In Maps to the Stars, Curbed LA maps the lives of the most notable figures in Los Angeles history through the places that were important to them.
New York City may be the center of the late-night television universe today, but for 20 solid years, that distinction was held by beautifully boring Burbank, thanks to one guy: Johnny Carson. Carson hosted The Tonight Show from Studio 1 on NBC's Burbank lot from May 1, 1972, to May 22, 1992. Over the course of those two decades, he elevated the late-night talk show to an art form with his easygoing charm and nonthreatening humor. Carson made millions, made careers, and won a Peabody, and had a great time doing it—or looked like he did, anyway. Meanwhile, he left his stamp all over Los Angeles.
In true Angeleno fashion, Carson was a transplant. His first stint in Los Angeles came in the early 1950s, hosting cheapy variety shows on CBS affiliates. Carson was a natural—he and the camera had a mutual love affair from the start—but nothing stuck. Carson ended up back in New York, hosting Who Do You Trust? (successor to the unfortunately-titled Do You Trust Your Wife?), where he got his first experience interviewing guests.
Carson landed The Tonight Show gig in 1962, taking over for Jack Paar. He spent his first 10 years hosting in New York, then brought the whole enterprise west, to Beautiful Downtown Burbank. Celebrities felt comfortable around Carson, who was quick-witted but never mean, and everyone who was anyone ended up on his couch at some point. The Tonight Show went well with a warm cup of milk: something soft and familiar and easy to consume before bed, something that sent you to sleep feeling good.
In private, Carson was reportedly a very different man. He was shy, mercurial—almost unknowable. Those that knew him gave the impression that "Johnny Carson" was just a character, someone the real Johnny Carson played for an hour a night, four nights a week. He existed within and apart from the Los Angeles entertainment elite, (see: this classic New Yorker profile), keeping most everyone at a distance. He was inescapable, a cultural landmark who had bizarre Beach Boys songs written about him, and yet he was also just a guy that liked to golf. This is his Los Angeles. —Ian Grant
· Maps to the Stars [Curbed LA]