Sunday, January 20th, 2019

William F. Buckley Jr. on Johnny Carson on National Review Online


William F. Buckley Jr. remembering Johnny Carson on National Review Online:

As I write these words a memory flashes up.

Scene: The Tonight Show. Guests: David Susskind and me (WFB).

David Susskind is widely forgotten, but he was a singular presence on television for about 20 years. He staked out the ultimate talk show (he called it Open End) by the simple expedient of making it endless. He would start out at 9 P.M., on Channel 13 in New York (this was before it had become a part of the educational network), with one or more guests, and just talk on & on into the night, sometimes not closing down the program until after midnight.

I was sometimes his guest, and he developed over several years an uncontainable sense of indignation . . . that I, and my views as expressed in National Review, should exist. At all. The hostility had come to something of a boil when Johnny Carson convened us for a joint appearance on The Tonight Show.

Susskind began with a minute-long pre-written, memorized excoriation, and Johnny asked me to reply. I remember that Susskind had misused two words, so I thought to concentrate my reply on his solecisms, rather than on his political views. Carson was hugely amused and beckoned Susskind back into the fray, whereupon Susskind denounced my “noxious” views. I said to Carson that Susskind didn’t know the proper meaning of that word, Susskind shot back indignantly, “What is the proper meaning?” and I said, “I won’t tell you.” Johnny Carson was amused by everything, but I think he was especially amused that night, and on succeeding occasions when I was his guest, he would come into the Green Room before the program began to chat for a moment or two.

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