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Interview With Ed McMahon

Aired December 29, 2003 - 21:00   ET


ED MCMAHON, JOHNNY CARSON'S SIDEKICK ON "THE TONIGHT SHOW": And now, ladies and gentlemen, here's Johnny!


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight: He and Johnny Carson changed television forever on "The Tonight Show." And now, 41 years after they began making history, Ed McMahon looks back at all those memories and all those laughs. Ed McMahon for the hour is next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Hey, it's always a great to welcome him to LARRY KING LIVE. He's Ed McMahon, Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show" sidekick, his second banana for only 30 years. Also a star, of course, in his own right, Ed hosted "Star Search" for 12 years, a multitude of TV specials, worked with Dick Clark on lots of things. And in this holiday season, we're saluting the release of "The Ultimate Collection: Johnny Carson." It's called "Starring Johnny Carson," volumes 1 through 3. And some of the clips that we'll show you tonight can be found on that three- disk boxed DVD set called "The Ultimate Johnny Carson Collection," available anyplace -- it's available anywhere they sell DVDs. Other clips we'll show you tonight are from a 10-DVD collection called "Here's Johnny: The Special Collector's Edition." It's available on the official Johnny Carson Web site at

How's he doing?

MCMAHON: He's doing great. I spoke to him -- you know, he had a birthday on the 23rd of October. I always call him. He calls me on my birthday, I call him on his birthday. And I like that day because that's the closest we are to the same age. On that particular day, he turned 78. He called me in March, when I turned 80. But for that little moment, we are...

KING: You're close.

MCMAHON: ... close. Right. So I called him. He sounds great. You know, there's some report about him being in another ill kind of situation, but he didn't sound like it. Had a couple of jokes for me, as he always does. But I had another time to call him earlier because on the 13th of October, that's when we celebrated 45 years together on the -- you know, "Tonight." We started on "Who Do you Trust," a game show, worked for four years, and then 30 years.

So he remembered that, which was very interesting. I didn't think he did because he's funny. He doesn't remember little holidays, and I was so pleased when he said, I thought of that yesterday, that we've got 45 years. So one time on the show, I really shocked him. I said, you know something? He said, What. I said, I've spent half my life with you. And that really knocked him on his ear.

KING: There were arguments about should that show should have been called "Whom Do You Trust," right?

MCMAHON: Yes. That's right.

KING: Wasn't that a -- that was a debate...

MCMAHON: Yes. That's right.

KING: ... among English teachers.

MCMAHON: Well, it started out, "Do You Trust Your Wife." Edgar Bergen did it out here in California. Then they wanted to expand. You had to have a husband and wife. So they wanted to have, like, two sisters, a couple of uncles, a cousin, whatever. So they changed it to -- you know. But "Who Do You Trust" had a ring to it that was good.

KING: In this holiday season, Johnny Carson so embodies laughter and good times.

MCMAHON: Oh, yes. Yes.

KING: Was he always -- and is he...

MCMAHON: Always.

KING: Is he reclusive?

MCMAHON: Well, he's very reclusive, as you know. He doesn't see anybody. I mean, I -- it's great...

KING: Why, do you think?

MCMAHON: I don't know. That's his plan. You know, he was never a -- you know, a busy bee with the social life. He did it for a while because he had to do it, kind of. But he didn't like it and he didn't want to do it. So when he could get out of it, he really got out of it.

But he is funny. What's wonderful about him is that he thinks funny. And no matter what subject -- I would go in to see him before the show. We would never talk about the show. We'd spend seven or eight minutes together, just the two of us often, and he would always think funny. It could be about the pope. Could be about the war. Could be anything in the world, some humor would come into it.

KING: What does he do with his days? He's on the boat a lot, right?

MCMAHON: He's on the boat a lot. He's got -- he moved his office. He closed his office in Santa Monica they had for many years. He gave all of his memorabilia away to a museum up in Nebraska. And they have a -- I've got to go and see this museum because they've got him in life form, one of those animatronic, whatever they're called.


MCMAHON: You know, he greets you. I say, "Here's Johnny," and he starts talking to you as you're going through the museum. But he gave all his stuff away, all the covers of "TV Guide" and the various magazines and all the things he had, and he moved a little office arrangement into one of the cabins on the boat.

This is quite a boat. He used to kid me about my yacht. You know, I had a boat -- a yacht. My yacht could be a dingy on this yacht. This is a biggie. And anyway, it's been reported, so I can say it's 130-foot. And when you're on there, it's pretty great.

KING: Is he happily married now and everything?

MCMAHON: Oh, very happily married, yes. And she watches him very carefully.

KING: Does he still travel?

MCMAHON: A little bit. Not a lot. He doesn't travel...

KING: He used go to Europe a lot, and tennis tournaments.

MCMAHON: He used to, yes. I don't think he went to Wimbledon this year.


MCMAHON: I don't think so. He spent most of this summer, I think, on the San Juan islands. When I spoke to him the other day, he was going to go down to the end of Baja peninsula, down to Cabo. But that's -- you talk to him, you talk boating. You know, Where am I going? Where have I been? What have I done. And the only thing he does -- that -- the company, you know, the production company, puts out these tapes.

KING: Our mutual friend, George Slaughter (ph), the famed producer...


KING: ... told me he -- Johnny called him one day, and he went out and had lunch with him, spent two hours on the boat...

MCMAHON: Oh, yes.

KING: ... just told jokes.

MCMAHON: Sure. Oh, that's what happens.

KING: Had a great time and left...

MCMAHON: I mean, it's great. We just...

KING: ... and it was...

MCMAHON: ... had a wonderful time. That's what happens to me. I go out and we tell jokes for two hours. It's great-

KING: Why doesn't he do a show? Any show?

MCMAHON: Oh, there's no way. If you could do him to do a show, that'd be the biggest rating of the year. Can you imagine if he came back with me and with Doc Severinson and we just did one show?

KING: One show.

MCMAHON: That would be great. He won't do it.

KING: I also asked him -- I spoke to him about a year ago -- if he'd come on this show. He said, If I come on your show, then I got to do other friends...

MCMAHON: That his...

KING: ... I got to do four shows.

MCMAHON: He uses that excuse. So now I don't even ask him anymore. You know, they come to me. They figure they get to me, I can get to him. So now I don't even ask. I just (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

KING: How did you first meet?

MCMAHON: We met because Dick Clark, my pal, Dick Clark -- I got back from the Korean war in Philadelphia, and Dick Clark, when I left, was a disk jockey. When I came back, he was red hot. He...

KING: "Bandstand."

MCMAHON: "Bandstand." He was on the cover of "Time" magazine. Everything was great. I moved into an apartment. They had saved an apartment for me. And I want to know who my next-door neighbor is. It's Dick Clark. Now, what a break for me because they did a big show on "Person to Person" with Edward R. Morrow. He used to sit in a studio like you, all by himself, and the camera would go out elsewhere -- did Dick Clark. After it was over, the owner of the apartment said, Come on down. We're having a party. So I went down. He said, Ed, get up and entertain these people. I said, What? He said, These people from New York -- get up and entertain them.

So I get up, told some jokes, sang a song, whatever. So Dick Clark's producer said, You know, you're really good. He said, I'm going to remember you. Well, you hear that, you know, nothing ever comes of it. He did remember me because he was in a little theater next to Johnny's office, and he heard they needed an announcer for that show...

KING: "Who Do You Trust."

MCMAHON: ... "Who Do You Trust." And I came up and met him. Apparently...

KING: Where did you meet him, in his office?

MCMAHON: In his office, the dressing room. And...

KING: And this was your interview, like?

MCMAHON: Yes, supposedly. Very few questions. Where did you go to college? Catholic University in Washington. What are you doing now? I told him a few shows. He said, Ed, it was great meeting you. And I walked out the door and got on the train back to Philadelphia. I figured I lost that job. And two weeks later, they called me. I got the job.

KING: Did you immediately click, the two of you?

MCMAHON: Yes. I'll tell you something -- and I reminded him of it the other day when I called him for the 45th anniversary. I said, That was the day you called me Lothar for the first time. You remember Lothar? He was -- you know, Mandrake the Magician. Lothar was the man that could solve anything, big guy, brute of a man. So I had to bring the questions out. He had the cards, and I brought the questions out. And he saw me. He jumped in place. He said, Lothar, you startled me.


MCMAHON: That was the beginning of our relationship.

KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Mandrake (UNINTELLIGIBLE), but Lothar was an evil guy. Bad guy, Lothar.

MCMAHON: He was tough. He was tough.

KING: As we go to break, let's go back to 1976, when a rising comedy star asks Johnny if he can check his messages from the phone on Johnny's desk. Watch.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Steve, this is Trudy. Don't be embarrassed about the other night. It can happen to any guy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hello, Steve. This is Victoria. Don't be embarrassed about the other night. It doesn't mean you're not a man. Talk to you later.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Steve, this is Bill. Don't be embarrassed about the other night...



(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP - "THE TONIGHT SHOW") JOHNNY CARSON: Every Lincoln's birthday reminds me of my old girlfriend back in Nebraska, Gina Statutory and -- name of 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.


KING: We're back with Ed McMahon, saluting Johnny Carson. And they've just released "The Ultimate Collection' Johnny Carson," volumes one through three. Hysterical -- these are hysterical.

MCMAHON: Oh, gosh. And they still hold up.

KING: Now, on the -- when he got "The Tonight Show"...


KING: ... he replaced Paar, right?


KING: Steve Allen started it.


KING: He was the first host of -- actually, before that...

MCMAHON: It was...

KING: ... "Broadway Open House."

MCMAHON: ... Maury Amsterdam and "Broadway Open House." Boy, you got a good memory.

KING: And Jerry...

MCMAHON: Jerry Lester (ph)...

KING: Jerry Lester.

MCMAHON: ... did it Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Maury Amsterdam did it...

KING: Tuesdays and Thursdays.

MCMAHON: In those days, they couldn't do five days a week...

KING: Right.

MCMAHON: ... so he only worked Monday, Wednesday, Friday. And Maury Amsterdam did Tuesday and Thursday. Do you remember who was the first sidekick with Jerry Lester?

KING: I know...

MCMAHON: It's a tough one. KING: ... it was Tom and George. Tom was a good guy, George was a bad guy.

MCMAHON: It's a tough question because it was Dagmar...

KING: Oh, I remember Dagmar. Oh!

MCMAHON: ... a very voluptuous lady.

KING: Who once did a record with Frank Sinatra, right, before...

MCMAHON: That's right. Yes.

KING: ... he quit Columbia...


KING: ... with Dagmar.

MCMAHON: And she would sit on a stool. And she was rather...

KING: Heavy.

MCMAHON: ... beautifully endowed. And you know, they'd walk around here, and there were a lot of, you know, double entendre jokes.

KING: Jerry used to right up to the camera, would kiss the camera.

MCMAHON: Yes. That's right. Yes. You remember.

KING: But then it was "The Tonight Show" with Steve -- and how did Johnny -- were you there when Johnny was asked to do "The Tonight Show," which originated in New York for a while.

MCMAHON: That's right. Well, what happened was, he got the show. Now, everybody was saying, Oh, you got the show. I said, Wait a minute. Nobody's told me I got the show. Now, his manager was a very good friend of mine, and he didn't even know. And the way that happens -- an interesting story. There was a restaurant, a famous restaurant, Sardi's, right next to the little theater. And so we're sitting there one night, and there was a lot of rumors, who was going to get the job. Hugh Downs was my predecessor. Would he stay on? Would somebody else take it? You know, Gene Raeburn had done it with Steve Allen. Would these people be available?

Nobody said anything about me. So we're there, having a little cheese and cracker and a little tasty substance. And he says, You know, when we take over "The Tonight Show" -- I said, Hold it, Tonto. What do you mean, When we take over? Oh, he says, I'm taking you with me. You know that. Like I -- you know, I couldn't assume that. I could presume that I would be on the show. That's how I found out.

KING: Was that a hit from the start, when he took it over?

MCMAHON: Yes. KING: And you did it in -- how many years did you do it in New York?

MCMAHON: We did it in New York for almost 10 years, and we moved out here in 1972.

KING: Now we're going to show you a clip here. Ed had a bad night back in 1973. He was -- and this is famous. He was doing a live commercial -- they did live commercials then on that show -- for Alpo dog food.

MCMAHON: Oh, boy.

KING: Problem was, the dog apparently wasn't hungry. We'll take a look at how Johnny helped bail him out. Watch.


MCMAHON: I'll put it down for you. There you go. Come on. Come on. Come on, dog. Well, Hernandez is a little -- yes, please. Come right here. Please. Nice Hernandez! Alpo. And next time you find yourself looking at the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- yes, nice Hernandez.


KING: How did the Alpo people react?

MCMAHON: Oh, they loved it.

KING: They loved it.

MCMAHON: Sure. They loved that. Yes.

KING: The chemistry between the two of you happened right away, right?


KING: You always -- he seemed to know your pauses.

MCMAHON: Yes. We worked...

KING: You finished each other's sentences.

MCMAHON: Yes. I liken it to two great basketball players taking a ball down the court. I get trapped. He gets -- I throw the ball to him, he goes a little, then he throws it back to me. And we worked our way down the court, but he sinks the basket. He's the star.


CARSON: You know, I've been depressed lately.

MCMAHON: Depressed?

CARSON: Yes. Depressed! Why do you repeat everything? I can go to Taco Bell for that. Why do you...


MCMAHON: And I could throw a line at him and know that no matter how good the line might be, if I get a big laugh, his take -- and our director, Bobby Quinn (ph), would take a shot of him right away, you know, boom, because that Carson take was wonderful. You know, he was a big fan of Jack Benny, as I was. And he, you know, had that take down, that wonderful look.


CARSON: Karnak (ph) 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.


MCMAHON: I tell you a story that's interesting. This was a great night. This was a -- he had some material, about five sheets of paper, and it wasn't really going anywhere. And about the eighth joke, we both knew this whole thing was going in the dumper, right? So I very bravely picked up his cigarette lighter, put it under the material and set fire to his material.

Now, imagine! You've got to be brave to -- I don't know if he's got a great joke on page two. You know, page one was pretty bad. So I set fire -- and he lets it burn, like Laurel and Hardy. He's looking at the fire. He looks up at the audience, and he looks at me, and he looks back at the thing and then he looks over. He says, You're absolutely right. Now, he reaches down and gets a wastepaper basket, lifts it up on the desk, takes the material, still burning, in his hands, takes the material. Just before he drops it in the basket, Doc starts playing "Taps."


MCMAHON: Well, I mean, it's priceless! You know, now you've put three writers in a room for a month wouldn't come up with that bit. You couldn't write it. It just happened.

KING: And those were the days -- I remember them well because I did it in Miami -- you smoked on television.

MCMAHON: That's right.

KING: We all smoked. Mike Wallace smoked.

MCMAHON: Yes. That's right.

KING: I smoked. Carson smoked.

MCMAHON: Well, I never smoked.

KING: You didn't smoke, but Carson smoked the whole show. MCMAHON: Oh, yes. But later on in life, he didn't want to let anybody else see it.

KING: He kept it underneath.

MCMAHON: Yes, he had a little ashtray under the desk. Yes.

KING: We'll be back with more of Ed McMahon. And as we go to break, the year is 1985, and the guest is a 32-year-old named Roseanne Barr. Watch.

MCMAHON: Oh, boy.


ROSEANNE BARR: So I am really a nice wife and all because, like, every year on my husband's birthday, you know what I tell him? I say, Today I'm going to be the wife you always wanted me to be. And I'll say really nice stuff to him just to build up his ego, you know, out of pure love. Like, I'll say, God, honey, you're so incredibly handy with those power tools. Why, Ethan Allen himself couldn't have handcrafted a finer spice rack. Now, your mother's the most interesting woman I've ever met.




CARSON: ... about 60 pounds?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She weighs about...

CARSON: Whoops!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, she weighs...


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


KING: We're back with Johnny Carson, as a memory figure tonight, as a -- looking back on all those -- some of the greatest television ever done. Arguably, the top five television shows of all time.

MCMAHON: I would think so. No question. I mean, he is the best thing that ever happened to television, really. In his art form -- it will never be duplicated.

KING: Were there bad nights, I mean, off nights...

MCMAHON: Not really. KING: ... guests didn't work?

MCMAHON: Not really. His attitude was, you know, if we had a bad night, which was very rare, and it was never that bad -- it seemed bad to us, maybe. But he would say, Hey, there's always tomorrow night. That would the closing line to me, while the credits were rolling. Well, there's always tomorrow night.


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


KING: Now let's take it to California.


KING: What time did you get there every day? What time did he get there?

MCMAHON: I got there about 2:00 o'clock every day. And if I had a rehearsal for a commercial, I'd do that at about 2:30. Sometimes I would tape them in advance. Most of the times, I did them live in the body of the show. And we always acted like it was live, by the way. All the clocks were set at 5:30.

KING: You went at 5:30?

MCMAHON: I mean, 11:30. So we would go at 11:30 on the clock. Anyway, I would come do that, do a rehearsal or do a taping. And then I would go into my office and hang around. If there was a sketch we had to rehearse, we'd do it in his office. We wouldn't even do it up on stage. We never rehearsed something like Aunt Blabby. We might do that in his office. If we did the Karnak the Magnificent, we never rehearsed that. So most of it was ad-libbed. So that's what we would do. Then about 5:25, I would go down and see him, and we would talk about anything else in the world except the show -- jokes about anything, whatever was happening in the news.

Then I would go down and warm up the audience. And I wouldn't see him again until he would come out on stage.

KING: He never saw the audience before the show?

MCMAHON: No. And he never saw any of the guests. He wouldn't go see -- like, Jay Leno goes to see every guest. Johnny wouldn't do it. He wanted everything to happen on stage. Smart.

KING: And he didn't buddy with them after the show, right?

MCMAHON: Not really.

KING: They all say that.

MCMAHON: Some of them. You know, Rickles and Newhart. Certain people he was very close to, he would have dinner with after the show.

KING: How did "Here's Johnny"...

MCMAHON: I just thought of that.

KING: Did you do it the first night?

MCMAHON: The first night, I -- I wanted to do something -- it didn't seem enough to say, Here's Johnny Carson. I mean, I just couldn't do that, I thought that afternoon. And I was looking all weekend for something. Hugh Downs had a great thing, "Yours truly, Hugh Downs." I wanted to have something that hung onto me. So I thought of that in the afternoon, and I tried it. I knew it was good because the next day, when I went to work, walking down the corridor at NBC, everybody was saying...


MCMAHON: Here's Johnny!


KING: He also had his own line of clothing?


KING: Sonny Werblin (ph) put him into that business.

MCMAHON: Yes. Right.

KING: Johnny did very well. Johnny made -- in 1960s, mid-'60s, he made $4 million a year. That's equivalent to $25 million today.

MCMAHON: Yes. Yes. And he finally did make $25 million in those days, finally. You know, I don't know what he was making toward the end, but it was in the high figures. And look what he did for NBC. You know, we had the same set, same carpeting. We changed the curtains once in a while. But they didn't crash a car. They didn't set fire to a building. And they made all that money.

KING: Did you like the move to California?

MCMAHON: Oh, yes, very much. Yes. We had come out here -- every year from the first year, we had been coming out. Toward the last years, we were coming out four months a year. And finally one night, very casually, he looked at me, says, You know what we're going to do? I said, What? He says, We're going to move to California. That's how he, like, decided, that night. And what was great about it was the studio was so much bigger. We were in an old radio studio in New York, 6-B. And it only held about 200-and-something people. Moving out here, we had over 500 people.

But the sketches -- he could do -- you know, you'd bring a herd of elephants in, if you wanted. Big, you know, studio out at NBC out in Burbank. So that was it. And it was wonderful. And a lot of stars lived out here. KING: The current hosts, Letterman, Leno and those, never have a guest host. Never have a guest host.


KING: Letterman occasionally might have someone sit in. When he was ill, someone sat in. Carson always had guest hosts, right?

MCMAHON: Yes, for weeks. He would be gone for three weeks. He had three weeks of guest hosts.

KING: Joey Bishop guested, right? Didn't he?

MCMAHON: Oh, everybody you can think of. Bob Newhart did it. Rickles did it. Frank Sinatra did it twice. Can you imagine Frank Sinatra hosting that show? What great nights those were. But everybody you can think of. You know, a lot of the people who went on to do shows later, like David Brenner or somebody like that.

KING: I mean, he liked helping people.

MCMAHON: Oh, yes. Letterman hosted.

KING: As we go to break, Johnny gets interrogated Dragnet-style by "Dragnet" star Jack Webb. This clip from 1968.


JACK WEBB, ACTOR: Now, can I have the facts? What kind of clappers were stolen on this caper?

CARSON: They were copper clappers.

WEBB: And where were they kept?

CARSON: In the closet.

WEBB: You have any ideas who might have taken the copper clappers from the closet?

CARSON: Well, just one. I fired a man. He swore he'd get even.

WEBB: What was his name?

CARSON: Claude Cooper.

WEBB: You think then...

CARSON: That's right. I think Claude Cooper copped my copper clappers kept in the closet.

WEBB: You know where this Claude Cooper is from?

CARSON: Yes. Cleveland.

WEBB: That figures. (END VIDEO CLIP)



MCMAHON: Karnak the magnificent!

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?


KING: We're back with Ed McMahon, sharing memories of Johnny Carson. Some of the clips -- the Johnny Carson show. He ain't dead, folks.


KING: Some of the clips we're showing you tonight can be found on the three disks boxed DVD set called "The Ultimate Johnny Carson Collection," available just about anyplace where they sell DVDs. And other clips we're showing you are from a 10-DVD collection called "Here's Johnny: The Special Collector's Edition." It's available on the official Johnny Carson Web site,

Also people with him, his brother, the producer...


KING: ... were with him forever, right?

MCMAHON: Oh, yes.

KING: People didn't leave that show.

MCMAHON: No, if you were there, if you had reason to stay there, you stayed there.

KING: Doc Severinsen.

MCMAHON: Doc Severinsen, yes.

KING: Skitch Henderson was first and then Doc, right?

MCMAHON: Doc was there from day one. Playing in the orchestra. And then when it came time for a change to a new guy, Doc had gone to, like, conductor's school, learned how to be a conductor. He took over. So Doc was there. Fred de Cordova was there the last few years in New York. And then, of course, out here, he was wonderful. But we had a good group. It was like a family.

Johnny was, as I mentioned, the admirer of Jack Benny. And Jack Benny had a family. He had Mary Livingston, he had Phil Harris, he had Don Wilson. He had a group. Johnny did the same thing. And de Cordova became part of the group. You saw him on camera. He had comments.

One night -- Tommy Newsom might have the funniest line. One night Johnny walked out. Johnny had a light tan sport coat and brown trousers. And he walked out and he started the monologue. And he looked over and Tommy Newsom had the same outfit.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Excuse me, are you and Tommy going somewhere together?

CARSON: I just looked over there. We look like Ray and Bob Eberly. Why didn't you check with me before the show. We could have found out what we were wearing.

TOMMY NEWSOM, BAND MEMBER, "TONIGHT SHOW": They told me there was only one outfit like this.


MCMAHON: He would have the funny line. But the next day, people would say, wasn't Johnny Carson funny? And they did that with Benny. Benny wasn't afraid to give somebody else the funny line. Carson would act like he was disturbed by a line I would have, he loved it.

KING: Sometimes, people just walked in, right? Hope would be down the hall, he'd walk in.

MCMAHON: Oh, yes. Dean Martin, one night. That was one of the great nights of all...

KING: When he walked in.

MCMAHON: When he walked in with George Gobel.


GEORGE GOBEL, COMEDIAN: I'm very glad to be here. And I'm going to tell you, without me, your show tonight would have been nothing.

This is a pretty fast league.

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

GOBEL: And I'm glad you saved me now. Because, you know, when you come on last, you generally get the feeling -- do you ever get the feeling that the world was a tuxedo and you were a pair of brown shoes? (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: George was a really funny guy.

MCMAHON: Oh, yes. But he didn't want to have him come out. Johnny wanted him to come out, but the staff said, you know, he's a slow starter. You know, spooky old Alice. Johnny said, "No, we're not going to do that to George."

KING: And also, that show used to start, people forget this, 11:15. There was only 15 minutes of news at 11:00. Carson had to do a 15-minute filler there.

MCMAHON: I did it with Skitch. I would do the first 15 minutes. You talk about a tough 15 minutes. You want to be good, but you can't be that good. You can't take away from the star. So we would have 15 minutes to fill until Johnny would come out at 11:30. And it used to be an hour and 45 minutes of show. In the very beginning, we did nine hours a week in the first year or so.

KING: You did specials, too.


KING: And he did Vegas. Johnny worked Vegas.

MCMAHON: Oh, he was great in Vegas.

KING: Great actor.

MCMAHON: Oh, great actor.

KING: He did a little magic, too.

MCMAHON: Yes, yes, he played guitar, he could sing, he could do a lot of things.

KING: What went wrong with Joan Rivers?

MCMAHON: Joan Rivers -- I think what happened is she didn't tell Johnny...

KING: That she had another show?

MCMAHON: You know, Johnny was nursing her along. I think the FOX people wanted her to take over a late night show. All she had to do was tell Johnny, and it would have been fine. Everything I ever did, no matter what it was, any other show, any other movie, any other thing that happened in my life, I would go and run it by Mr. Carson.

And I would, you know, treat it that way, that I was telling the boss, what do you think? Can I do this? Do you want me to do this? I did a couple of movies. But I always cleared them with him. And she neglected to do that. It was sad because she would have been the heir apparent. She would have had that job. KING: Carson was responsible for shifting the careers of many then unknown entertainers into high gear. Take a look at two in particular. Watch.


JAY LENO, HOST, "TONIGHT SHOW": Did you ever see David Jansen's commercial for Excedrin? The man looks like a headache.

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": I'm looking at this can and it says on there, "For the dog that suffers constipation." You know, the way I look at it, if your dog is constipated, why screw up a good thing, huh?


KING: That's funny. That's funny. Gave both of them their shot.

MCMAHON: Yes. And look how well they're doing, both of them.

KING: Was the saddest thing the death of Ricky?

MCMAHON: Yes, I think so.

KING: His son.

MCMAHON: He really had problems with that. And, you know, he didn't come back. We were on vacation, and he didn't come back at the end of the vacation for at least a week, maybe two weeks. And he did come back, and he did a lovely tribute to Ricky at the end of the show.

Ricky was a photographer. That's how he died, as a matter of fact. He was in his car, leaning over the car, on gravel, and trying to get a certain shot. And I guess the car slid down the side of the hill. And that was it. And I'll tell you something nice about Johnny.

My son died later. And the first phone call I got was from Johnny Carson. The first one that called me. And they knew my son Michael was going to die, because he had been sick, you know, with cancer for about six months. But when that happened, when that was announced, he was the first one to call.

KING: I remember dressing with him at the television hall of fame, he inducted David Brinkley, Huntley and Brinkley. And I inducted David Susskind. And we were the presenters. And he was funny. Another thing about Johnny, very smart.

MCMAHON: Oh, yes. Well read. He would read everything. He would have a guest on -- a lot of people, you know, you have a guest on, you can't read the book. You're busy, you've got a show every night. But he somehow would read that book. So that he really, when he interviewed someone, especially in the early years, where we had that extra 45 minutes, the extra half hour over the hour, he would know that book pretty well. If it wasn't in the notes, he would be able to come up with something.

KING: Nothing is eternally forever terrific. What was the downside of Johnny, working with him?

MCMAHON: I think he couldn't handle you not doing your job well. The only time I saw him really angry in the show operation was if somebody screwed up the sound. Somebody wasn't doing something right with the sound. Or if somebody was talking and not paying attention to their job. That would infuriate him.

KING: Did he have a quick fuse?

MCMAHON: Oh, yes, a quick fuse on that. I saw that a couple of times. But otherwise, pretty easy to work with. My attitude with him was, you do your job, and you won't hear a thing. High praise from Johnny Carson was, no mention of anything.

KING: Did you mind him kidding you about your beer drinking?

MCMAHON: Oh, no, not at all.

KING: You were the Budweiser spokesman for a long time. And he had a lot of fun with that.

MCMAHON: Oh, yes. And, you know, there again, Jack Benny. Phil Harris was the party guy. Johnny said, Ed was celebrating today. He had a lot of drinks. The sun came up.

KING: As we go to break, another Carson classic, an animal expert. Jim Fowler's guest goes ape on the set. Take a look.


JIM FOWLER, NATURALIST: Here's your chair.



I'll put this chair on.

Man and his monkey.

Let's go. Doc, on your chair.




CARSON: I told you never.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could I do it a couple of minutes?

CARSON: No, no! UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just give me a break, I'm so lonely.


KING: Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE with Ed McMahon and this holiday season, saluting Johnny Carson and the issuing of the ultimate collection, Johnny Carson, starring Johnny Carson, volumes one through three. Thirty years, 4,000 shows, 25,000 guests.

Did you have a favorite guest?

MCMAHON: Well, you know, I love Rickles. I mean, Rickles to me -- he was just -- he just start him off and he would go. Of course he always destroyed me. He was a really good friend. And I would be having dinner with him afterwards. But he would just destroy me. And of course, he loved the drinking, to kid me about the drinking.


DON RICKLES, COMEDIAN: I don't need you to belch. I hope your beer truck blows up.


KING: Did any guests disappoint you?

MCMAHON: That's a good question. I tell you what disappointed, no particular names, but when NBC would have a new show with a starlet, you know, a beauty...

KING: You've got to put her on.

MCMAHON: You had to put her on -- had to get her on to plug the show and build it up, and NBC would insist. And Johnny would yield and say well maybe something, right?

And she'd get one of those stares, you know, Johnny would ask the first question and Johnny had a look to me which is so great. I'll try to give it to the audience here.

But that look to me...

KING: A bad guest.

MCMAHON: Yes, bad guest. He would look at me and go -- all right?

And pretty soon we would go to commercial. And then she would be moved on the couch.

KING: Quickly, back in 1988, a certain rising star in national politics was the subject of Johnny's longest introduction ever. It took three minutes and 42 seconds to bring this guest on. This is an abridged version.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CARSON: My first guest tonight became a media celebrity last week when he delivered the nominating speech for Michael Dukakis at the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta. Bill Clinton is a four-time governor of Arkansas. He also oversaw Arkansas's once depressed state economy, rebound prosperity through his programs of welfare reform, public health plans and consumer protection, including a tight rein on utility rates. Governor Clinton expanded his horizons as a Rhodes scholar at England's renowned Oxford University. He returned to America, which brings us full circle to my first guest. Bill Clinton, a man who loves his state. Here's a man who needs no introduction. The honorable Bill Clinton of Arkansas.


CARSON: Well, governor, I thank you for coming here tonight. And my first question is, how are you?


KING: For those who may not know, Bill Clinton did the longest keynote speech in the history of American politics at the Dukakis convention. And that famous moment after 48 minutes, when he said, in closing -- the entire audience stood up.

MCMAHON: Stood up and applauded, yes.

KING: Do you remember?

That was a three-minute, 48-second introduction.

MCMAHON: Imagine pulling that off and getting laughs all the way through.

KING: To get the continuous laughs going through. The show won six Emmys.

Was he competitive?

Was Johnny worried about what was on opposite him?

MCMAHON: Kind of. You know, yes, he was aware of that. You know, we would get a kick out of what they would throw after us -- or at us, rather. "Starsky and Hutch" was hot in primetime. While it was still on the air in primetime, they put it on against Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show." Whatever they put there didn't mean a thing. So, he was flattered by that. But he was concerned that, you know, they might come up and, you know, break down something that wasn't going right, or penetrate a little bit. But nothing ever did. But he was well aware of that.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You guys are terrible. You either come from work, you read the news, watch the football game or baseball game and nobody can talk to you. So I wait, when my husband takes a bath, and then I'll take my accordion and sit on the toilet seat, Johnny. (END VIDEO CLIP)

MCMAHON: He woke up in the morning, he's having his coffee, and he's already getting ready for that show. He's writing jokes in the margin of the paper. He's writing sketch ideas, and doing things from 8:00 in the morning all day long he devoted time to that show.

KING: I am told he won a personal six. The show won more than six Emmys, but he won six Emmys.


KING: Did you sense when he was troubled?

MCMAHON: Troubled in his marriages or...

KING: Bad things happening in his life. You now, bad days.

MCMAHON: Yes, sure, I would feel that. The marriage wasn't going well, I would be aware of that. But again, he would always try to put that into some framework of humor. At least for me and for the close people around him. He wouldn't let that show. But you could tell, you know, that something was bothering him. And how brave of him to come back out and, you know, go to work, do the job.

KING: Did he leave the stage right after the show?


KING: He did not hang around?

MCMAHON: No, no, there was no hanging around. There was no milling. He would go right down, change into grubby clothes, and might have -- I would never go down there. I never would go in afterwards. The first show, the first night, we finished the show and everybody ran down to his dressing area.

And I was outside the door and I said, do I want to go in here?

Do I want to hear, you should have and why didn't you, I'm not going to go in. Nobody ever told me to go in. I never went in. Thirty years, I never went in to a meet him afterward. And no one ever said anything. But he would go in. But he would change quick into...

KING: Did he drive himself to work?

MCMAHON: Drive home. He would get in the corvette and...

KING: He drove himself?

MCMAHON: He drove himself to work. He kidded me with my driver, but he would drive home.

KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments with the delightful Ed McMahon, don't go away. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARSON: Does that lower the value of the chip when it...


CARSON: Obviously it's been restored. Sometimes that -- like the Mona Lisa, you know. And here's a -- this is a...


CARSON: That's a nice little candle.



MCMAHON: Look at this one, Johnny.








CARSON: Thank you.


KING: Before we talk about Johnny's last show, there was some seriously racy discussions, even by today's standards. For example, when Ed conducted an astronomical interview with Johnny as Carl Sagan, it was definitely not ready for prime-time, at least in 1983. Look.


MCMAHON: There's a theory that our universe began with a giant explosion called the big bang. What came after the big bang?

CARSON: We don't know for sure, but we think it's the big cigarette.

MCMAHON: For those of us who aren't familiar with your field, could you define astronomy?

CARSON: Certainly. Astronomy is where you walk into a singles bar, you ask some chick her birth sign, she says Virgo, you spring for a couple of harvey wallbangers, and before you know it, she's not a Virgo anymore.


MCMAHON: Oh, that's great. Oh.

KING: The last night, there were no guests, right?

MCMAHON: No. It was just a retrospective night. There was a series about the ones who -- the guests who had departed, no longer with us. There were some of the great moments, not necessarily hilarious moments, funny moments, but great moments in television broadcasting moments. And it was just he on a stool. And, you know, very warm, very friendly, very lovely. He did that great thing where he said...


CARSON: I can only tell you that it has been an honor and a privilege to come into your homes all these years and entertain you. And I hope when I find something that I want to do and I think you will like, come back to be as gracious inviting me into your home as you have been. I bid you a very heartfelt good night.


MCMAHON: Then he left the stool. We were all kind of weeping a little bit. Everybody in the audience was weeping. My family was there, his family was there. And he just walked off. Straight ahead. Didn't even look at me. He went right by me. Alex was there. She grabbed him. They went out and got in the helicopter, went out to Malibu. Landed at the house.

And then all of us came out. And everybody was invited that worked on the show. This was a nice thing. And this pretty much tells you a lot about Johnny Carson. Everybody who worked on the show, who really worked, no executives of NBC, just the pages, the backstage guys, the prop guy, anybody who worked, all the band guys and their wives came to a great party.

So we got out to the house. And I had been to the house before. None of my family had been to the house before. So we got out of the car, and I said, I want to go see what the tent looks like. So the tent's across the street over the tennis court. So I walk over and I look, and here are the bandstand. Nobody's on the bandstand but just LB, Les Brown. And I turned to my sons and my daughters, and I said, this is going to be a hell of a party. If Les Brown is the band of renown that's playing there. And we went it was -- it was just (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Everybody involved, and their families.

KING: And was he a warm host that night?

MCMAHON: Oh, absolutely. A perfect host. You know, really got involved, and got up and was very warm and thankful. And he even said, made a remark that was very good. He said, I wanted you to see my house, because you helped me get this house. And I wanted to thank you. KING: Will he ever write a book?

MCMAHON: I don't know. It may be too late now. It may have gone on too -- too far removed. I don't know.

KING: Nothing then would bring him back to this?

MCMAHON: Not that I can think of. He wouldn't come back for NBC's 75th anniversary. He was kidding them. He really had them -- he had them hook, line and sinker, because he told Rick Ludwin (ph), his pal, good friend, he said -- Rick, you know, we want you on the show. And he said, well, I'll be on my boat in the Panama Canal. And he said, we can do a satellite pickup from there. And they went for it. And then he said, no, I am only kidding, we're not going to do that. But you'd think if he was going to make -- imagine if he walked out on that show, the 75th anniversary show?

KING: Why do you think he didn't?

MCMAHON: He just...

KING: He was so much a part of that world.

MCMAHON: He's just basically a shy person. And that's it. He's very happy. He's content with his life. He's got a good marriage. And he likes what he's doing.

KING: How do he get along with the suits?

MCMAHON: The suits, he would tolerate. The only one he really liked, I think, was -- well, he liked Dave Tebbitt (ph). You know, Dave Tebbitt (ph) you've heard about.

KING: Sure.

MCMAHON: Brandon Tartikoff. Of course your audience knows about Brandon.

KING: You bet. You bet.

MCMAHON: He and Brandon were great friends. But when people asked me what he's doing, I've got a great line. I said, Johnny Carson is doing nothing, and he's doing it very, very well.

KING: Do you miss him? Do you miss the show?

MCMAHON: You know what I miss? I miss hanging out with him. I just miss being around him, you know. It's like I was saying to someone the other day, I said, you know what I miss? I just miss playing with Johnny. You know, just being there, having fun.

KING: This was -- we sure...

MCMAHON: Thank you very much.

KING: Happy holidays. MCMAHON: Thank you, Larry. You, too.

KING: Ed McMahon, Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show" sidekick, his second banana for only 30 years. We hope you enjoy this. And we thank and hope you enjoyed all the tapes. And don't forget the new ultimate collection starring Johnny Carson. Thanks for joining us. Good night.


CARSON: Who do we have tomorrow?

MCMAHON: I don't know. I'm not going to be here. I don't know.

CARSON: Are you putting me on?

MCMAHON: No, I'm off, 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 am going to be -- I know that, but I can take a day off once in a while. You certainly invented it.




KING: Hope you enjoyed this wonderful evening with Ed McMahon, reminiscing about one of the true legends, Johnny Carson.

Stay tuned for news on "NEWSNIGHT." See you tomorrow. Good night.


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