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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

May 22, 1992

Welcome to the twenty-second day of May! It's Tuesday, so we're going to take a look back at some of the most significant events to take place on this date in history.

I imagine that there are some of you who are having a birthday today, and to you, I wish you a happy one filled with joy, happiness, and birthday cake. You also happen to be sharing a birthday with the following famous people; Michael Constantine, Peter Nero, Richard Benjamin, Frank Converse, Bernie Taupin, Al Corley, Morrissey, Ann Cusack, Mark Christopher Lawrence, Naomi Campbell, Anna Belknap, Alison Eastwood, Sean Gunn, A.J. Langer, Ginnifer Goodwin, Katie Price, and Apolo Anton Ohno.

Now we're going to take a look at some of the significant events that have taken place on this date in history, beginning with...

1659 – France, England, and the Netherlands sign “Hedges Concerto” treaty

1807 – A grand jury indicts American Vice President Aaron Burr on a charge of treason; that same day, the British town of Chudleigh is almost completely destroyed by fire

1809 – Napoleon Bonaparte is repelled by an enemy army during the Battle of Aspern-Essling

1848 – Slavery is abolished in Martinique

1856 – Congressman Preston Brooks beats Senator Charles Sumner with a cane in the hall of the United States senate following Sumner's “Bleeding Kansas” speech

1859 – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is born

1872 – American President Ulysses S. Grant signs Amnesty Act of 1872, restoring full civil rights to all except for 500 Confederate sympathizers

1897 – Blackwall Tunnel underneath River Thames opens

1906 – Orville and Wilbur Wright are granted American patent #821893 for their “flying machine”

1915 – Eruption of Lassen Peak

1939 – Germany and Italy sign the Pact of Steel

1942 – Mexico enters World War II on the side of the Allies

1947 – The Truman Doctrine is signed

1960 – Most powerful earthquake ever recorded strikes southern Chile with a magnitude of 9.5

1980 – Namco releases the video game “Pac-Man” in Japan

1987 – Hashimpura massacre in Meerut city of India

1990 – Microsoft releases Windows 3.0

2002 – The remains of missing White House intern, Chandra Levy, are found in Rock Creek Park

2003 – PGA golfer Annika Sorenstam becomes the first woman to play the PGA Tour in fifty-eight years

2004 – Hallam, Nebraska is devastated by a powerful F4 tornado, with a width of 2.5 miles

2011 – The single deadliest tornado in America since record keeping began in 1950 strikes Joplin, Missouri, killing 161 people

Wow...volcanoes, tornadoes, earthquakes...May 22 seems to be the national day for natural disasters.

Today's look back through time doesn't have any natural disasters in it, but it does contain one of the most memorable television broadcasts ever shown.

And, we're only going to go back in time twenty years to May 22, 1992.

1992 was a year in which a lot of long-running series went off the air. “Growing Pains”, “Who's The Boss”, “MacGyver”, "The Cosby Show", “Jake and the Fatman”, “The Golden Girls”, and “Hee Haw” saw their final episodes air that year.

And in the world of late night talk shows, one man hung up his microphone for the final time.

On May 22, 1992, Johnny Carson hosted “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” for the last time. Three days later, the hosting duties would be taken over by Jay Leno. And below, you can watch Carson's final opening introduction of that broadcast.

Here's the frustrating part about that date. When Johnny Carson hosted The Tonight Show for the final time, I was just eleven years old. And, unfortunately, when I was eleven, my bedtime was at 10:00pm, so I ended up missing the whole thing. In fact, I ended up missing practically Johnny's entire run on NBC. But after watching old clips on YouTube that feature the host in action, I knew that I had to do a spotlight on Johnny Carson. After all, he did host The Tonight Show for thirty years. There's a lot of ground to cover.

Johnny Carson was born in the town of Corning, Iowa on October 23, 1925, and moved with his family to Nebraska when he was eight years old. At twelve, he discovered a magic book at a friend's house and purchased a mail-order magician's kit. He called himself “The Great Carsoni”, and was paid three dollars for his first gig at the age of fourteen. Soon after, he began to perform at county fairs and company picnics, setting the stage for his future career.

In 1943, he joined the United States Navy, received V-12 officer training at Columbia University, and continued to perform magic. He even managed to post a 10-0 amateur boxing record while serving onboard the USS Pennsylvania!

Following his stint in the Navy, he attended the University of Nebraska, joined a fraternity, and began charging $25 for his magic appearances. He ended up graduating in 1949 with a bachelor of arts degree in radio and speech with a minor in physics.

Now, how's that for having a major that contradicts a minor?

Carson began his broadcasting career in 1950 at WOW radio and television in Omaha, Nebraska, and from there hosted a morning show called “The Squirrel's Nest”. One of his routines on that show was going up to the roof of the courthouse and interview the pigeons, hoping that they would coo all of the political scandals that were happening within.

Okay, so his hosting style was a bit zany in comparison to other hosts...but the public loved it.

Within the next few years, Carson would work at the Los Angeles based television station KNXT, and he ended up getting the gig which would propel him into stardom. Comic Red Skelton was a fan of “Carson's Cellar”, a low-budget comedy show that Carson started up at KNXT which ran between 1951 and 1953. He immediately hired Carson as a writer for his own show in 1953. Then one day in 1954, a freak accident during rehearsals caused Skelton to accidentally knock himself out cold just an hour before the show was to begin. His LIVE show.

So, Johnny Carson stood in for the host while he recuperated in hospital, and this ended up being the start of it all. The following year, Carson was asked to appear on The Jack Benny Show during the opening and closing segments, and Benny was heard to remark that Carson would end up having a successful career as a comedian.

During the next few years, Johnny Carson would end up hosting several quiz and talk shows. He became the host of game shows “Earn Your Vacation” and “Who Do You Trust?”, hosted a variety show simply titled “The Johnny Carson Show”, and was a regular panelist on “To Tell The Truth” until 1962. His stint hosting the show “Who Do You Trust?” was notable for a couple of reasons. One was the fact that the show soon became one of daytime television's most watched programs of the late 1950s, which surprised Johnny a lot because he felt that the move to daytime television would kill his career. And secondly, it was through that show that he would end up meeting a man by the name of Ed McMahon, a man who would inevitably become a huge part of Johnny's life for several decades.

Then came the offer of a lifetime while Johnny hosted “Who Do You Trust?”. In 1962, the then host of The Tonight Show was Jack Paar, and he had decided the previous year that he would be moving on to other projects.

TRIVIA: Jack Paar, himself, was the replacement host for the original Tonight Show host, Steve Allen.

Carson's success with “Who Do You Trust?” lead to NBC offering Carson the gig as host of The Tonight Show a few months before Paar would vacate the hosting chair. Carson initially declined the offer, because he wasn't sure he could handle the pressure of interviewing celebrities within a 105 minute long show for five nights a week.

But after Bob Newhart, Jackie Gleason, Joey Bishop, and Groucho Marx declined the offer to host the show as well, NBC asked Carson again to reconsider hosting. In March 1962, Carson did accept, but it would take six months for him to start, as he was still under contract with ABC until September 1962. So, Carson finished off his run of “Who Do You Trust?” while NBC substituted guest hosts such as Merv Griffin to run “The Tonight Show”.

Finally, on October 1, 1962, Carson, just days shy of turning 37 years old, took over as the third host of “The Tonight Show”. He was still apprehensive about the job at first, and the 1962/63 season was a difficult one in both the ratings as well as Carson's own hosting skills. But soon Johnny began to feel more at home, and by the end of 1963, he had overcome his fears and doubts, and ratings began to improve dramatically.

Assisting Carson in his show was Ed McMahon, who Carson insisted become his announcer and sidekick. And, really, when you stop and think about it, could you imagine anyone else delivering the “Heeeere's Johnny!” opening line better than McMahon?

(Well, aside from Jack Nicholson in the 1980 film, “The Shining”?)

And, Carson really put his own stamp on the show. He created and assumed the roles of several characters on the show including Floyd R. Turbo, Art Fern, Aunt Blabby, El Mouldo, and of course, Carnac the Magnificent. Oh look, here's a clip of Carnac in action below.

There's actually a whole list of these Carnac gags available for viewing. To see the list, click on the link below.

And, just before we get to the final show, let's add some more trivia about Carson's reign as host of The Tonight Show.

Did you know that The Tonight Show had a live band during Carson's entire stint as host? Well, when Carson began hosting the show in 1962, the band leader was Skitch Henderson, followed by Milton DeLugg. The longest serving leader was Doc Severinsen, who served in the position from 1967 to 1992.

Did you know that the theme song for “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” was written by Paul Anka?

Did you know that Groucho Marx was Johnny Carson's first guest?

Did you know that Johnny Carson very rarely socialized with his guests before or after the show? In fact, when Orson Welles appeared as a guest, he remarked that he was astonished that Carson dropped by his dressing room to say hello to him before the show began, as he wasn't known for doing that.

Did you know that Carson's hosting style was considered to be so “cool” that he often would break for a commercial when the interview was not going as well as he thought? It's true. In fact, Baretta star Robert Blake once compared the experience of being interviewed by Carson to that of facing a death squad. Still, the publicity that celebrities would get from an appearance on the show was worth that risk.

Did you know that Carson very rarely laughed during interviews...only doing so when he was genuinely amused? Here's a clip of a 1979 interview with Dolly Parton that illustrates this.

Did you know that Johnny Carson's show helped launch the careers of several up and coming stand-up comedians? And, that if Carson liked the performance, he invited the comic to join him in the chair beside his desk for an impromptu interview? Very few comics got that privilege, so it was a dream come true. It happened to Ellen DeGeneres back in 1986. Take a look.

Did you know that in 1979, Carson took Fred Silverman and NBC to court over contract negotiations, and that this court case lead to the show being shortened to an hour in length?

Did you know that “The Tonight Show” would have guest hosts every Monday? Some of these guest hosts included Joey Bishop, Joan Rivers, John Davidson, Bob Newhart, David Brenner, McLean Stevenson, Jerry Lewis, and David Letterman.

Did you know that Johnny Carson instituted a permanent ban on Joan Rivers from appearing on the show ever again (which continued after Jay Leno took over as host)? The reason behind the ban came in 1986 when Joan Rivers left her permanent guest hosting position (a position that Johnny bestowed upon her three years earlier) to host her own show. It was alleged by Carson that Rivers never told him that she was leaving until after she started filming the show, a fact that Rivers denied. Regardless, the new show that Joan started was cancelled in 1987, and Carson, who never forgave her, placed the ban on Joan ever since.

Did you know that the broadcast of July 26, 1984 of The Tonight Show was the first program in American history to be broadcast in MTS stereo sound?

For thirty years, Carson interviewed celebrities, and entertained millions of people with his zany wit, his magic tricks, and his funny jokes. But, all good things had to come to an end, and Johnny Carson announced that he would be leaving The Tonight Show in 1992.

Carson's final episodes aired the week of May 18, and during the first three shows, Carson would show clips of past moments on the show, despite his insistence that he didn't like sentimentality.

Johnny Carson's final celebrity guests appeared on his May 21 episode. Those guests included Robin Williams and Bette Midler. And Bette's appearance in particular was incredibly moving. In fact, you can watch a clip of her appearance below, in which Carson was visibly moved.

Finally, on May 22, 1992, Carson's final show aired. There were no celebrity guests. No Carnac the Magnificent. There wasn't even a desk. It was Johnny sitting in front of the iconic curtain on a stool in front of an entire audience made up of family and close friends, saying goodbye to his audience, both on the studio, and on television. Here's a clip of the final words that Carson ever said on The Tonight Show.

It's been twenty years since Carson said farewell to The Tonight Show, and in the years since, Carson enjoyed his retirement. He made a brief appearance on The Simpsons in 1993, but aside from that, he never appeared on camera again. Carson passed away in January 2005, at the age of 79.

However, Carson's influence in the world of late night talk shows continues to be shown. David Letterman, Craig Ferguson, Jimmy Fallon, Jay Leno, and Conan O'Brien have all cited Carson as being a huge influence on them, and certainly if you watch any of their shows, they all seem to resemble Carson's own format.

Of course, Johnny Carson did it best.

That's our look back on May 22, 1992.

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