Monday, June 23, 2014

"Johnny Carson" by Henry Bushkin (2014)

It’s time for some light summer reading. This is a great “beach” book; also ideal for the extra wait at the airport. Henry Bushkin was Johnny Carson’s attorney/business manager for about 20 years during the 1970’s and the 1980’s. He became friends with the late night show host and was very involved in every aspect of his life; both personally as well as professionally.

The author paints a portrait of a Johnny Carson the public hardly knew. He was the gregarious, happy go lucky man we all came to know and love on television; but beneath that façade was a more complicated individual; who could go from being the nicest guy in the world, to a vindictive and petty man in a heartbeat. But that aspect is not the sole focus of the book.

Mr. Bushkin was a young newly minted lawyer when he met Johnny through a friend in 1970. So this is also an account of a young inexperienced attorney learning the ropes in one of the most competitive businesses around; the entertainment industry. It is also the story of 3 of Mr. Carson’s marriages. (Interesting note: all 4 of Carson’s wives names began with J.)

When the authors career takes off; and his friendship with Carson becomes solid; Mr. Bushkin learns that there are limits to his employer’s largesse. Everything seems free and easy, but there is always a price to be paid. As he becomes involved in every aspect of Johnny’s life; including lining up female companionship for his boss; he falls prey to the easy access he has to women. This takes a toll on Johnny’s wife; Joanna; whom the host is able to mollify by purchasing large diamonds, cars and other luxury items as a way of apologizing.

But Mr. Bushkin is caught up in the whirlwind of easy access and eventually loses his wife because of it.
The stories are fast and furious as Mr. Bushkin recounts their escapades together in Los Vegas; at the Presidential Inauguration of Ronald Reagan and Mr. Carson’s 5 year run heading the Oscar Awards. 

As things get bigger and Carson Enterprises soars, the author reaps huge financial rewards from his sometimes brilliant work. But all good things must come to an end and soon he finds himself caught between his desire to stay with Carson or to strike out on his own.

The line between friendship and employment can become blurred by many things. This is true in all of our lives. But, when you add the lure of easy money and star power to the mix, it can become an intoxicant to be avoided. Still, when all the money and power is gone, the memories that are left can never be erased. You just have to decide if it was all worth it. 

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