Heeere’s Some Johnny Carson Nostalgia

Artwork hatched on the Upper East Side

Time magazine’s History wing is in the midst of an interesting project: looking back, week-to-week, at events covered in the magazine during the same period 50 years ago. This week happens to coincide with the original king of late night TV.

The sculpture of Carson showcased on the May 19, 1967 issue cover was created by the late Robert Berks, who passed away six years after Carson, in 2011 (coincidentally, on this date–May 16). The artist was most famous for his treatments of Albert Einstein and John F. Kennedy.

In 2005, when Carson died, Time revisited the cover. Here’s how the bust came about:

Carson met Berks at his studio in Manhattan’s Upper East Side for six or seven hour-long sittings. He would finish taping The Tonight Show at the NBC studios in midtown and arrive at Berks’ apartment with Ed McMahon, Red Skelton and others in tow. During the sessions, the group would often tell jokes while Berks was capturing Carson’s image. But, he says, Johnny always seemed guarded, as though he was never giving him a full glimpse of who he was. “You could sense him relaxing and coming off camera bit by bit,” Berks says. “There was a subtle difference, but there was no great change in personality.”

Those were the days… When Ed McMahon, Red Skelton and “others” tagged along to an artist’s studio. The cover story is behind the Time magazine Vault paywall, but history and archive editor Lily Rothman shares a fun excerpt about Carson’s early teenage years and perfection of the Great Carsoni magic act.

Previously on Fishbowl:
Howard Stringer Still Treasures the Memory of His Lunches With Johnny Carson