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Well done, Johnny

by Maggie Van Ostrand
Maggie Van Ostrand
The last time I saw Johnny Carson was at NBC's Tonight Show when I worked on a Mark Goodson game show which taped across the hall.

It was exciting to be so close to The Tonight Show because you never knew who you'd run into. For instance, I spied one of the greatest stars in Broadway history, Ethel Merman, standing in the hall. She was much shorter than I ever thought she'd be because her voice was so very large. She grabbed my arm and said, "Do you think they'll remember me?" Of course they would.

I saw the luminescent beauty of Sophia Loren as she strode lustily from her dressing room to the Tonight Show set, stopping to smile and ask if I thought her hair was all right and "Do these glasses look well on me?" It was, and they did.

Peeping through the small window in the swinging door that led to the studio where the Tonight Show taped, I was enjoying B.B. King's incredible music when Johnny, who had taken a few necessary minutes to quickly dash to the bathroom, said, "Go on in. It's okay." Although they say he was shy outside the show, he was warm and friendly inside.

But none of the big stars I met at the Tonight Show were as impressive as Johnny himself.

One of the most brilliant moments on television was when Johnny gave us the "Complete History of the World in 4 Minutes," while two Eggo waffles were popped into a 4-minute toaster.
Wet and dark and cold and smelly,
prehistoric floating jelly.
Lightning flashes, water cloudy,
jelly walking, saying "howdy!"
Two amoebas whoopee-making,
sex is born, and so is faking.
Soon there's grass and trees and roses,
things with tails that ain't got noses.
Birdies Eatin' Worms and fishes,
Lizard chompin' on the missus.
Noah's moas, Noah's boas,
All from tiny protozoas.
Reptiles getting big and cocky,
Pterodactyl eats your doggie,
geeses, meeses, weasels, camels,
add some boobs ... hey, you got mammals!
Monkey playing on Savannah,
great-great aunt of Daryl Hannah.
Double ice-age, double whammies,
cavemen skinning bears for jammies.
Bows and arrows, quest for fire,
Neanderthal invents the tire.
Ploughs, cows, bigger brows,
all the stuff that brains allows.
Cro-Magnons' artistic itchins,
painting bisons in their kitchens.
Middle east invents the hoe,
Tutankhamen is wrapped to go.
Wall of China, fall of Troy,
Mrs. Plato, it's a boy!
Chinese guy invents the compass,
Sphinx's nose goes caddy-whumpus.
Greeks tweaks weaks noses,
discus throwers' naked poses.
birth of Buddha, birth of Rome,
Caesar shoulda stayed at home.
Alexander on the brink,
Socrates has one last drink.
Rome's flames climbs higher,
Nero playing "Light my fire."
Wise men follow eastern star,
Christmas comes but once so far.
Eclipses measured by the Mayans,
Christians gobbled up by lions.
Nobles dining, peasants whining,
Roman empire starts declining.
Tons of huns in every village,
wearing T-shirts, "Born to Pillage."
Byzantines defeat the vandals,
There's Mohammed wearing sandals.
Holy roman Empire founded,
Vikings tell the world "You're grounded!"
Raping, looting, burning, stealing,
Ain't the Army life appealing?
Leif Ericsson, Navy nominee,
Year one thousand, Anno Domini
Waiting out the storm he's lost in
Hangs a left, discovers Boston.
French invade while Brits not looking,
still can't rescue British cooking,
Four crusades and then all bets off,
Genghis Kahn is lopping heads off.
Mongol hordes are mongol hording,
stealing what they ain't affording.
Bow replaced by gun and cartridge,
lousy time to be a partridge.
Middle ages comes in stages,
Knights in armor all the rages.
Black death killing half of France,
Your legs fall off inside your pants.
Printing press an aid to learning,
Joan of Arc says, "What's that burning?"
Spanish inquisition gruesome,
stretching makes a guy a twosome
Columbus says to Ferdinand,
"Look what I found; lots more land."
Da Vinci flaunts his Renaissances,
Martin Luther takes his chaunces.
Rubens' reputation grows on
sketching babes without their clothes on.
Norse's forces plot new courses,
Henry Eighth invents divorces.
Mary Queen of Scots beheaded,
real bad way to end up deaded.
Spain's Armada turned and ran,
The Shoguns divvy up Japan.
Says King James, theologizing,
"Gee, the Bible needs revising."
Indians eye some beads and satin,
- gain some jewelry, lose Manhattan.
Drake wonders where he got to,
Shakespeare writes, "To be or not to."
Galileo on the run,
thinks the earth goes round the sun;
says "It's in my telescope."
"No it isn't," says the Pope.
Noah Webster starts with "A..."
That's why you can't spell today.
Spinning Jenny used by many,
Cotton Dockers half a penny.
King George taxes tea and foodstuffs,
then goes on to really rude stuffs.
Favors labors, rattles sabers,
Paul Revere wakes up the neighbors.
Betsy stitches stars and stripes,
Jefferson declares his gripes.
Revolution, Constitution,
Franklin risks electrocution.
Pasteur dreams a nifty cure up,
Bonaparte is creaming Europe.
"Let them eat cake" Antoinette says,
"Lose the bimbo," Lafayette says.
Guillotines are record holders,
separating heads from shoulders.
James Monroe stands up and vows,
"There's a doctrine in the house."
Beethoven has golden gift,
takes a second, writes the Fifth,
Bright idea of Samuel Morse's
Lays off fifty thousand horses.
Europe fused, Swiss excused,
Queen Victoria not amused.
Dickens warrants "My next trick'll be
writing all of Nicholas Nickelby."
Karl Marx gathers flunkies,
Darwin says we're mostly monkeys.
Civil War a nation bloodies,
four years later: back to buddies.
Bell's phones ruins slumber,
Watson gets unlisted number.
Edison takes volt and amp,
tells his wife, "I fixed your lamp."
Freud perplexes both the sexes,
makes his patients nervous wreckses
1903 year of flight,
Orville barfs on Wilbur Wright.
Kaiser sore, world at war,
one-to-nothing final score,
Then when Germans feeling better,
Second game of double-header.
Frank's Yanks tanks win,
Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin
Girls swoon, Beatles tune,
Yankee golfing on the moon.
Watergate's missing tapes,
Darwin's right about the apes
"Read my lips...no new taxes."
Lincoln spinning on his axis.
That's our history, mighty terse,
If you don't like it... you got a verse?
At that point, the waffles shot out of the toaster, Johnny caught them, put them on a plate, added syrup and that was that. All in 4 minutes.

Yes, he had great writers, but not one of them could have delivered this History of the World the way he did.

Ernie Kovacs once said that television was a medium because it was so rarely well done. When Johnny was on, it was well done.
The Ultimate Johnny Carson Collection - His Favorite Moments from The Tonight Show (Vols. 1-3) (1962-1992) (2000)
Heeere's Johnny! The Special Collector's Edition (The Ultimate Carson Collection / Timeless Moments from the Tonight Show / Animal Hijinks) (1962)
Copyright Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus"

January 25, 2005 column
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