Hell hath no fury like a lawyer scorned.
“You must never, ever repeat a word from last night,” Johnny Carson told Henry Bushkin after sobering up from a barstool confessional. Bushkin gave a lawyerly assurance to “The Tonight Show” host, saying in part, “I would lose my license if during your lifetime I repeated it to a soul.”
Maybe Carson’s head hurt too much to catch that little caveat. Had he noticed the words “in your lifetime,” the entertainer might not have been so keen on hiring a 27-year-old lawyer who likely would outlive him and might one day reveal his personal and professional blemishes.
Is Bushkin’s writing about his famously private client an act of betrayal tinged with revenge? Carson did fire him after nearly two decades of devoted service.
Putting that matter aside, few books like “Johnny Carson” have been more engrossing. It’s not just a juicy peek inside a celebrity’s life from the view of a hanger-on. Bushkin’s memoir is also a well-written corporate tale that reveals the tough business of staying America’s favorite late-night host, full of stories of money, sex and skullduggery, peppered with plenty of laughs.
Bushkin began handling Carson’s affairs in 1970. Carson needed additional legal advice on how to execute a pre-emptive strike on his second wife (there would be two more). Bushkin writes that he proved himself by joining Carson, who was armed with a .38-caliber handgun, and a few others in a raid on the love nest shared by Mrs. Carson and athlete turned sportscaster Frank Gifford. Carson wept when he realized he was losing another wife.