From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
Show-business junkies old enough to have spent many of their late nights between 1962 and 1992 watching Johnny Carson, the King of Late Night, will likely devour this long-anticipated memoir in one gulp. Notorious for keeping his distance from one and all, even those he purportedly loved, Carson was perhaps closest to Henry Bushkin, his lawyer and consigliere for 18 years, from 1970 to 1988; the relationship ended badly, but Bushkin self-described as Carson's lawyer, counselor, partner, employee, business advisor, earpiece, mouthpiece, enforcer, running buddy, tennis pal, drinking and dining companion, and foil may be the one living person capable of giving readers at least a glimpse of the man behind the genial, oh-so-smooth mask. Naturally, there is more than one man back there. Carson, Bushkin says, was endlessly witty and enormously fun to be around, but he also could be the nastiest son of a bitch on earth. The text provides multiple examples of both sides of Carson's Mr. Hyde personality, but, of course, it is the petulant, boozing, womanizing Johnny that will draw the most attention: throwing tantrums over perceived slights at Ronald Reagan's inauguration, at having to wait for a suite at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, at Joan Rivers' decision to launch a competing late-night show without first informing Carson, and, above all, at his mother's refusal to acknowledge both Carson's success and his lavish gifts to her (his mother's coldness, Bushkin and many others believe, was at the root of Carson's own iciness in personal relationships). The portrait of Carson offered here, though, goes way beyond dish: it is a genuinely multifaceted look at the burdens and the excesses of celebrity. Equally fascinating, though, is Bushkin's own story: how a young entertainment lawyer fell into a honey pot but became stuck in the sweetness, obsessed with trying to keep his client happy while his own personal life and marriage tumbled into disarray. What would Carson have made of this book? Perhaps he might have recognized Bushkin's undying regard, even love, for his former running buddy, but more likely, Bad Johnny would have quoted from his Tonight Show character Carnac the Magnificent: May a love-starved fruit fly molest your sister's nectarines. --Ott, Bill Copyright 2010 Booklist