Since Carson already does what nobody has ever done better, I reply, why should he risk his reputation by plunging into movies or TV specials? “But I’ll tell you something else about him,” he says, with italicized wonder. Carson is sitting at a table by the pool, where four or five people have joined him.“.” He means “chaste.” “In his position, he could have all the girls he wants. He chats with impersonal affability, making no effort to dominate, charm, or amuse.The senior media still take social precedence in the upper and elder reaches of these costly hills.One of the rare exceptions to this rule is the male latecomer who now enters, lean and dapper in an indigo blazer, white slacks, and a pale-blue open-necked shirt.The other talk shows in which I have taken part were all saunas by comparison with Carson’s. They talk all over the place about how this person’s going over, how that person’s going over. ’ ” (Gust of Wellesian laughter.) Newcomers like me are interviewed several days in advance by one of Carson’s “talent coördinators,” who makes a list of the subjects on which you are likely to be eloquent or funny.Merv Griffin is the most disarming of ego strokers; Mike Douglas runs him a close second in the ingratiation stakes; and Dick Cavett creates the illusion that the other hand, operates on a level of high, freewheeling, centrifugal banter that is well above the snow line. Carson treats you with deference and genuine curiosity. This list is in Carson’s head as you plunge through the rainbow-hued curtains, take a sharp right turn, and just avoid tripping over the cunningly placed step that leads up to the desk where you meet, for the first time, your host, interrogator, and judge. Like a character in a Harold Pinter play, or any living creature in a Robert Ardrey book, you have invaded his territory.(The figure has since risen to four hundred and twenty-seven dollars.) No guest on the show, even if he or she does a solo spot in addition to just chatting, is paid more than the basement-level fee. The producer, all the are sittin’ like six feet away from that couch. And John will ask you somethin’ else or he’ll say, “Our next guest is. “In the past couple of months,” a receptionist in the bungalow said to me not long ago, “I’ve seen Mr.
“What’s more”—and here Wilder leaned forward, tapping my knee for emphasis—“he does it without a net. During the nineteen-sixties, I was twice interviewed on the “Tonight Show.” For each appearance I received three hundred and twenty dollars, which was then the minimum payment authorized by , the TV and radio performers’ union. Except for his secretary, the rest of the production team occupies a crowded bungalow more than two hundred yards away, outside the main building.Apart from two months in the late nineteen-fifties (when he replaced Tom Ewell in a Broadway comedy called “The Tunnel of Love”), Johnny Carson has never been seen on the legitimate stage; and, despite a multitude of offers, he has yet to appear in his first film.He does not, in fact, much like appearing except (a) in the audience at the Wimbledon tennis championships, which he and his wife recently attended, (b) at his home in Bel Air, and (c) before the NBC cameras in Burbank, which act on him like an addictive and galvanic drug.He continues, “But I remember Johnny when he was a drunk.” That was before the “Tonight Show” moved from New York to Los Angeles, in 1972. He could get very hostile.”I point out to Lazar that Carson’s family tree has deep Irish roots on the maternal side. Or am I glibly casting him as an ethnic (“black Irish”) stereotype?At all events, I now begin to see in him—still immobile by the pool—the lineaments of a magnified leprechaun.“Like a lot of people in our business,” Lazar goes on, “he’s a mixture of extreme ego and extreme cowardice.” In Lazar’s lexicon, a coward is one who turns down starring roles suggested to him by Lazar.
(A strange and revealing encounter, to which we’ll return.) Actually, “hot” is a misnomer. They are highly professional, highly successful, highly dedicated people. And when they go to a break, they get on the phone. Or hardly ever: he may decide, if a major celebrity is on hand, to bend the rule and grant him or her the supreme privilege of prior contact. As Orson Welles said to me, “he’s the only invisible talk host.” A Carson guest of long standing, Welles continued, “Once, before the show, he put his head into my dressing room and said hello. The production staff behaved the way the stagehands did at the St.