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Interview With Ed McMahon, Doc Severinsen

Aired January 24, 2005 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight exclusive: Ed McMahon's first live primetime interview since the passing of Johnny Carson, the icon he sat next to for 30 years.

And another exclusive: Doc Severinsen, "Tonight Show" band leader for more than 25 years, in his first interview since Johnny's death.

Ed and Doc, we can't think of Johnny without them. Now their thoughts on life without him.

An exclusive emotional hour is next on LARRY KING LIVE."


KING: We'll not only be talking with Ed McMahon and being joined by Doc Severinsen, in a little while, we'll be hearing on the phone from Paul Anka, who wrote "The Tonight Show" theme, and Bob Newhart who sat in for Johnny on over 90 occasions.

We begin with Ed McMahon, Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show" sidekick for 30 years. They go back to the old quiz show, "Who Do You Trust?"

You were saying something before we went on about his mystique. What was the mystique?

ED MCMAHON, CARSON'S "TONIGHT SHOW" SIDEKICK: A story that I have never told anybody and has never been in print, but this will give you an idea of the Carson, the man.

He never said, you're doing a good job. He never said, "That was great what you did last night." He just assumed that you would do a good job. His attitude was, "I'm going to do this as well as it can be done. I'm going to knock this ball right through the uprights every night if I can. And you can come along with me. But you've got to do your job."

But we never discussed that. We never, ever talked about the show. We never said, "You do this or you ask me this tonight -- ever, in all 30 years.

One night we were out here -- and this was deep into the show. This was, like, I don't know, maybe two-thirds or even further into the show, four-fifths, whatever -- where we used to do the show and we used to go back to -- I beg your pardon, had to be in the earlier day because we hadn't moved out here. I correct myself. Anyway, we'd been together ten years on the show.

So anyway, during the last commercial, like, the last commercial, he looked at me.

Now, normally he would say, "You want to go out and get a drink, Ed? You want to have some dinner?" That's your invitation to dinner. That's how he'd ask. "You want to go?" I'd say, "Yes, OK."

This night he said, "Could I see you after the show?"

Well, it was kind of ominous. I wondered, "What in the world is this, 'Could I see you after the show?'"

So we finished the show, and I go down and change into some more relaxed clothes. And I'm coming up, and I'm outside his dressing room, and the door opens and they say, "Johnny has some people in here. He can't see you right now."

So I'm standing out in the hall -- this is out in the studio out in Burbank -- and I'm waiting and waiting and waiting, and everybody's, "Good night, Ed, see you later. See you, pal."

And that was Thursday night, the last night of our taping session, and we used to tape the Friday show on Thursday, and then they would fly the tape back to New York and run it the next night.

Johnny always took two weeks off after that. I went back to work with whoever the guest host was -- David Brenner, Jerry Lewis, whoever it was for the week coming up.

Johnny wouldn't be back for, like, another week till the following Monday.

So anyway, I'm waiting, I said "What in the world is this, 'Can I see you after the show?'" So I said, "What did I do? Did I do something wrong?"

So he comes out in a minute and he's saying good-bye to the people. Now, by this time, everybody has left. The makeup closed up. Everybody's gone, and I'm standing there like a klutz outside his dressing room. Everybody says good-bye, good night and so forth.

So he says, "Come on in." And he had, like, a double dressing room with a door between. And he lit a cigarette. He was always smoking a cigarette, a little cigarette. He was very nervous, like this here. And he was very nervous.

He said, "I want to discuss something with you."

KING: Oh, boy.

MCMAHON: Oh, and I said, this may be it. Am I getting the ax? Because it's now Thursday night, the last show in California. I won't have to see him next week. He won't have to see me because I'll be doing the show. He'll be here. If I get canned and I have, like, one more week or two weeks, I figure, what could be so terrible? What did I do?

So anyway, I wait, and he's smoking, and he says, "Let's go in the other room."

So there was a sliding door. So we slide - now just the two of us. He lights another cigarette. He said, "I want to tell you something. I want to talk about something." And I'm thinking, "This is it. My career is over, you know, I have to start all over again."

He said, "I know what you're doing out there." Well, this is even more ominous. He says, "You're just helping me. You're just making me look good. You are out there to just make me look better," and he starts on this whole thing.

I said, "Look, Johnny," I said, "I got a dinner date, I'm awfully sorry."

Now I'm starting to tear up. Now I'm getting a compliment, very rare from Mr. Carson. You get this, you do your job, you don't hear anything.

So I'm backing out the door. And I said, I've got this date. I've got to go." He said, "No, no, no, I want to tell you. I know exactly what you're doing out there. You are only out there to make me look good. I want you to know that. I wanted to tell you that."

And I'm down the hall. He said, "See, you can't take a damn compliment any more than I can."

And what that says is: This whole thing that's happening -- last night was, you know, all Carson, all the time. It's been like that all today, all day yesterday. I loved it, but he would have hated it. He would not like that, because that's what the whole idea was. He can't take a - "You can't take a compliment any more than I can." And that's the whole essence of the man. He never wanted this accolade, never wanted...

KING: But he wanted approval, didn't he?

MCMAHON: Oh, he wanted applause, wanted laughter. He wanted to go for that, wanted to please them with entertainment and knew he was going to do that, but he didn't seek any of the things that came to him.

KING: He never needed re-encouragement.

MCMAHON: No, no.

KING: He didn't need the boss of NBC to call up and say, "Good."

MCMAHON: No, no, no.

KING: In fact it would have embarrassed him.

MCMAHON: Sure, that's right. And probably wouldn't take the call. KING: How did you find out about his death?

MCMAHON: Jeff Sotzing. You know Jeff, his nephew called me. It was like, two minutes after 7...

KING: In the morning?

MCMAHON: ... in the morning, yesterday morning. And I was in bed. And I was just waiting for my pal Tim Russert to come on at 8:00. I was sitting there having some coffee, just relaxing. I usually have a little cheese patrol with the dogs.

So I was feeding them cheese, and I was drinking my coffee. The phone rang. I thought it was something for our niece. We are raising our little 16-year-old niece. So that's not uncommon to get a call at 7, you know, very important call from school, you know, something.

So anyway, the phone rang, Pam picked up the phone, and the way she said hello and then she said "wha" -- like that. She couldn't complete the word "what." And I looked over and she looked ashen, you know, looked like the blood -- and I figured, "Oh, a relative has died. Either her relative" -- I don't have many relatives left, of course, my children.

But her relatives. And I said, "Oh," and I'm wondering who in the world, ever thinking of him at all.

And she said, "Ed, you better take this," handed me the phone.

He said, "Jeff Sotzing." The minute he said Jeff Sotzing, I knew. He said, "He left us." Oh, boy. You know, the blood drained out of me too.

So that's how I heard about it. Jeff couldn't talk. He had so many things to do. But He said, "You're the first one I've called. I've got to make a lot of other calls." I said, "I understand." I said, "Let me talk to you later. I want to know what's going on."

So anyway, he said, "Don't say anything till later in the day." I said, "I won't." And that was it.

And then I, you know, waited for -- I watched the news. I bounced around from you and different places, CNN, MSNBC.

KING: Our marathon last night we had...


MCMAHON: I saw that last night. That was wonderful.

You know, I can tell watching you you were a tremendous fan of his. I can tell that.

KING: Uh-huh.

MCMAHON: You know, you appreciate things well done, and, boy, he did it as well as it can be done.

KING: Ed McMahon is our guest. We'll be right back, celebrating -- that's what we're doing -- celebrating a life well- lived.

Doc Severinsen will be joining us in a while. Don't go away.


MCMAHON: (INAUDIBLE) a couple, rather, may be having a very romantic honeymoon.

CARSON: Are your eyes going too?


You know, if you would just get your lines out I might have a shot at this.


You see, one of us has got to do it right, and since I'm getting paid for it, I should do it right.

OK, what...

MCMAHON: I'll set it up again.

CARSON: Good. Do that.

MCMAHON: I imagine the royal couple are having a very romantic honeymoon.

CARSON: Kind of doubtful. He's 12 years older than she is.

MCMAHON: Oh, you don't believe in a May-December marriage, that will work out?

CARSON: Well, I don't think May-December marriage will last, but you could have a hell of a Labor Day.


MCMAHON: Even when you do it right sometimes.






DOLLY PARTON, SINGER: People are always asking if they're real.

CARSON: Oh, I would never, I would never, you see.

PARTON: Now, you don't have to ask.

CARSON: I would not.

PARTON: I'll tell you what, these are mine.

CARSON: I have certain guidelines on the show.


But I would give about a year's pay to peek under there.


KING: Why no memorial?

MCMAHON: Oh, that's him, You know, his attitude. He would not like all of this folderol.

KING: He wouldn't like what we're doing now.


You know, he had a gesture, and it was like a push-away, you know, "Come on," you know, "Stop that." You know, if anybody started to give him -- you could see that hand go up, like that, "Close that door. I don't want that."

And I knew, as soon as I talked to his wife, and she was very teared up, and I couldn't really get a lot of -- you know, I didn't want any information. I just wanted to tell her how Pam and I felt.

But anyway, Alex, you know, thanked me. She said, "He loved you." And I said, "I know, and I loved him."

Anyway, the minute I talked to her, I knew he had set down the rules: no memorial service.

KING: He said to me -- he was very bright -- he said to me once, "Does anyone ever call you Mr. King?" I said no. He says, "They always call me Johnny. No matter what it costs, I come into their bedroom every night." He was very aware of his relationship with his audience.

MCMAHON: Oh, yeah, oh, sure.

KING: And no one ever called him Mr. Carson.


KING: It was Johnny.

MCMAHON: Yes, I would. I would call him Mr. Carson.

KING: You would. You needed the job. (LAUGHTER)

All right, how did -- we're going to show a clip and I want you to tell me how Carnac began.

Here is Ed and Johnny in one of the most famous continuing skits of all time in television-- watch.


MCMAHON: I hold in my hands the envelopes. My 4 1/2-year-old daughter, Catherine Mary (ph), could tell that these envelopes are hermetically sealed. They've been kept in a mayonnaise jar in on Funk and Wagnall's porch since noon today. No one knows the answers inside these envelopes but you and your mystical and borderline divine way...


... will ascertain the answers without even knowing heretofore the questions. Isn't that correct, sir?

CARSON: Do we have time for this now?


The part gets longer every time we do this. (INAUDIBLE)



MCMAHON: Now, let me tell you a funny part of that.

KING: Now, how did that start?

MCMAHON: Well, all I was given the first night we did Carnac -- and that's an old, you know, skit.

KING: That's a vaudeville skit.

MCMAHON: Yes. It's a vaudeville skit. He'd do the answer, and then you give the question and get a big laugh.

Anyway, so he took it and made it more -- you know, he had the music and had the costume and all the regalia.

So I didn't feel just -- I would say, "Here's Johnny Carson."

So I put all the -- you know, "The famous mystic, the seer, soothsayer," you know, former dress designer to Janet Reno, "Carnac," you know.

So anyway, after he got down, then I -- I didn't want to just do, you know, the question thing. So I had to -- I made that whole thing up. That was all ad lib, and I kept adding to it, you know, Funk and Wagnall's porch since noon today, you know, mayonnaise jar -- I just made that up.

Now, what happened was, a whole bunch of college guys started writing to me because they wanted to do this at their fraternity. So they would ask me to send them the script. Well, there was no script. So I had to get my assistant one day, I said, "We got to write this thing out." So I did a Carnac in the office, and she, you know, she could take shorthand, she took it down so that we could mail it out.

KING: Did you know what the answers would be when he...

MCMAHON: Oh, no, no.

KING: All you knew was that you...

MCMAHON: We didn't rehearse. You know, we never -- I never saw it till , you know, I only -- I'd see on the rundown, "Carnac," that's all I would see. But then I would do all that other stuff and get -- and he oftentimes would give me the line of, you know, "dress designer to Janet Reno."

He would give me -- when I would go in to see him, instead of saying "hello," he would say such and such, whatever it was. But...

KING: He got a lot -- got away with a lot of double entendres.

MCMAHON: Oh, yes. You know, Peck's bad boy...

KING: He was.

MCMAHON: ... you know, a little fresh from Nebraska.

He got away with murder. You know, you hear some of these things, and you've done a couple of them so far, you know, the blinking. You know, I mean...

KING: Why did everybody love him so much?

MCMAHON: I think that he just penetrated into the psyche of America. He just had that Midwestern kind of sensibility.

He had a concern for people, had a concern for things.

He was just as good with some little kid three years old who knew magic, or the lady with the -- you've seen this so many times, the potato chip lady, but he loved the waiter who was 105 years old and could take a tray with two beers and two glasses and run, you know, through the thing.

KING: When was the last time you were with him?

MCMAHON: About a year ago. You know, I used to go see him.

KING: I remember, you told me, you'd have lunch.

MCMAHON: Yeah, we'd have lunch all the time. But it got to the point where he would, like, put the responsibility on me. He said, "Now look," he said, "you take care of this. You call and set these things up."

Well, to go visit him on the boat, that's where he wanted to meet me, there was a big harangue, I guess is a good word. I had to meet two guys and had to put my car in a certain place, then a guy would walk up.

KING: Really?

MCMAHON: Well, it was like a security -- very heavy security.

And then, I, you know, we'd have the lunch, and I said, I don't know. So it kind of faded away. But we kept in touch on the phone.

And he'd get a new joke and it was always great, because he'd call me with a joke. He always called me on my birthday, gave me a joke. That was my Christmas - I mean a birthday present. Then I would call him on his birthday. And that was like a ritual.

KING: You told me that he called you after your appearance on this show when we were discussing the sale of his DVDs...

MCMAHON: Yes, yes.

KING: ... which broke a record, I think. What did they sell?

MCMAHON: Yes. Well, they had 15,000 hits in one hour after you and I did that show.

I was just up there doing a commercial up in Portland, the fulfillment center, where they pick up the phone and take these orders. And they were taking orders right there from the infomercial.

But when we did that show, Christmas of '03, the first hour they had 15,000 hits. How in the world could you handle 15,000 calls?

KING: Amazing. He was something.

When we come back: Doc Severinsen, his first appearance since all of this, joins us. Don't go away.




CARSON: I say every year that we do this, I couldn't do the show without the gentleman sitting to my right all these years.

MCMAHON: Thank you, sir.


And Mr. Doc Severinsen, standing in front of them, who has been since day one-- and all the guys.


KING: And it's a great pleasure to welcome to LARRY KING LIVE tonight, from Santa Barbara, California, Doc Severinsen, band leader and the -- there he is, in his toned-down shirt tonight, Doc. Thanks very much for joining us.

This is Doc's only appearance.

How did you learn of the death of Johnny, Doc?

DOC SEVERINSEN, "TONIGHT SHOW" BANDLEADER: Jeff Sotzing called me Sunday morning, or the morning that it happened. And I heard every word he said and I understood it.

And I thought I had things under control. And I decided to sit down and watch CNN because I knew that would probably be the first place that the news would be made public.

And when it came over CNN, then it hit me. I said, "My God, it's real. He's dead." And that was Jeff Sotzing that called.

But up until then, I don't think that I really had a grasp of what was happening.

KING: Do you and Ed talk frequently?

Ed, do you talk to Doc?

MCMAHON: Not often. But we...

KING: Did you -- when did you talk after the death?

MCMAHON: Well, I called -- I started calling, Doc -- I'm sorry, Doctor --"Golden Throat" -- you called me "Golden Throat" last time.

Tiffany Lips, do you want to call me Golden Throat, Tiffany Lips?

KING: When did you call him?

MCMAHON: I called him -- I started calling right after it hit the news. I had promised Jeff Sotzing I wouldn't do anything until it hit me on the news.

So right after that I started calling the numbers I had for Doc, and I never got through directly. I got an answering service. But he called me late last night, he finally got back to me.

So, I don't know why I couldn't...

KING: Has it sunk in, Doc?

SEVERINSEN: Beg your pardon?

KING: Has it sunk in?

SEVERINSEN: Yes, but I'm still having a problem with it, you know what I mean?

I think I'm OK, now OK, I've got everything under control. And then, bam, it hits again. And it's just...


KING: How did you get that -- how did you get that job?

SEVERINSEN: Well, I've often told the real truth is that it was six unretouched Polaroid photos I had of Johnny...


MCMAHON: ... coming out of a motel in Burbank.

SEVERINSEN: That's right.

But I was working with Johnny on live concerts. And one day Johnny, I think we were in Baltimore, he says, "I want you to come and take over the band on the show for a while and see how it goes." And that was the beginning of it. That's how it started.

KING: Twenty-five years.

SEVERINSEN: Yes, 25 great years.

KING: What was the magic, Ed, of him and Johnny?

MCMAHON: Well, of course, Johnny loved good, good jazz. He was...

KING: Great trumpet player.

MCMAHON: Well, he was a good trumpet player, but I mean, he loved the band, the jazz band. He loved that. He was a jitterbugger. You know, he won a jitterbug contest.

KING: But he loved Doc's clothes, right?

MCMAHON: Oh, he loved that. It was a great gimmick, that he had that to play with and fool with.

But let me tell you something about three guys so in tune that you couldn't write this. You had eight writers in a room for a month, you wouldn't come up with this.

Here's what happened. Johnny was doing some material, and it was not very good. About the fifth to sixth joke was bombing. Now, I did something very brave. He had about four or five pages, I picked up his cigarette lighter and set fire to the material. Now, you've got to be pretty brave to do that, because he might have five good jokes on set page two.

I didn't care. It was dying. I lit a cigarette, no words, like Laurel and Hardy, not a word. I lit the cigarette and it burned in his fingers. He looked at that and then looked to me with those steely blues, back here, back at me, and then he said, "You're absolutely right," like, " You're absolutely right, Ali (ph)." He said, "You're absolutely right."

He went down, picked up the waste paper basket, put the papers still burning on top of the waste paper basket, just as he was about to drop them in, Doc started playing "Taps."

Now you talk about -- remember that? That was a great night, Doc.


MCMAHON: No retrospectives have shown that, in all the -- but that was a great, great night.

KING: Doc, of course, you remember that.

SEVERINSEN: Oh, yes, absolutely.

KING: What was he like to work with for you, Doc?

SEVERINSEN: I loved working for him because he let you know what he expected. If he didn't get it, you would hear about it.

I know one time I had put on a piece of music that I found particularly attractive, and I played it one too many times. And Fred DeCordova came over and handed me a little note written in Johnny's handwriting -- this was during the show -- that said, "Don't ever play that song again as long as you live."


So I collected the entire music from the whole band, it was about this big. And when he came out to get in his car to go home, I took all of the arrangement and I set it on fire by his car. So he knew he would never hear that again.


KING: We'll be right back with Ed McMahon, Doc Severinsen, and Bob Newhart will be checking in. Don't go away.


CARSON: Look if you want to -- if you really feel badly now, I feel so terrible if you're going to be alone.

SEVERINSEN: I didn't say I was going to be alone.


CARSON: You just said you ain't going to eat no turkey.

SEVERINSEN: That's right.

CARSON: Would you like to come to the house? SEVERINSEN: This is the first time you've ever asked me.


CARSON: You make me feel so guilty.

SEVERINSEN: You, when you ask an employee in front of 15 million people, "Do you want to come to the house for Thanksgiving dinner? what am I going to say, "No"?


You know, what I say? I say, "Yes, Mr. Carson, I'd love it."

CARSON: Can you come?






SHELLEY WINTERS: I know you from somewhere or otherwise I've seen you in great movies. I can't remember which.

ANNIE POTTS: Well, maybe it was the one we did together.



CARSON: Shelley said she has perfect recall, not for dates.

WINTERS: We did? We did a picture together?


WINTERS: What was it? I did this to Paul Newman, so it's all right.

POTTS: You did? Oh, it's OK OK. We did a film called "King of the Gypsies" together.

WINTERS: Of course, and you were wonderful in it. (INAUDIBLE)



CARSON: That takes guts, but she got away with it.


KING: Best take in the business: Johnny Carson.

Ed McMahon, Doc Severinsen with us. And joining us on the phone, a man who substituted for Johnny almost 90 times: Bob Newhart.

Bob, how are you?


Hi, Doc.

Hi, Ed.



NEWHART: Say hi to Emily.


KING: Bob, how did you learn of Johnny's passing?

NEWHART: It was Sunday and I was in the office. I think I was actually making copies of the "New York Times" crossword puzzle and the "L.A. Times" crossword puzzle, and Jenny buzzed me in the office and said -- she said that Johnny Carson is dead. And I said, "Oh, my God, you're kidding." She said, "No, it was just on television," -- CNN, I think. And my first reaction was, I said, "It's the end of an era."

KING: Yes.

We have a clip we're going to show now of Bob Newhart. Bob Newhart was one of the last people to appear with Johnny that last week.

NEWHART: That's right.

KING: Let's watch.


NEWHART: And I know you don't like modeling kind of things.

CARSON: We're both the same.

NEWHART: We're very similar. We're from the Midwest and we kind of hold (INAUDIBLE)...


KING: That's Newhart. That was great. MCMAHON: Beautiful, beautiful.

KING: What was it like to pinch-hit for him, Bob?

NEWHART: Larry, I did it -- I went to New York, it must have been around '74, '75, and I did three weeks or a month. And I talked to Jenny on the phone. She said, "How are you doing?" I said, "I am a limp dish rag."

I mean, this man, how he did it for 30 years, I have no idea. I was absolutely exhausted, and it's incredible how easy he made it look, like nothing was planned.

And you had to read the books of the authors, you had to write the monologue because generally the writers were working on their play.

You know, once Johnny went on vacation, then the writers, they would hand me three lousy jokes and then they could work on their play. So I had to write the monologue every day.

KING: Doc, what was it like when there were guest hosts? Was it harder for you?

SEVERINSON: No, no, I enjoyed it a lot of the times. Sometimes Ed would take off when Johnny would, and then I would be there with the guest host.

KING: Did you enjoy that too?

SEVERINSON: I did except for the very first time.

KING: Why?

SEVERINSON: Rudy Tellez was producing the show, and he said, "Ed is off tonight and you're going to take his place. I said, "No, I can't do that, I can't do that. He says, "Yes you can." I said, "How come?" He says, "Because I said so."


To start the show, I sounded like a boy soprano. "And now from New York City." I go, "Man, they need to get a real professional in here to do this."

KING: You hosted a lot, too, right, Ed?

MCMAHON: Yes, I hosted. He would get a terrible malady, a very strange malady, called the NBC flu. He only got that when he was in negotiation with NBC. And all of a sudden about 4 o'clock, the producer would poke his head in my office and say, "You've got the show tonight."

So the next thing I know, Doc and I would be hosting the show with no time to prepare, nothing. An hour later we were on the air. That was it. But that only happened about a dozen times, I guess. KING: Bob Newhart, as a great comic yourself, how would you explain his comedic genius?

NEWHART: Well, he was first a comedy writer, as you know. He wrote for Red Skelton and he used to write -- he would describe writing the sketches or bits for Red, you know, the Clem Kaddlehopper...


KING: The silly characters.

NEWHART: And it's interesting, as we've all found out, that the thing he missed most was the monologue, and that he would write ideas and have no outlet for them, and gags. And he would call up David Letterman and send them to David Letterman.

He was extraordinary. You know, it's been said that we'll never see his like again.

I have to tell you one story.

John used to come out and Ed used to come out for their California swing, you know, and we would get together usually after the show and we'd go to Sneaky Pete's , which was a restaurant on Sunset. And Johnny would sit in with the band and Ed would sing. And then we'd go back to my house in Beverly Hills. And I had a drum set. John would play the drums and we'd turn the music up and have a good time.

But we had three kids in school, three young kids.

So Jenny said -- one night we were there after the show and it was getting late, and Jenny said, "Johnny, you have to excuse me, I have to go to sleep because I have to take the kids to school tomorrow." So Johnny said fine.

So the next day the door bell rings, and there is a man, a messenger, with an Army cot. Johnny had gone out that morning, he had gone to an Army surplus store, he had bought this Army cot and put a note, like, something like, "Now you can sleep in the living room."



Bob, thanks for joining us. Thanks for...


NEWHART: Thank you, Larry.

KING: The great Bob Newhart.

Do you two guys keep...

MCMAHON: Oh, yes.

KING: Do you ever work together, you and Doc?

MCMAHON: Doc and I worked about a year and a half ago at the Orleans Hostel in Vegas. He had the full band, and I was there. We were both headlining at the same time, and we did a lot of the old shtick we used to do together. And he's trying to see some of the guys in the band. And we had a ball there.

Doc, didn't we have a good time?

SEVERINSEN: We had a really fine time.

KING: Do you go out and play much?

SEVERINSEN: Yes, I'm on the road about 46 weeks a year, Larry. That's why I look the way I do.

KING: You look pretty good to me, Doc, believe me.

SEVERINSEN: I've seen better days.

KING: We asked Ed and he explained it. Doc, do you understand why there's no memorial service, why Johnny didn't want it?

SEVERINSEN: Yes. Well, that's just the way he was. I mean, he didn't -- he just didn't believe in that sort of thing. And so, you know, I guess you respect his wishes.

KING: What a -- he was a complicated person, right?

MCMAHON: Well, he was a many directional kind of person. So to kind of get him where he was at that time made it complicated for you and for Doc as well. I'm sure he appreciates that when he worked with him, substituting me.

You know, what he wanted at that time, you had to kind of fulfill that.

But he was easy going. Oddly enough, with all the other things you hear and read about, he was easy to be around, right, Doc? You enjoyed being with him. It was wonderful.

SEVERINSEN: Yes, he was the best to work with. I mean, he could take you in a conversation and just gently guide you along so it looked like you knew what you were talking about.


You know, some of the things that I used to enjoy most on the show, Ed, was The Five Spot when they would have no material to use, or if they did, it would get thrown away and you and Johnny would start talking about whatever and go on for, like, seven or eight minutes or ten minutes sometimes, and the guys in the band and I used to die laughing over that.

MCMAHON: That was my favorite spot as well.

KING: The Five Spot...


MCMAHON: When he came over, after the monologue, the commercial, when I -- I sat down at the chair -- I worked on the mike during the monologue, and then I walked over to the chair. And then he might have some material, he might not be in the mood, he didn't like it, he looked at it, and we'd go into some kind of a something and that would really work-- I loved that.

KING: We're going to take a break and come back with Ed McMahon, Doc Severinsen, take a phone call or two. And then we're going to hear from Paul Anka. Don't go away.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is a fruit eater, so they find the fruit with their sight and also the sense of smell.



KING: Joining us on the phone is Paul Anka, the acclaimed singer and songwriter, been part of the American scene for almost half a century. And he wrote the theme music for "The Tonight Show," one of the most familiar themes in American television history.

Now, Paul, was it first a song and then a theme, or first a theme and then a song?

PAUL ANKA, MUSICIAN: It was -- I was in the middle of a project with Annette Funicello. Not sure if it was going to ever emerge. And then I ran into Johnny. Actually, I met Johnny in Great Britain. I was doing a TV special. And I needed a comedian for the show. Someone sent me a kinescope of a bunch of comedians. Johnny was doing a bit with a bunch of kids in the morning -- right, Ed?


ANKA: ... where he had been drinking the night before, hand a hangover, he'd show up and these kids would start screaming. It was a funny bit, I forget the name of the bit. And I said, "I love that guy, bring him over."

So Johnny came over. He did the show with me.

Fade out, fade in, we're in New York, I run into him on 57th Street with his manager. I think it was Shields and Bruno, Ed?

MCMAHON: Yes, Al Bruno.

ANKA: Al Bruno, and we started talking, and he said, "We're going to take over this 'Tonight Show,' blah, blah, blah, "looking for a new theme." And I had this other song that I'd written for Annette that I was in the middle of. So we did a demo of the song with the band, at Bell Sound Studios, the whole drum lead-up, and I sent it to him.

In fact, you were there, Ed, when he got word, weren't you?

MCMAHON: I was there. I was -- we were in Fort Lauderdale. And this package arrived, and somebody brought it up to the suite. We were in there working on the show, and somebody brought this cardboard box up, and Johnny opened it up, and there was the theme. And we played it. We got a player, and played it. And it was the first time either one of us heard it -- and magic.


KING: Did Funicello record it?

ANKA: She recorded it with another lyric, and then I named this "Johnny's Theme." And then I got some feedback. I think Skitch Henderson-- right, Doc? -- was the band leader.

SEVERINSEN: Yes, he was.

ANKA: And then somebody -- I'm a 20-year-old kid, you know, all these guys are older than I am. And I got this call that Skitch was real PO'ed that this kid wrote this song, it may not go on the air.

So I called Johnny, I said, "Johnny, you've done such a nice thing. I'm giving you 50 percent of the song," you know, because he was always kibitzing that the show wouldn't last.

KING: Every time it played, how much did you get?

ANKA: I think it averaged out to about $200,000 a year. We split that up for 30 years.

MCMAHON: Yes, isn't that great? Isn't that great?

ANKA: Of course, we both spent it.

KING: Doc, what was it like to play that song? Why did that song work so well?

SEVERINSEN: Well, I don't know exactly why it did. It was accessible. People could understand what it was, and it was associated with Johnny. I loved every single time I played it, and I love it when I play it still to this day.

KING: Why?

SEVERINSEN: Well, it's just a great reminder of a wonderful time in all of our lives. KING: Paul, why did it work?

SEVERINSEN: I loved...

KING: Go ahead, Doc, I'm sorry. Doc and then Paul.

SEVERINSEN: I loved -- Ed was talking about when the song was delivered that he and Johnny were up in the suite in Ft. Lauderdale working on the show?



MCMAHON: And we both loved music.

SEVERINSEN: Sure you were.

KING: Paul, why did it work?

ANKA: It was just a simple song, and it was identifiable to Johnny, and it was a great arrangement.

And you know, Johnny loved his music. I mean, one of the great memories I had was, we used to hang out at Joey's, and Johnny loved Sinatra, but of course Frank wasn't interested in doing any press of any kind. And we'd be sitting around later years at Gilly's , and Johnny would come in -- I'm sure Ed remembers some of this -- you know, after a show, we'd all take a little nip or two...


ANKA: ... and Johnny would rock right into Gilly's . And there used to be a little trio in the back -- Somebody Cole was the trio -- And Johnny walked up, he'd ask the drummer to get up, and Johnny would sit down and he'd play those damn drums for about an hour -- right, Ed?

MCMAHON: Right, it was the Frankie Randall Trio.


MCMAHON: They were great. Anyway, Johnny would love that.

You know, and the reason we had those drinks, you know, those studios can be very dusty, as you know...

ANKA: Oh, very dusty.

MCMAHON: ... and a lot of dust would settle in your throat. So oftentimes...

KING: Oh, yes.

MCMAHON: .. you'd want to go out and just put some liquid in there to kind of soften up that. KING: Paul, thanks a lot for joining us. Thanks, Paul. I wish we had more time.

Paul Anka.

ANKA: Bye, bye.

KING: As we go to break, here's David Letterman appearing on LARRY KING LIVE, last time he appeared with us, talking about Johnny Carson -- watch.


KING: Is Carson the figurehead for everyone in this business to you?


KING: Carson.


LETTERMAN: I'm sorry. Well, of course, of course.

KING: I mean, that's -- he's the model figure.

LETTERMAN: Well, I've said it so many times: Here's a guy who was on the air, not on the air, he succeeded, not only succeeded, prevailed for how long? Five years, 10 years? Thirty years. So those are pretty good numbers to shoot for.



KING: We'll get a call or two in. But one of my favorite bits, Ed Ames, the great singer, was also a regular on the "Daniel Boone Show," came on Johnny Carson with the ax throwing incident.

Watch, one of the funniest moments in television history.



CARSON: I didn't even know you were Jewish.




MCMAHON: A line they don't include in this clip, and I wish they would, it's one of Johnny's funniest lines. Ed is embarrassed, you know, after he does the Jewish line and you know, welcome to frontier bris.


MCMAHON: Yes, that's what he said. And then Ed Ames hands him and he says, "You want to try it, Johnny?" Johnny looks over at the cowboy with the ax and he says, "I can't hurt him any more than you did."

KING: That's great.

Lets get a call in.

Oklahoma City, hello.

CALLER: Good evening, gentleman.


CALLER: My deepest sympathies, Doc and Ed.

I've heard Johnny compared to Will Rogers who had the most -- the biggest impact on popular culture of his day. Do you think that would be an apt comparison to be used with Johnny?

And do you think in 50 to 75 years people will be talking about him?

MCMAHON: Oh, absolutely, absolutely.

You know, Barbara Hower, the columnist from Washington, told me the minute Carson got on somebody -- like, there was a guy named Earl Butz.

KING: Agriculture...

MCMAHON: Agriculture secretary. The minute Johnny started calling him Earl "the Pearl" Butz, his career was over.

KING: Couldn't you say -- you could say, Doc, that he was in that Will Rogers tradition, right?

SEVERINSEN: Yes, but there's one thing about it. During Will Rogers' time, we didn't have the universal coverage of television and radio the way we do now. So, it magnified Johnny's presence quite a bit more than Will Rogers.

KING: Omaha, Nebraska.

CALLER: Hi, guys, I'd just like to thank Mr. McMahon and Doc Severinsen for all the wonderful and fun years of entertainment with Johnny.

And I'd also like to know what each of the guys' funniest memories on the show was.

KING: OK, we have limited time here. Do you have a funniest memory?


MCMAHON: Oh, boy, that's...

KING: Do you have one Doc?

MCMAHON: Go ahead, Doc, the funniest memory.

SEVERINSEN: No, there's so many, I couldn't even...

MCMAHON: So many, yes. Maybe the George Gobel -- you know, the whole world -- did you ever think the whole world was a tuxedo and you were a pair of brown shoes.


KING: Dean Martin,


MCMAHON: Yes, Dean Martin and Bob Hope had wailed and out comes out Lonesome George and he came up with that line.

KING: Doc, how old are you now?


KING: And still playing, keeping on, keeping on, right?

SEVERINSEN: As long as the teeth hold up, I'm in there.


KING: Ed, how old are you now?

MCMAHON: I'm going to be -- in five weeks, I'll be 82 and I'm still cranking along. As long as the voice holds up, you'll be hearing from me.

KING: Does this kind of thing give you pause?

MCMAHON: Not really. You know, I feel good. I'm very healthy. I work hard. I just keep charging. I'm an old Marine, as you know, and I just plunge ahead, and I love it.

KING: Doc, are you in good health?

SEVERINSEN: Yes, I happen to be in excellent condition. And my mother lived to 101 and wasn't going to leave then, so I expect to be around for a while.

KING: All right, we can't leave the show without having you do it one more time, Man.

MCMAHON: All right, I'm going to do it for the angels. KING: For the angels.


And now, "Here's Johnny!"

KING: We leave you with some poignant moments from Johnny's last few nights on "The Tonight Show."

"NEWSNIGHT" with Aaron Brown will follow.

We'll see you again tomorrow night.

And by the way Sunday, a very special live edition of LARRY KING LIVE dealing with the elections in Iraq.

Watch these moments. See you tomorrow. For the whole crew, good night.



CARSON: As an entertainer, it's been a great experience in my life, and I can't imagine finding something after leave tonight in television that would give me as much joy and pleasure and a sense of exhilaration as this show has given me. It's just very hard to explain.


CARSON: I am one of the lucky people in the world. I found something I always wanted to do, and I have enjoyed every single minute of it.






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