Johnny Carson’s Personal Papers to Be Made Publicly Available

Johnny Carson Portrait
Johnny Carson’s Personal Papers to be Made Publicly Available

Johnny Carson will forever be the symbol of late-night shows as he was instrumental in their success and development starting in the 1960s. He was a comedian, a television host, a producer, and an entertainer like no other. His prominent gig, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, which lasted from 1962 to 1992 when he retired, set a new type of TV experience that had people laugh, gossip, and look forward to every night.

Johnny Carson’s Legacy

Johnny Carson during a skit for his show
Johnny Carson’s Personal Papers to be Made Publicly Available

Carson’s show was under NBC’s Tonight Show franchise, and it was a staple of late-night entertainment for people all around the US. He quickly became a pioneer in this new era of late-night television by creating comedy segments, offering a platform to rising stars, and providing national exposure to the news of the day. And now, almost three decades after Johnny Carson last hosted The Tonight Show, the National Comedy Center and the Elkhorn Valley Museum are preparing to make his legacy available to future generations.

Johnny Carson doing a speech during the last episode of The Tonight Show, 22 May, 1992
Johnny Carson’s Personal Papers to be Made Publicly Available

A Celebration of Carson’s Life

The two museums are planning to create and expand exhibitions that celebrate Carson’s life and work, by preserving a trove of his personal notes, clothing, awards, and other artifacts collected throughout the years. These items were given to the Elkhorn Valley Museum by Jeff Sotzing, Carson’s nephew and president of the Carson Entertainment Group. In an interview about his uncle’s show, Sotzing recalled he had a conversation with Carson, where he told him, “Just give ’em all of this, give ‘em everything.”

Page one of his May 8, 1987 episode monologue with handwritten notes
Johnny Carson’s Personal Papers to be Made Publicly Available

After Carson’s death in 2005, his widow handed over Johnny’s documents and written notes so they could be shared with the world. Some of those materials include collections of jokes for his opening monologues (see the image above), Carson’s handwritten notes and sketch ideas, and so many other things that Sotzing says haven’t even been sorted out yet. The museum curators hope that these Johnny Carson exhibitions they’re planning to open will hopefully shed more light on his genius work and the art of creating memorable late-night TV.