Johnny Carson Desk - Among the props used by
Johnny Carson on the late night talk show THE TONIGHT SHOW/NBC/1962-93, the most
notable was his desk.
For close to thirty years, Johnny took command of his show at the bow of this
ubiquitous piece of furniture. When a joke didn't go over he often grabbed for
his large desk microphone or overhead boom mike and ask "Is this on?"
from the desk that Johnny would rib his partner/cohost Ed MacMahon (a.k.a. "Mr.
Budweiser") with such quips as "Ed had his fingers broken last night. The
doorman stepped on them as he was coming home."
The standard props on the desk
included, two-headed pencils, microphone, cigarette box, lighter and a drinking
mug with a youthful portrait of Johnny on it.
The pencils had erasers on both
ends and Johnny often played with them like set of drummer's sticks.
cigarette box used often by Carson was brought from New York to California. Once
when Don Rickles cohosted for him, the box broke-it fell apart on the air. When
Johnny discovered the damaged box, he stormed across the hall into another
studio where Rickles was filming his sitcom CPO SHARKEY/NBC/1976-78 and
chastised him on-the-air then returned to his own show.
Ed McMahon and Johnny Carson at Tonight Show
A number of times Johnny's desk was trashed for stunts and gags (actually a
balsa wood replica). Johnny as Carnac the Magnificent once stumbled onto the
desk, totally demolishing it.
Other participants in "furnicide" included a samurai warrior who hacked apart
Johnny's desk in 1980 during a sketch about NBC's miniseries "Shogun"; Steve
Martin once blew the desk up one night with dynamite; and when Johnny placed a
thirty-pound fruit cake on top of the desk, it crashed right through it.
And once when Johnny's set got new carpeting with an outlandish pattern of
bright red and black swirls, the following evening, Johnny's whole desk was
carpeted with the gaudy design.
The desk was such a part of what Johnny was all about that when he visited LATE
NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN as a guest, Johnny brought along his own collapsible
brown replica of his desk to sit behind.
Tonight Show Desk Circa 1974-81
"Click Image to Enlarge"
Another often used fixture on the desk was the drinking mug with a photograph of
a very young Johnny Carson on the side of the mug (changed to a more mature
image in 1991).
The tan and brown ironstone beverage container was designed and exclusively
manufactured for the TONIGHT SHOW by the Burbank Mug Shop run by Robert and Alma
The now famous mug was first acquired in 1974 by Jack Grant, the Prop Master for
the show when he visited the shop and asked if the proprietors could apply a
photograph of Johnny Carson on the mug.
The photographs are applied by placing a water-soaked decal to the side of the
mug and then firing it in a kiln.
Approximately 500 mugs were made since 1974. The Olney's also made the guest
mugs which read "Guest No. 1" and "Guest No. 2" and a mug with the name "ED" on
it for sidekick Ed McMahon.
The contents of what was in the mug was often questioned (actually apple juice)
Johnny once remarked that the stuff in Ed's cup could "take chrome off a trailer
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