Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, January 25, 2005

JOHNNY CARSON: 1925-2005
Local stars got to mix it up with 'master host'

 •  Carson gone but not forgotten

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

Glenn Medeiros was a 16-year-old student at Kaua'i High School when he sang his signature tune, "Nothing's Gonna Change My Love for You," on the "Tonight Show" in 1986.

Johnny Carson, shown here on his show, also monkeyed around at the old Pearl City Tavern in 1973.

Advertiser library photo • 1977

Johnny Carson was instrumental in helping launch the career of Radford grad Bette Midler, shown here on the "Tonight Show" in 1992.

Associated Press library photo • 1992

"I was supposed to only sing the song, but Johnny (Carson) invited me to sit down on the couch after the commercial break," Medeiros recalled yesterday. "I was so scared, but the audience kept clapping and clapping, giving me a standing ovation. After the break, Johnny told me, 'Why don't you come up,' and there I was on the couch, with William Buckley on my left and Johnny on my right. He was very friendly, very sincere, really a nice person.

"Johnny was directly responsible for the success of 'Nothing's Gonna Change My Love for You,' " said Medeiros, now a teacher at St. Joseph School in Waipahu.

Medeiros, Don Ho and Bette Midler are among the Hawai'i residents who took the late-night stage with Carson over the years. Hawai'i had a place in Carson's life as a vacation spot, and the Islands sometimes found their way into Carson's monologue, in the form of zingers about "Hawaii Five-0" star Jack Lord's picture-perfect hair.

Ho remembers Carson as "the master host," while Medeiros, who shared a record label with bandmaster Doc Severinsen (who conducted the "Tonight Show" orchestra), says Carson was "a down-to-earth person."

Ho, the Waikiki Beachcomber Hotel headliner who made "three or four" appearances on the late-night show, says, "Johnny was the master; I think everybody learned from him about longevity, variety and demeanor. He was very nonthreatening, very informed, and I remember he and I had a lot of fun in Las Vegas, when he did his shows and when I did mine. We met at one of those big parties; he, like me, was a loner, who doesn't do much off stage. So he shuffled cards in the kitchen."

Ho characterized Carson as "really shy."

In June 1971, Ho performed "Lahainaluna" while daughter Lei did the hula on "The Tonight Show." Then Ho mentioned he wished a shipping strike, which triggered a run for toilet paper in the Islands, had continued — so Hawai'i could go back to the old days of walking around with no clothes, eating fish, squid and poi.

Carson responded, "Then, I guess, all you'd have to do is wait for the next tidal wave."

Former Advertiser columnist Cobey Black, now 82, and a resident at La Pietra near Diamond Head, interviewed Carson in 1973. She said he was "a very modest, regular guy" with a sense of humor.

Carson called himself to set up the interview; one of Black's children was incredulous, saying, "There's some guy on the phone who says he's Johnny Carson!"

Carson had breakfast with Black. "I'd like to go to a place that has monkeys behind the bar," he said, referring to the Pearl City Tavern, now long gone, which had a monkey bar. Black believes he went there for supper the evening they talked.

In the interview, Carson told Black he was intrinsically shy.

"A lot of performers are, strangely enough, and it takes the stimulation of an audience to bring them out," said Carson. "When I'm off, I'm not on. I'm not one to be constantly amusing. ... I'm still embarrassed when people ask me for my autograph. And I'm not playing the humble bit."

During his 1973 Kahala Hilton stay, Carson got lost seeking out the Kuilima Hotel (now the Turtle Bay Resort) in Kahuku, but made it back to the hotel to give entertainer Danny Kaleikini a birthday peck on the cheek. At the Pagoda Hotel, he saw old pal Trini Lopez.

Carson was 48 at the time, marking his 11th year with the "Tonight Show," but he was already a household name.

"That's the name of the game, the goal of a performer," he said, "but I don't think I ever sat down and said so. It's a matter of evolution, of letting it happen, and timing is everything. If it's the right time, the right place and with the right person, it happens. That's what's frustrating to young talent. They may be ready, but they don't get the break. It's a very ephemeral business."

Carson was instrumental in launching Midler, the Radford graduate, and said she had "it." "It's something you sense, some chemistry that creates an excitement between the audience and the performer. It's always fun to see," he said.