Damn, the Seventies

Robert Mitchum on the Tonight Show, June of ‘ 78. Turns out he lived in Santa Barbara when I did. Oddly enough, we never ran into each other. He’s wearing shades indoors, I assume so we can’t see his dilated pupils. You hate being on TV, Johnny says. I hate being in Hollywood, Mitchum says. Even if Hollywood is Burbank. Johnny Carson is way coked out and edgy. Ann Margaret has been so high on something she was talking in a whisper, terrified, and walked off stage in the wrong direction. Weird bit with a guy in a kangaroo suit, from some completely forgotten waste of celluloid Mitchum did with Elliott Gould. The guy does an incredibly good kangaroo. Mitchum makes sure to mention the name of the guy in the suit, twice. Interview over, the ersatz kangaroo goes stage left, Bob Mitchum departs, stage right, and even after patting the fake kangaroo, he comes off an ineffably cool motherfucker.

A comic now, no idea who, talking incredibly fast. The last guest, incredibly, is a judge. A real judge. Imagine the band hiding the drugs. Johnny is talking carefully. The comic is completely silent. Damn, the seventies.

David Brenner

Tonight show, 1981, and David Brenner just did a whole string of jokes about cancer. Funny routine, too. Crowd loved it. All I could think of was, damn, man, if there was something you don’t joke about. Somebody must have said that, you don’t make jokes about cancer. So he did, with that ridiculous delivery and goofy smile, schlemieling his way though a great five minutes of jokes about what was going to eventually kill him.
Rest In Peace.

Tonight Show

I went to the Tonight Show once. 1975 or 1976. Johnny Carson, of course, took the night off. John Davidson was the host. I was so disappointed. Then they announced Davidson couldn’t make it. A surprise host would be filling in. Out comes Steve Allen. He brings out Tom Poston, then Louie Nye, then Bill Daily. It was the original Tonight Show all over again. Sheer anarchy. At one point they’re all doing an out of control Chinese Fire Drill around the desk. Half the jokes were off camera. No guests got on. They kept going right through the commercial breaks, like they couldn’t stop. It was one of the funniest things I ever saw in my life. Later that night, watching on television I realized that only a fraction of what was going could be seen, let alone understood, by the TV audience, which made it even funnier. That was the only time I ever saw the Tonight Show in person. Never did see Johnny Carson, to my infinite regret, but I saw Steve Allen doing it old school, like it was live television all over again. Beautiful.

Steve Allen at rehearsal, 1954. A great photo from the Associated Press, no idea who took it.

Steve Allen at rehearsal, 1954. A great photo from the Associated Press, no idea who took it.