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‘Bombastic Bushkin’ Reveals the Man Behind The Tonight Show Curtain

There are so many great anecdotes in A Hard Act to Follow, attorney Henry Bushkin’s February 19 book about his deeply invested professional and personal relationships with Johnny Carson, that it’s difficult to know where to start. But from an LA perspective, here are a few stories to whet the appetite.

Bushkin recalls the night Carson first used the term “Bombastic Bushkin” in a monologue, right after Tonight Show writer Pat McCormick coined it during a Beverly Hills poker game. Although the talk show host made sure to double check that Bushkin would be OK with the gag, the attorney’s mother was aghast, calling within minutes of the joke being delivered on-air to ask her son if he was about to be canned. The next day, Carson insisted on calling mom personally to reassure that all was well.

Then there’s the first major business deal engineered in LA by Bushkin. Together with several other investors, Carson purchased independent Las Vegas area TV station KVVU (now a FOX affiliate) for $1,000,000. Some ten years later, Bushkin says the station was flipped for $25,000,000.

Finally, when Bushkin opened fancy new offices in Century City, his prized client was there with some key pre-cell-phone-days advice:

Johnny said, “You know what you need here Henry? A red phone… Like the one used to communicate between the White House and the Kremlin. A dedicated line that only I know the number and that only you can answer. Or Carrie, if you’re out. A phone where I can always reach you.”

I had the line installed the next day.

One advance insider blurb for A Hard Act to Follow comes from former Tonight Show writer Ed Weinberger, who writes that Bushkin’s book is “the closest the reader will ever get to know the real Carson.” He’s absolutely right; for fans of Carson, this 286-page reminiscence is a book to treasure. Bushkin waited until his mentor’s death and then some, but he has finally rewarded us with an unvarnished, complex and intimate portrait of the late night king.

[Jacket cover courtesy 360 Guy Books; although A Hard Act to Follow was scheduled to be published February 12, a slight delay at the printers has pushed everything back a week.]

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