Last year the boy most likely to succeed to TV was George Gobel. This year, it appears to be Johnny Carson.
Carson is a slender, good-looking looking man with an uptilted nose and a casual comedy manner. When his Thursday night CBS show premiered four weeks ago, most critics compared him to Gobel.
That appears to he his fate. When he arrived for a luncheon chat, the man in the next booth was George Gobel.
“It was inevitable that I would be compared to George,” observed Johnny. “From now on, any comedian who doesn’t do a violent kind of comedy will be called ‘another Gobel.’
“It has always been that way. When a new personality comes along, critics need a point, of reference. A James Dean is compared to Marion Brando. A Mamie Van Doren is automatically called another Marilyn Monroe.”
“I’m sure when Gobol was first getting started, he was called another Herb Shriner.”
Carson hooted at the idea that such stars as Gobel are overnight successes. He pointed out that lonesome George is merely reaching a larger audience with the comedy talent he exhibited for years as a child hillbilly star, Army entertainer and night club comic.
Johnny was another early starter. He was born 29 years ago in Corning, Iowa, which he admits is no place for a comedian to come from. The son of a utilities worker, he lived in such other Iowa towns as Clarinda, Red Oak, Avoca and Shenandoah, finally settling in Norfolk, Nebraska.
He was one of those life-of-the-party lads who could do funny routines and ventriloquism. But he made it pay off.
“I toured all over the midwest with shows,” he recalled. “Often we would do the show on the back of a truck bed. After you’ve entertained those audiences, you can face anything.”
After a wartime hitch as an ensign aboard the USS Pennsylvania, he went to the University of Nebraska under the GI bill, also working at Radio Station KFAB in Lincoln. He moved on to Omaha’s WOW, radio and TV, then decided to tackle Hollywood. His Carson’s Cellar was a hit on KNXT and prompted his current network deal.
“I’ve got a 26-week deal, which will carry into January,” he remarked, ”That should give the show a chance to build. It’s not a knockdown kind of comedy — we’re just trying to establish a personality and have some fun.
“I want to keep the format as loose as possible. I think the danger in TV is getting tied to the same old routine. People are tired of the situation comedies in which the daughter wants to go to the dance, but the father doesn’t think she’s old enough. And so forth.”
Photo 1: A young Johnny Carson in 1957 / Photo 2: William Bendix and Johnny Carson, as seen on The Johnny Carson Show