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Book Notes

November 8, 2012

DVD is an enjoyable tribute to Johnny Carson

Anyone who came of age in the 1960s, 70s or 80s will remember Johnny Carson. To say he was the king of late-night television would be, if anything, an understatement. For 30 years he wove a fabric into the American experience that will never be repeated.

Today, late-night comedians such as David Letterman, Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien try to emulate him, but they will never be his equal. Carson was truly one of a kind.

I first got a glimpse of “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” in the late 1960s when I was about 12 years old. It was on TV way past my bedtime so it must have been a Friday night when my parents were out late. I watched it with my older brother and was fascinated by the comedy and interviews with famous celebrities. I couldn’t wait to see it again. Usually that would only occur if my parents were asleep or Bob Hope was on (my dad adored him).

By the time I was a senior in high school and closing in on graduation “The Tonight Show” became a regular experience (who goes to bed early their last semester of high school?). I got to know all of Carson’s infamous characters: Art Fern, Aunt Blabby, The Great El Moldo, Floyd R. Turbo, and, best of all, Carnac the Magnificent. Like my friends, we all watched Johnny Carson in college and beyond. His anniversary shows were classics.

The show was never dull. In fact, the funniest moments occurred when Carson bombed his monologue. If the jokes started getting a negative response from the audience the band would strike up some banal tune and Carson would start dancing. It always brought plenty of laughs. He was tremendous at ad-libbing comedy too.

There was a time when you thought Johnny Carson would never end. After all, he had been on “The Tonight Show” as long as any of us could remember (1962 to be exact). But as he aged and took more time off it became apparent that the end was coming. In 1992 he decided that he had enough. At 67 it was time to quit.

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Book Notes
  • 'Moneyball' author tackles Wall Street with 'Flash Boys' Have you ever read a book that feels like it's in a foreign language? It covers a subject you know is important and figure at some point it will all make sense. What do you do when that doesn't happen? Obviously, the easiest solution is to toss the book aside. But what if the underlying message is something you "get" and don't want to give up on? I faced that dilemma recently.

    July 17, 2014

  • MacNeil reading highlights novels Several weeks ago I had the good fortune to attend a talk by Robert MacNeil at the Guilderland Public Library. MacNeil is best known as the former co-host of the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour on PBS. He retired in 1995 but has continued to write both fiction and non-fiction. His talk at Guilderland focused on two of his novels, "Burden of Desire" written in 1992, and its sequel, "Portrait of Julia," which was published last year.

    July 10, 2014

  • 'The Monuments Men' shows important history World War II continues to hold a special place in the hearts of readers and movie goers. The reasons are many but much of it can be traced to the endless number of storylines from that conflict. There is literally a treasure trove of material that keeps emerging. The latest example is the movie, “The Monuments Men.â€�

    July 3, 2014

  • Authors not afraid to think like freaks Conventional wisdom is something we automatically take for granted. It can be something as simple as assuming there is no cure for the common cold or political polls being a good indicator of who will win an election. Common assumptions of course can be wrong but we usually just accept them as fact. However, in many cases it would be much better to think "outside the box" and consider an alternative way of looking at the world.

    June 26, 2014

  • Book goes further into Armstrong's lies There hasn't been a shortage of elite athletes that have fallen from grace in recent years. Most of them have been baseball players who have been caught using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) and then lying about it. Golfer Tiger Woods fell from his pedestal because of extra-marital affairs. He has yet to regain his previous aura and perhaps never will. But the loudest crash of all came from cyclist Lance Armstrong who was not only a liar and a cheat but ruined other people's lives in the process.

    June 19, 2014

  • Documentary proves Butch, Sundance still enchant "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" is one of the most popular films of all-time. The 1969 Western is based on the real life exploits of two infamous outlaws whose specialty was robbing trains. They became folk heroes because they supposedly never shot anyone.

    June 12, 2014

  • Pohl's call-up reminds me of Feinstein book We recently learned that Cooperstown native and professional baseball player Phillip Pohl was promoted to the AAA farm team of the Oakland Athletics where he played for nearly a month. For those that don't know, AAA is the highest minor league before reaching the major leagues.

    June 5, 2014

  • Movie gives clues into real Disney Everyone has heard of Walt Disney. How can you not when Disneyland and Disney World are the most popular family vacation spots around. Add in his historic cartoons and animated features and you have a Hollywood legend. But how many people know what the man himself was like?

    May 29, 2014

  • Wooden bio by Davis feels definitive Any long-time observer of college basketball knows that one school and one coach stand out above all others. In the 1960s and 1970s the John Wooden-led UCLA Bruins won ten championships in twelve seasons. Their level of achievement is so remarkable that it will probably never be equaled. Forty years after his last championship the ghost of John Wooden still reverberates at the university.

    May 22, 2014

  • Finding gems in e-book selection For those of us hooked on e-books it's not easy to get a best seller through the Download Zone. Those titles are hot commodities. But just because we have to wait doesn't mean that good books aren't available. I've had plenty of luck finding a "diamond in the rough" when I'm going on vacation and don't want to lug a heavy book around.

    May 15, 2014