“Henry and Johnny”
The New Yorker article by Kenneth Tynan from 1978, included the following question and answer:
Tynan: When you’re at home, whom do you entertain?
Carson: My lawyer, Henry Bushkin, who’s probably my best friend.
But to Henry, the relationship was much more complicated…
People speak to Henry about Johnny Carson, because sooner or later it comes out that he worked for the Tonight Show host for nearly 20 years. He was his attorney, though that hardly expresses all that he did. He was his lawyer, counselor, partner, business advisor, earpiece, mouthpiece, enforcer, running buddy and tennis pal, drinking and dining companion and foil. A good portion of his job meant cleaning up Johnny’s mess. There are still a decent number of people who had a business relationship with Johnny Carson that ended badly. They still love Johnny, but hate that prick lawyer of his. Which of course, was just the way Johnny wanted it.
This was the most complex, stimulating, and challenging relationship of Henry’s life, the most rewarding and the most disappointing. The one that now, 25 years after it ended, continues to provoke, irritate, delight, amuse, and sadden. Henry and Johnny were together longer than three of his wives, he was closer to the man than any of Johnny Carson’s friends, family, or colleagues. But for all that, nothing shocked Henry more than the day six years into their relationship, when in a magazine Johnny described Henry as his “best friend.”
Friend? Doubtful. They probably were never really friends. The collar around Henry’s neck wasn’t always comfortable and loose. There was never a question about who was in charge.
Some friends have said that the introverted Carson simply found someone who understands better than most what made him tick. Bushkin and Carson then became partners, and it enabled the lawyer to gain great stature and the ability to step beyond the normal protocols of entertainment lawyers.
But after almost two decades of great success the relationship ended. It had run its course. And A HARD ACT TO FOLLOW shares with its readers the rollicking years when Carson and Bushkin shared great times together.
A Hard Act to Follow gives genuine insight into ‘The Carson behind Johnny’ with candid personal vignettes about Henry Bushkin and Johnny Carson, during the rollicking years when he was the undisputed king of television. This is an engaging, eye-opening, anecdote-packed story about the relationship between a young lawyer, and his client, one of the biggest celebrities in the world. It is intended to give a look at the Carson that none but a select few really knew. And all of this without guilt–not exactly the typical light comedy associated with celebrity memoirs. Of course, Henry is not a celebrity-but the work is about the two of them during the two decades where Carson reigned supreme.
By the start of 1979, I had been his lawyer for nearly one decade and had been watching him on television for almost two. I obviously knew he was a star—NBC paid him like a star, audiences applauded him like a star, and sponsors adored his starry ratings—but I guess I had become used to him. It’s true, I was more in awe of him when we first met in 1970, but that had a lot to do with the vast difference in our places in the world: I was a young attorney of no particular accomplishment, and he was the well-established host of the dominant program in the late-night time slot. But Johnny seldom played the star around me (during our whole long association, whenever he would call me, he began every conversation by saying, ‘‘Hey, you got a minute?’’), and we evolved a productive, low-key business relationship in which he always had the final say, but in which he almost always accepted my recommendations. We also had a personal relationship, one where we saw one another almost every day and spoke, joked, and talked about personal matters. I was privy to his finances, to the ups and downs of his marriages, to his concerns about his children, to all his interests and his moods, and I traveled with him every few weeks when he went on the road to play nightclubs. Maybe because I saw him so closely, I lost appreciation of his immensity. But on that night in 1979—a night that, as it happened, fell about halfway through our long association, and one that followed many high points in our relationship but was still on the eve of what would prove to be my greatest contribution to his well-being—I finally experienced a moment in which I recognized his true stature.