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Presented with The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences

Johnny Carson Before "The Tonight Show"

Johnny Carson
July 26, 2006 - 7:30 pm

By the time Johnny Carson took over "The Tonight Show" desk in 1962, he was already a seasoned performer. humorist. co!lledy writer and television personality with a professional career dating from his teenage years in Norfolk, Nebraska as magician-comic "The Great Carsoni." His rise to fame and fortune began in the late 1940s with his TV debut on "The Squirrel's Nest," a daily show out of WOW-TV in Omaha.

Before long he was in Hollywood, where for two years he hosted the popular series "Carson's Cellar" on CBS' KNXT (now KCBS). Stints as a writer on "The Red Skelton Show" in 1954 (plus a single. but memorable, last-minute, on-camera appearance substituting for the injured Skelton) and as host of the CBS game show "Earn Your Vacation" led to "The Johnny Carson Show," a network variety series featuring comedy sketches and parodies, many of which he wrote himself.

From 1957 to 1962, Carson honed his quick wit and winning personality by fronting the ABC daytime quiz show "Who Do You Trust?" At the same time he was busy doing guest shots on programs like "The Steve Allen Show," performing on Broadway in The Tunnel of Love, and appearing as a featured actor in three comedic anthology television plays. The Archive has recently acquired two of these anthology programs, one of which has been transferred from the original kinescope, while the second has been preserved by the Archive from the original 2" master videotape.

"Playhouse 90: Three Men on a Horse" (4/18/57)

Directed by Arthur Hiller

In this lively adaptation of the delightfully Runyonesque John Cecil Holm-George Abbott stage comedy, Johnny Carson plays Erwin Trowbridge, a mild-mannered greeting card writer with the remarkable ability to pick winning horses. One day, while drowning his sorrows in a downtown bar after a spat with his wife. Erwin is kidnapped by three gangsters, who, after getting wind of his gift, are convinced that they've stumbled upon a gold mine. To their dismay, they soon learn that Erwin's system only works when he's doing it for pleasure, not for money, but they come up with a scheme designed to get their captive over this unfortunate hurdle.

–Dan Einstein

CBS A CBS Television Network Production Producer: Martin Manulis Writer: A.J. Russell Based on the play by John Cecil Holm and George Abbott Cast: Jack Carson, Carol Channing, Johnny Carson, Mona Freeman, Edward Everett Horton Betacam

SP video of program originally broadcast live and recorded on 16mm kinescope, 90 min.

Use of episode from "Playhouse 90" courtesy of CBS Broadcasting, Inc. Video transfer at the CBS Videotape Annex. Special thanks to: Lorra-Lea Bartlett and Bob Haxby.

Preservation funded by Hallmark Cards, Inc.

"The United States Steel Hour: Queen of the Orange Bowl" (1/13/60)

Directed by Paul Bogart

Three years after his acting debut in "Three Men on a Horse," Johnny Carson took on a second scripted role. In this light comedy he once again portrays a young New Yorker, this time a happily unmarried advertising copywriter who is romantically involved with a beautiful young woman. To her dismay, he refuses to take her and their relationship seriously.

–Dan Einstein

ABC A Theatre" Guild Production Executive Producer: George Kondolf Writer: Bob Van Scoyk Adapted from an original story by Roger Squier Cast: Anne Francis. Johnny Carson, Glenda Farrell, Frank McHugh, Elizabeth Wilson BetacamSP tape of program originally produced on 2" videotape, 60 min.

Video transfer at the CBS Videotape Annex. Special thanks to: Marilyn and Philip Langner. and David Schwartz.