Today, only a few hours after Johnny Carson's death, the media is already abuzz with all manner of hagiographic mudwrestling. So why should I, as a member of the blogger media (of sorts), be any different?
I have always been a big believer in the old adage "Absolute power corrupts absolutely." However, Carson always struck me as just about the sanest of all the major public figures of my time, and one of the few, perhaps, not to have fallen prey to the worst soul-blunting excesses of major celebrity.
From one-time-only, close personal observation of Carson off-screen, I've concluded that it might have been nothing more than a few simple conditioning tricks he taught himself early on when he began to sense just how BIG he was going to be in the grand scheme of things. And made the decision that he didn't want to ever get to the place in life where he was lowered into his pants instead of putting them on one leg at a time. To whit:
One night I happened to be in his presence at one "do" or another at Maison de la Merv, i.e. the Beverly Hilton. He was seated at a table with a few others. I tried not to stare, but couldn't help but notice that whenver Johnny espied someone moving in his direction to greet him---whether it be a captain of industry or a mere fan---he would generally bound to his feet, extend his hand, and meet the interloper more than halfway. The ordinary run-of-the-mill show biz weasel would probably have just stayed in place awaiting the oncoming sycophant to approach the throne, fall to his or her knees, and kiss the ring.
At the time, Carson was still in the midst of his reign as the King of Late Night, or as director Martin Scorsese would have it in his brilliant (part) cinema a clef. . .The King of Comedy. As a result, he was also one of the richest and most powerful men in the country (which he remained from the time of his 1992 unequivocal retirement to his death earlier today).
My sense is that Carson probably had a few additional ploys up his sleeve, in addition to the one outlined above, that he employed to try and keep his ego in check. For as C.B. DeMille put it another way in Sunset Boulevard, viz a viz Norma Desmond: "A dozen press agents working overtime can do horrible things to the human spirit." But, apparently, not in the case of Johnny Carson.
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