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Book Notes

December 19, 2013

Bushkin offers window into Carson's life

For most people Henry Bushkin is not a household name. Even many of those who have heard of him may not be aware of who he is. 

Bushkin was Johnny Carson’s lawyer and business manager for 18 years and the butt of many of his jokes during his monologues on The Tonight Show. Carson always referred to him as “Bombastic Bushkin” and enjoyed revealing the latest investment scheme his manager had conjured up. 

My favorite was getting Carson exclusive rights to Weight Watchers in Bangladesh.

Whatever jokes Carson made about him it was clear that the two were close. Bushkin was Carson’s “fix-it” man who was supposed to handle any problem that arose, from divorces to business contracts to making sure that public and private appearances went smoothly. Bushkin was even Carson’s tennis partner the entire time they worked together.

Bushkin was employed by Carson from 1970 to 1988. He was eventually fired for what Carson considered an act of disloyalty, imagined or not. In all the years since, Bushkin has been repeatedly asked what Carson was really like. He finally decided to write a book about their experiences together simply titled “Johnny Carson.”

When a relationship ends badly it’s natural to be a little suspicious of a retrospective biography. These “tell all” books tend to be a method of payback. It doesn’t appear so in this case because many of Bushkin’s recollections are quite praiseworthy and much of the negative stuff was already public knowledge. In fact, the biggest surprise was discovering the number of reputable celebrities that were either cheapskates or drunks.

Bushkin met Carson in the most unusual way when he was a young lawyer just starting out in practice. A mutual friend recommended him when Carson wanted a lawyer to accompany him and his buddies when they broke into his second wife’s apartment to find evidence that she was cheating on him. Never mind what she was even doing with a separate apartment or that he was also cheating on her, the importance of this escapade is that was how Bushkin and Carson met.

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