Thursday, January 27, 2005

"Tonight Show" trivia

Courtesy of Mental Floss magazine:

* Myrtle Young was a former inspector from a potato chip factory in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. For many years, her hobby was collecting odd-shaped chips. She had chips in the shape of Mickey Mouse, Ziggy, and even Bob Hope's profile. When she proudly brought her fragile collection to "The Tonight Show," Ed McMahon momentarily distracted her and suddenly the audience heard a loud CRUNCH from Johnny Carson. A hush fell over the audience as Myrtle turned to Johnny in shock, her hand clutching her chest, mouth agape. Johnny let the joke play for a few moments before he revealed a bowl of potato chips he had behind his desk in preparation for the gag.

* In the earlier days of "The Tonight Show," sidekick Ed McMahon sometimes performed live commercials in between skits. One night, while promoting dog food, the "stunt dog" completely missed his cue and refused to come out on stage. Johnny saved the day by re-entering the stage on all fours, panting happily and even licking Ed's hand. His ad-lib comedy helped keep the spot from completely bombing.

* While trivia buffs know that Bette Midler was Johnny's last guest, this one might be a bit tougher. On October 2, 1962, it was legendary comedian Groucho Marx who introduced Johnny as the new host of the show, and then sat next to him as Carson's very first guest. Carson's first words were in response to the applause he received: "Boy, you would think it was Vice President Nixon."

* What happened if a guest on "The Tonight Show" cancelled at the last minute? Since the show was filmed on the NBC lot, chances were there would be some sitcom regular nearby to fill in, but on occasion, there was no one to be found. Enter Pete Barbutti, a cigar-chomping jazz pianist/comedian whose act included such shtick as playing the piano with his nose. He first appeared on "The Tonight Show" in the 1960s, and fellow guest Mel Tome was laughing so hard Johnny could hardly interview Pete. Barbutti eventually became the default "emergency guest" (he lived nearby and was willing) and logged over 60 appearances on the program.

* On March 28, 1974, "Tonight Show" staff writer Pat McCormick ran naked across the stage as Johnny was finishing his monologue. The episode did air, but with the lower half of McCormick's 300+lb body blacked out.

* In 1973, Congressman Harold Froehlich mentioned that the federal government was falling behind in getting bids to supply its toilet paper. "Tonight Show" writers jumped all over this, and Johnny mentioned in his monologue that America might soon be in the midst of a shortage of TP. The next morning, the public flocked to stores all over to buy up as much toilet paper as they could. It was all a joke, but Johnny apologized later to the many folks who had either made a special trip to be safe or else been stuck without because the lines were so long.

* The "Tonight Show" theme song wasn't written by Doc Severinsen, or even Tommy Newsom. The culprit was Canadian singer/songwriter Paul Anka. He'd had several hits in the early 60s, but the British Invasion pushed him out of the limelight, so he turned to songwriting. Anka suggested a tune he'd already written, called "It's Really Love." Under a deal made between the two of them, Anka and Carson were credited as co-writers of the song, meaning they each received $200 each time it was played, earning each of them well over $1 million during Johnny's 30 years on "The Tonight Show."


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