Fifteen Years of the Salto Mortale

Kenneth Tynan’s classic 1978 profile of Johnny Carson for The New Yorker:

“Johnny Carson on TV,” one of his colleagues confided to me, “is the visible eighth of an iceberg called Johnny Carson.” The remark took me back to something that Carson said of himself ten years ago, when, in the course of a question-and-answer session with viewers, he was asked, “What made you a star?” He replied, “I started out in a gaseous state, and then I cooled.” Meeting him tête-à-tête is, as we shall see later, a curious experience. In 1966, writing for Look, Betty Rollin described Carson off camera as “testy, defensive, preoccupied, withdrawn, and wondrously inept and uncomfortable with people.” Nowadays, his off-camera manner is friendly and impeccably diplomatic. Even so, you get the impression that you are addressing an elaborately wired security system. If the conversation edges toward areas in which he feels ill at ease or unwilling to commit himself, burglar alarms are triggered off, defensive reflexes rise around him like an invisible stockade, and you hear the distant baying of guard dogs.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014