Johnny Carson by Henry Bushkin

1016BOOK-articleInlineJohnny Carson by Henry Bushkin Imagine that you have a good friend with whom you visit on a regular basis for more than 15 years . He died several years ago and you learn that someone who knew him very well has just written a book about him. You probably would be very drawn to want to read that book as was I when this book came out about Johnny Carson. I would periodically watch the Tonite Show, which he hosted for thirty years between 1962 and 1992. The book was written by Henry Bushkin, who Carson once described as his best friend. Bushkin met Carson in 1970 when he was interviewed by him and hired as his personal attorney when Bushkin was just a few years out of law school. As I got into the book I developed the uncomfortable feeling that not only was the author not being a very loyal friend by revealing Carson’s personal life and depicting him as mostly not a very nice guy, but that he also was breaching his code of ethics as a lawyer by discussing things that were told to him in his role as Carson’s attorney. (I understand that lawyers may debate the issue of whether such lawyer client privilege exists after death.) For example very early in his tenure as Carson’s lawyer he accompanied him and a small raiding party that broke into Carson’s second wife’s apartment in which she was living while they were separated. She wasn’t there at the time and the purpose of the break-in was to discover evidence that she was having an affair which they did find. Bushkin was ready to answer the police if they were caught by claiming that it was Johnny’s apartment since he was providing all his wife’s financial support at that time. There was a time during Carson’s run with NBC when his contract was due to run out and he was being courted by ABC. All the behind the scenes secret details how  Bushkin and Carson led ABC on to think that they might go with them while using the inducements being offered to them by ABC to extract more from NBC were revealed. Johnny’s marital infidelities were also freely discussed with a hint that Bushkin was also cheating on his own  wife. In fact, Bushkin’s explanation for his own wife leaving him was because she couldn’t tolerate his putting Carson over her as he would be frequently away in the evening as well as out of town whenever Carson traveled and needed him. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this book was the depiction of  Johnny Carson’s character  as a superficial man who had very little capacity to care about other people. He was shown to have no meaningful relationship with his sons when they were children or adults. When Joan Rivers,  who he invited to be a substitute host for him on his show many times, accepted a deal to have her own show on another network opposite his show, he never spoke with her again. His need to be praised and adored by others, as well as his questionable honesty, was illustrated by how he played tennis. Bushkin who apparently was an excellent tennis player was expected to play tennis with Carson, who loved the game, Bushkin noted that Carson would frequently call line shots in his favor even when they were not and would accept (and apparently expect) Bushkin calling them in Carson’s favor even when they were not.  Bushkin attributed Carson’s inability to have genuine caring relationships to be related to his mother Ruth who was described as a nasty person. It was clear that Bushkin became a very wealthy man himself as result of his association with Carson and participation in some of the business deals that he helped set up for his boss. Carson eventually fired Bushkin in 1988 because he felt that he was not being totally loyal to him and did not put Carson’s interest above his own.  Therefore it should be of little surprise as with this book Carson’s “good friend” and attorney appears to care little about preserving his legacy and  reputation as the warm likeable guy that so many people spent so many evenings with as they enjoyed The Tonite Show. The end product which he produced is really quite superficial and probably doesn’t “tell all” but certainly “belittles much” about Johnny . Don’t reward the author as I did by purchasing this book.  If  you must read it, take it out from the library.

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