Heeeere’s Henry! ‘Bombastic Bushkin’ Recounts Joan Rivers-Edgar Trickery

It’s difficult to believe, as Henry Bushkin told us for Mediabistro’s latest “So What Do You Do?“, that he had a hard time initially interesting New York publishers in his tell-all memoir Johnny Carson. But in the end, a book first envisioned as a self-published enterprise has arrived at a time that feels just right, framed by Janet Maislin’s rave review in The New York Times.

In one unpublished portion of our Mediabistro conversation, Bushkin addressed Carson’s celebrated falling out with Joan Rivers. He reconfirmed his view that it all came down to some very duplicitous actions by Rivers’ late husband Edgar:

“This guy was as shady as you can possibly imagine, right? When I say “Inspector Clouseau”, that’s who he was. But he was the devious Inspector Clouseau. He clearly said that he called me several times, OK? He never called me once. And I’m certain he told his wife, ‘I tried to tell these guys, but Bushkin wouldn’t return my call.'”

“And here’s the think everyone should know. Johnny never felt this woman could carry a show more than one week at a time. The public would just get too much of her. One week is enough; two weeks in a row, not good. She would do the guest hosting one week at a time, and every time, she rehearsed two weeks for the one week. For those two weeks prior, she was playing little clubs doing her material for the one week. So when she did her one week, she was really well prepared. When she did her own [Fox] show, she had one day to prepare. You get it? Not possible with her, just not possible. And that show lasted a dismal couple of months.”

Bushkin feels that had Rivers not been tripped up by Edgar, Johnny would have given his blessings and she would likely have been back in The Tonight Show fold within a year. Read the Mediabistro Q&A here.

Editor’s Note:
Due to a 2016 redesign of the mediabistro.com website, the “So What Do You Do?” interview with Bushkin was taken offline. For those interested, it has been carried over here in its entirety, including the aforementioned portion that was not in the published version.

In the book’s Acknowledgments, you explain how the impetus for the book came in 2008 from fellow (and subsequent) Carson attorney Ed Hookstratten. Can you explain a bit how you got from there to here?

Some time ago, I was about to self-publish the book. The book that has come out this week is essentially the same book. Frankly, when I was going to do it on my own, with a small staff, it became apparent that Carson wasn’t relevant in the eyes of New York publishers vis-a-vis New York editors. They thought he was just irrelevant.

When I had the manuscript in polished form, I sent it to a friend of mine in New York. She then immediately sent it to a friend of hers at Vanity Fair, and then she asked if she could send it to a friend of hers, an agent in New York. And I said yes. And all of a sudden, there were five publishers bidding for it. So it had quite an evolution that took quite some time, with the book going through several gestation periods.

Did you ever cross paths, in your efforts to get published, with Bill Zehme, who has been working for a long time now on a separate biography of Carson?

Yes. Bill Zehme called me and emailed me countless times, hoping I would help him in his book. To be perfectly honest, he was delightful and smart guy, he writes very well. But I had no interest in participating in his project. As far as I know, the book isn’t even written yet. I’m not sure of the status, but I’ve heard various stories at various times about where it stands.