-America. That's was he -- he was mid-America.

KING: And how -- and they would do specials during the year too, Johnny Carson specials, but highlight shows where he would -- that would be in primetime.

MCMAHON: Yes.

KING: Did he do a lot of magic? Because he was first a magician, right?

MCMAHON: Oh, yes. He -- no, he did -- he was good. He was a good magician. But if you were at a party, and I'm sure you were around during the days where he would go occasionally to a party.

KING: Once.

MCMAHON: Just once? Well, at a party, and I say it in the article, I say he was great with 10 million people, lousy with 10. And it's true. But if you went to a party, you'd see him off in the corner. He'd have things, he'd be doing things with quarters.

KING: Coins.

MCMAHON: Coins. If I came in to see him at night before the show, I always met with him for about seven minutes before the show, I'd go in, he'd be rolling quarters on his fingers to keep agile. You know, he'd be breaking up cigarettes and disappearing cigarettes. And he loved to do that.

KING: Speaking of that, Johnny smoked a lot.

MCMAHON: A lot. Too much.

KING: Smoked on camera for a long time and then kept it under the...

MCMAHON: He had a little ashtray under here. And the problem was he was smoking those terrible cigarettes without filters. And what would happen is he would take a lot of puffs in that two-hour -- two-minute break, rather, and then get rid of it, and get rid of the smoke because he didn't want to influence anybody else smoking.

But he tried to quit many, many times. And now he is finally quit. It's over.

KING: The heart will do it.

MCMAHON: And you smoked for a while too.

KING: Sure did.

MCMAHON: I never smoked.

KING: I smoked under the set. I smoked on camera. Well, you remember when you could smoke on camera?

MCMAHON: You could. Sure.

KING: Sure.

We'll be back with more of the saga of Johnny Carson, best told by his friend, compatriot, co-host, whatever, anchor, Ed McMahon. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW")

CARSON: They're not sure. They say that they have to keep moving, but not constantly swimming because sharks do rest at night. So that doesn't mean...

MCMAHON: It's a quiet night. What difference would it make to a shark?

CARSON: What do you mean?

MCMAHON: What's the difference between day or night to a shark?

CARSON: The sun go down. And we all begin to shout hey, hey. Yes, the sun does go into the water. There are fish that only feed at night. And they're called night feeders.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW")

MCMAHON: Karnac the magnificent!

(APPLAUSE)

CARSON: Over 105 in Los Angeles.

MCMAHON: Over 105 in Los Angeles.

CARSON: Under the Reagan plan, how old will you have to be to collect Social Security?

Yahoo, serious.

MCMAHON: Yahoo, serious.

CARSON: What are the two stages of sex?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCMAHON: Oh, I love Karnac.

KING: And I love the look he gave you when you would always repeat the answer.

MCMAHON: Yes. He'd love that.

KING: There was tragedy in Carson's life. Lost his son, Rick, in a car accident. You lost your son of cancer.

MCMAHON: Yes.

KING: Was he strong for you?

MCMAHON: Well, the first call I got, it was Johnny Carson. The first call I got when it -- we knew when my son was dying, Michael was dying. And it took, you know, as it always does, it takes a while.

KING: How old was Michael?

MCMAHON: Mike was 45 -- 44, I guess.

KING: Died of what kind of cancer?

MCMAHON: It was colon cancer, started there, then spread up through the body. But we had him at home in the next bedroom, like it was the hospital room. He was right with us. I was with him at his last gasp and kissed him on the forehead. But the next morning, when it hit the papers, got in the wire services, the first phone call, Johnny Carson. The second, Steve Lawrence (ph), because Steve Lawrence had lost his son. There's a thing there. You just know.

KING: And how about when Rick, Johnny's son, died?

MCMAHON: Well, it was sad because I was...

KING: He was -- a car, right? He was taking pictures?

MCMAHON: He was a great photographer. You know, he took great pictures. And he was on like -- he parked the car on a shoulder and I guess there was a little hill there. And he was trying to lean out the window and get this shot. And all of a sudden, the tires started to slip on the pebbles and he rolled down the hill and he was killed.

KING: Did you call Johnny right away?

MCMAHON: I called right away. I was in the Caribbean, as a matter of fact, on a vacation and I called him right away. And I was on an island. It was hard to find a phone. I had to walk, you know, in through the inland to get to a phone. But I got to a phone and got to him. But that's a moment and it's...

KING: You know, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the loss of a child. You both had to deal with the loss of a child. It don't matter what age.

MCMAHON: Yes, it's tough. You never think you're going to bury your son. It never even occurs to you. You know, that was my oldest son. I never thought that would ever happen. How could that happen?

KING: What are you doing now, Ed?

MCMAHON: I'm doing everything. I'm going to do a show. I invited you to be on my show, and you aced me out. You have got some high dignitary, I don't know who it is. But you turned me down.

KING: Cheney.

MCMAHON: Oh, I heard of him. Anyway, I want you on, if we sell it. And we're going to do a presentation. And a gal name Cynthia Garrett (ph), who folks know from the telethon. She works with me on the telethon every year. And she and I hit it off...

KING: It's going to be a conversation...

MCMAHON: It's going to be like a party. It's going to be...

(CROSSTALK)

Not a real sit down with a desk kind of talk show.

KING: What are they calling it?

MCMAHON: Either "RSVP" or "The Party." We may just call it "The Party."

KING: Here's another famous Carson clip with Jimmy Stewart.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW")

JIMMY STEWART, ACTOR: There are nights when I think I feel him climb upon her bed and lie between us, and I'd pat his head. And there are nights when I think I feel that stare and I reach out my hand to stroke his hair, and he's not there. Oh, how I wish that wasn't so. I'll always love a dog named Bo.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCMAHON: Now here's Jimmy Stewart, right? He comes back four weeks later and tells a story about this lake in Africa. And, apparently, it was terrible to find it. You couldn't get it. You had to go through all kinds of agony to get there. He wrote this poem and he says -- I think I -- I may not have the right name, but it went like this. He said, we searched -- and the way, that hesistance -- we searched and we searched for lake Barengo (ph). And when you finally see it, its surface...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW")

STEWART: ... is as smooth as glass, but getting to lake Barengo is a genuine pain in the ass. (END VIDEO CLIP)

MCMAHON: You know, in those days, you couldn't say ass on television. You know, now, it's all over the place. But, then, they would bleep it. But Jimmy Stewart, they left it in. The censors left it in.

KING: Jack Benny was his idol, was he not?

MCMAHON: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. We talked about this often, how our backgrounds were similar. I was up in Lowell, Massachusetts, stretched out on the living room carpet, looking at the radio. People -- you know, in the old days, you used to look at the radio.

(CROSSTALK)

You looked at it. He was in Omaha, Nebraska, or Lincoln, Nebraska, stretched out on the living room carpet looking at the radio Sunday night listening to Jack Benny.

KING: Jello (ph).

MCMAHON: Yes, that's right. And what made the show work, the secret -- people say, what was the secret? Just like Benny, he made a family. He had Doc. He had Tommy Newsome, Fred DeCordeva (ph). He had me. He made that family. And that's what Benny did.

KING: And he knew how to pause.

MCMAHON: The secret of the pause.

KING: When we come back with our remaining moments, we'll begin with Johnny's last night. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW")

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi. I mean, I'm not prepared for this.

CARSON: That's OK. An unnatural fear of something. A lot of people are afraid of the dark. Ed has acrophobia, a fear of heights.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you?

CARSON: Yes.

MCMAHON: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We haven't prepared this. I'll tell you what leapt to my mind. You know, we are -- I do not like balls coming toward me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW")

CARSON: I'd like to do the whole thing all over again. It has been...

(APPLAUSE)

it has been -- it has been just a hell of a lot of fun. As an entertainer, it's been a great experience in my life and I cannot imagine finding something after I leave tonight in television that would give me as much joy and pleasure and a sense of exhilaration as this show has given me. It's just very hard to explain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: What was that like for you?

MCMAHON: That was quite a moment. I mean, we were all, you know, right on the verge of tears. We knew there was a party we were going to afterward. But for that particular moment, that really took us, you know, all apart.

KING: Were you shocked at the attention all around the world? I was in Israel that night. The attention all around the world over that night.

MCMAHON: Isn't that something? Yes, May 22. We just celebrated the 10th anniversary. And that's when I went to see him. You know, I knew he was going to be traveling. I think he's right in the middle of the Panama Canal right now. But, we had lunch on the boat because of that to celebrate 10 years. It's amazing.

KING: Here's Bette Midler on that show, singing good bye to Johnny. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW")

BETTE MIDLER, ENTERTAINER (singing): Make it one for my baby and one more for the road. A long, long road.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCMAHON: There's a line in that song that defines Carson totally for those 30 years. She sings this line. She says, and all the class that you showed, and it's all right there. He did it with class.

KING: He always did that, didn't he? He never stooped below -- he never played to the lowest common denominator.

MCMAHON: No, no. Class.

KING: Truly a one of a kind, right?

MCMAHON: Yes, absolutely.

KING: I mean, sometimes they come along...

MCMAHON: Never see the like again. Never. No one that good on television ever again. And it should have been No. 1 in that brooding. You know, well, I'll go "Seinfeld" -- here's what I'll go: "Seinfeld," "Honeymooners," Lucy, Carson. Should've been -- what, May 12, should've been four.

KING: Yes. Do you like the fact that when people say Ed McMahon, they think Johnny Carson?

MCMAHON: Sure.

KING: You do?

MCMAHON: Oh, sure. What a great coupling for me. That was wonderful.

KING: Because some sidekicks might get a little envious.

MCMAHON: Oh, I love that job. I mean, that's a tough job. It's a really tough job. To be there when you're needed and out of the way when you're not. Some people get there when they're needed, but they don't get out of the way. And you see it all the time. They overstay their welcome. You got to get out.

KING: Were you ever asked to laugh when you didn't think it was funny?

MCMAHON: No.

KING: Every time we heard that...

MCMAHON: No, that was it. I still laugh like that. You've seen me at parties. If I hear something funny, I laugh. I mean, I can't help it.

KING: Do you think anything would bring Johnny back?

MCMAHON: Nothing.

KING: No special, no...

MCMAHON: No. There is not enough money in all of Tokyo to bring him back.

KING: How about an idea that might bring him back?

MCMAHON: No. I thought when he was -- I mentioned earlier the fact that when he first went off, he really did look around. I thought he was going to do something on PBS about, you know, astronomy because he knows, you know, he really knows astronomy. He's got telescopes all over his house and he studies the stars.

I thought he would do like a humorous kind of show like that, but still tell us what it's all about. With all these things going on in space, he'd be able to explain that to the audience. I thought he'd do that. When he turned down the Oscar -- every time I saw Gil Kates (ph), he says, well, he turned us down again. For five years, the producer, he turned him down. So I don't think you'll ever see him do anything. I think the last thing he actually did was the Bob Hope thing when it was Bob Hope's birthday. I think he appeared on that and that was the last thing.

KING: This boat, he has -- he loves boats.

MCMAHON: Yes.

KING: He's on it a lot.

MCMAHON: Yes, a ship. It's not a boat. It's a ship. He used to kid me about my boat. My boat could be a dinghy on this boat.

KING: They closed the office in Santa Monica?

MCMAHON: Yes, that's closed. He's going to operate off the boat. He's got an office in the boat. He took one of the state rooms and made it a boat.

KING: And they still answer letters?

MCMAHON: Oh, absolutely.

KING: They autograph pictures?

MCMAHON: Sure. He reads the letters. He read the letters. Sure. He's a company man. I mean, he really works at being Johnny Carson.

KING: He's thinking, this is laughter -- I mean, people laughing when he's...

MCMAHON: But he still gets it. You know, he still gets it. And when you were -- like I wish there could be a camera on our lunches. We have lunch about four times a year. I wish there was a camera right there, just sitting there and watch us.

We went to lunch out to his favorite place out in Santa Monica. And it was right after the scandal in the White House in the Clinton years. And the waitress comes over, and I always ask the waitress' name. I hate to say miss or madam. I say, what is your name, please. I always ask for a name.

Now, you're Carson. I'm me. The waitress comes over. It's right at the height of that scandal. And I said, we'll have a couple of drinks and relax for a while. I forget, what is your name. She says, Monica. It was over. Three hours, we had on that one line, Monica.

KING: Ed, I called you a treasure. You are.

MCMAHON: Thank you, sir.

KING: You are a treasure. And Johnny Carson, we thank you for all your wonderful years of making people laugh. As someone once said to someone famous, thank you for the laughter of my childhood. For Ed McMahon and yours truly, Larry King, thanks for joining us and good night.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com





 
 
 
 


 Search   

Back to the top