Wednesday, February 09, 2005

After hours

On any given school night as a child I counted myself lucky to live in the Central Time Zone, for it meant that staying up for Johnny Carson's monologue might not be pushing it too far. Nancy Franklin, writing in the Feb. 7 New Yorker, captures the exotic picture of adulthood that he painted for the likes of her and me:

Think of Carson and the picture that comes into focus is that of a debonair man in his mid-forties, in well-fitting sports jacket and tie and pressed slacks--the kind of dress that upper-middle-class men used to wear to dinner parties until the seventies, when there was at least a little formality at almost every occasion except a barbeque. He represented a world, and a time of day, that had nothing to do with children, and if you were quite young when you first watched him that made him even more glamorous and mysterious--much as adulthood itself was glamorous and mysterious. That the grownup life exemplified by Carson was in large part phony (one discovered upon reaching it), a construct of television entertainment itself, simply added to its desirability.

Johnny Carson was a legend in his own time. It follows, then, that the myths that surrounded him in life are accumulating in death. For example, it's been reported that he once gave a monologue that started like this:

To me, democracy means placing trust in the little guy, giving the fruits of nationhood to those who built the nation. . . .

Carson on democracy, seriously? That's another urban legend, isn't it? See for yourself.

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