Recognize this face?
In an article in Newsweek, 56-year-old Bill Maher was reminiscing, about the TONIGHT SHOW, explaining how sitting on Johnny Carson's couch back in 1982 was every comic's dream.
Bill Maher said, "When I was a tween, thinking about who I wanted to be as a grown ass man, it was Johnny, my father, or James Bond."
(I re read the quote twice. Yep, Bill said "ass man.")
Of course it brought to my mind what my husband and I were doing when we were climbing the fame-name ladder in our chosen fields.
Thirty years ago, we were intensely focused on who's who, and what was the talk of the town. We knew the names of newcomers. We kept track of the latest news about the creme del la creme -- the national and international celebrities in politics, art, the money world -- the scandals, divorces, who died, who was ill, and who was going to win an Oscar.
Back then, the radio in the station wagon I was driving from one one-night stand to the next, played the hit tunes. I hummed along, but didn't bother too much with the chitchat about Ozzy Osbourne, B.B. King -- I more or less knew who the "Mamas & the Papas," "Rolling Stones," "Talking Heads" were; liked Johnny Cash's prison song, knew John Belushi had died and that Billy Joel was injured, heard about "Cats" opening on Broadway, heard of Madonna and had seen Michael Jackson's "Thriller."
While these fame-names in 1982 were igniting (some burning out, some burning brightly), in NYC's dance world, I was a name that chic people heard of though probably hadn't seen, while my husband, John Cullum, was in the prime of his prime. He was stopped on the street for autographs, seated at table number one in the famous restaurants, getting offers for movies, musicals and plays.
Bill Maher described very simply, and clearly, how important it was to him when he was 26 -- if, after you did your featured spot, Johnny asked you to sit down -- wowy-- that was IT. You were IN.
Back in those days I wanted John to be on the TONIGHT SHOW. But John, who had been asked more than once to appear, always turned it down. He didn't feel comfortable with small talk, chit-chat, and bantering.
Golly, I knew I'd say yes if I had a chance to be on Carson's show. A boy dancer (I called him NV), with whom I'd palled around when I first came to NYC, had become one of Carson's producers. Thinking NV could get me, or John, or both of us on the Carson show, I phoned him -- didn't get him, left what I thought was a great message.
Well, NV didn't phone back. and John Cullum never did Carson, Leno, or Letterman. And Bill Maher has grown up, grown older, and though he's not IN with the up and coming generation, he did sit down with Johnny. Bill Maher did become a name, and still matters, still counts in the fame-name world
Maher said, "If Johnny in his prime went up against Jay in his prime, and the year was 1965, Johnny would win. In 2000, Jay would win. I would not want to see Johnny Carson try to survive in this age, competing with YouTube and videogames and tapped-out attention spans; that’s not who he was. His era breathed a little, and I miss it. I miss him, and always will."
I think if Carson were on TV, and I had to choose between Jay and his stock cracks about sex, Dave Letterman and his "ten things" routines that I find silly, and Carson -- no doubt about it -- I'd watch Johnny Carson.