Remembering Late Night Television of the 1960s

Mark Twain’s Visits With Johnny Carson On The Tonight Show

Of Course it didn’t happen, but let’s assume it did.

Johnny Carson was as big as entertainers get in the 1960s and 1970s. I watched his show with my father many times a week, staying up past my bedtime, but hey, I was in high school, so it was allowed. He picked the best comedians as a guest and gave many their boot to fame by allowing them a few minutes on his revered stage. Just for fun, let’s assume he invited Mark Twain back from the dead as a guest. No, I haven’t been smoking hand-rolled ciggies, but wouldn’t it have been eye-opening.

Carson; “Please welcome to the show, Mr. Mark Twain.” Twain, wearing his trademark white Panama suit, enters from behind the multi-colored curtain with a lit cigar in his mouth, makes his way to the stage, shakes hands with Johnny and Ed, and then sits his lanky frame on the holy sofa.

Carson; ” So Mark, just how hard was it to get a pass to visit the earth and be a guest on my show? I assume you came from above and not from that other place?

Twian; ” Not hard at all Mr. Carson; Father God enjoys your humor and likes Doc and his band. I never watched your program until Clarence the Angel told me I was coming down for a night to guest on your stage. Is this in color or black and white? We don’t have many of these new televisions in Heaven, and I refuse to own one because they are too much of a distraction from my work. Did I mention I am writing another fifty novels, all in longhand, can’t stand those new-fangled typewriters. Huck and Tom are all grown up now and doing quite well in the riverboat business, so I am continuing their life’s story. We have rivers up there too, so pilots are in short demand. We don’t have many comedians. There’s this Lenny Bruce feller, he’s a hoot but a bit blue with his language, and he’s always in trouble with the council.”

Carson; ” So back when you were on earth, all those years ago, you were quite dour when it came to politics and outspoken about the men that ran the country, do you still hold those views?”

Twain; ” Hell, yes, I do. You show me a politician, and I’ll show you a scoundrel, a thief, and a liar. So, who is this Lyndon Johnson moron? Why are we over in Viet Nam helping folks who don’t like us? I see a lot of our young soldier boys in Heaven. They’re as confused as I am, and not happy to be dead. We got no dog in that hunt, and you all are pissing away good money and destroying our countries morals with all these Hippie people running around smoking plants and marching around carrying signs. I can’t pretend to understand you folks down here on earth.”

Carson: “Well, Mark, you certainly don’t hold back; why don’t you tell us how you really feel. (audience laughs), Ed looks uncomfortable, and Carson plays with his pencil.

Twain; ” I gotta go now, but let me give you some parting advice, in 2022, which is a good bit away, you idiots down here are going to be right back in a Viet Nam situation, but it’s going to be in a country called Ukraine, and you will be fighting Russia and the Chinese, it it ain’t going to be a pretty show. How do I know this? Well, fellas, God tells me everything when we play our chess game every Thursday over cigars and brandy. Oh yeah, Johnny, you’re going to get divorced real soon, and that gal is going to pick your bones clean as a whistle.” Twain blows a smoke ring with his Havana cigar and exits the stage. Doc and the band play “Dixie.”

Upon Becoming Mark Twain

Photo by: Ansel Adams

When I was young and started to read books, real books, not the comics my friends read and I had no interest in, I discovered Mark Twain. I thank my elementary school librarian for that. She gently guided me into a world of imagination through a masterful author.

After reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I was going to be Mark Twain. It didn’t matter to me that almost a hundred years earlier, he had already been Mark Twain; I was set on becoming him, through me, a ten-year-old with limited writing ability. However, I did have a colorful imagination, so that was a good start.

It wasn’t that I couldn’t write, I did write exceptionally well for my age, but I didn’t possess the mind of Mr. Twain. I hadn’t known Tom Sawyer, or Jim, or Huckleberry, or lived on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River. I was a kid stuck in Fort Worth, Texas, with a Big Chief Tablet and a handful of No. 2 pencils.

I read other authors as well, but they weren’t Mr. Twain. Jack London was too scary, and too many wild animals. John Steinbeck was a masterful storyteller, and I did make it through most of The Grapes of Wrath, which mirrored what my grandparents and father had lived through. I continued to write on my tablet. I didn’t knowingly plagiarize any author, but they did give me good ideas and taught me to group words into a story.

The day my class let out for Christmas vacation, my teacher asked the class to share what we wanted to be when we grew up. It wasn’t a serious exercise, only one to kill the last 30 minutes of the school day.

The usual from our age group was a doctor, a fireman, a policeman, and some of the girls who wanted to be teachers or nurses. When my turn came, I stood up and announced, with all seriousness, that I want to be Mark Twain. Mrs. Badger, my teacher, promptly informed me that there already was a Mark Twain, and he had been dead for a while now.

I answered, ” yes, I know, but, his spirit requires that I continue on with his writings, and witt. So I will be the new Mark Twain.” I was in the principal’s office within a few minutes.

I never became Mark Twain, except in my daydreams or nightmares, but I did learn to appreciate good writing and stories.

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