Today on my show, a rare interview with Johnny Carson’s second wife, Joanne, who has just released a piece of television history on DVD — it’s a collection of TV work Johnny did before beginning his legendary “Tonight Show” run, including ten episodes of a half-hour CBS sketch show in 1955, and his daytime ABC quiz show “Who Do You Trust?”
We talked about why he shared these shows with her and let her keep them, how Johnny dealt with network execs through the years, and how well he handled it when things weren’t going well — not just when a monologue joke bombed, but also in situations like one on the DVD, a mishap during a live broadcast of “Who Do You Trust?” in which a contestant got locked into the isolation booth and couldn’t get out.
After I played a clip from 1955 in which Johnny made fun of a famous mind reader of the day (Joseph Dunniger), we discussed his interest in science and his skepticism for all things paranormal (he was a major supporter of James Randi).
We also talked about their relationship — from Johnny inviting Joanne up to his apartment to watch these shows with him, to their marriage falling apart under the pressure of his late night success, sending her into a suicidal depression.
Update 3/15/07: Joanne Carson refutes the way I phrased that:
I really had a great time talking to you. Johnny is my most favorite subject to talk about. Thank you for sending me your link. You ARE fun to talk to I hope we can do it again sometime.
I did want to clear up something on your website that may sound misleading….
“to their marriage falling apart under the pressure of his late night success, sending her into a suicidal depression.”
It was the New York social life that I made the comment about “had I stayed I would have died by my own hand”. All that Group A and Group B nonsense about where you live and what couture do you wear and who you know and where you vacation just made me nuts. I was NEVER suicidal. It is just a term you use when you can’t stand the unimportantness or the pettiness of something that everyone else runs around thinking is great. That’s what makes you crazy.
The marriage didn’t fall apart because of Johnny’s late night success I was always so proud of Johnny’s success because I helped build it, and besides we always were on the same page. I developed hypoglycemia and hypothyroidism from the stress of living in New York for 15 years and I simply had to come home. I moved to New York 5 years before I met Johnny. My condition had nothing to do with Johnny OR his career. Those two conditions were causing me a lot of roller coaster emotions and doctors didn’t have a clue in the 60’s what that was all about. They didn’t know that whole food would have stabliized me. I never had roller coaster emotions due to Johnny. We remained very close friends and I just simply loved him until the day he died, and I love him still. Living in New York caused all my problems. I’m a born and raised California girl and the transplant to New York never really took. Ask Bill Zehme how emotionally stable I am living in California where there is sunshine and whole food and where Group A to me is just a food grouping.
Another update 3/15/07: Bill Zehme points out that Johnny’s “Dillinger” character begat “El Moldo,” not “Carnac.”