Thursday, December 13, 2012

Heeeree's Johnny!

In 1972, when I worked Public Relations for the Southern California Visitors Council (now defunct), the director of the SCVC created something he called a "Magnet Award."

This would honor celebrities who helped entice people to come visit our 13-county destination. It would be held at the Ambassador Hotel in the famed Coconut Grove. 

Among the names proposed to receive the new award was Jack Webb for his "Dragnet" tv show that prominently featured the Los Angeles City Hall in the opening credits every week. 

And Johnny Carson who recently had moved his "Tonight" show from New York to Los Angeles. 

Our Visitors Bureau board included an executive from NBC who quickly said "I can get Jack Webb, no problem." The exec balked at contacting Mr. Carson, saying  the popular late night host didn't like to do public events. 

My boss said "No problem. Chuck will call him, just give us Johnny's home phone." I was handed the number on a piece of paper. 

Gulp. Good Grief!

When I dialed, a man answered and said "who's calling?" 

I told him my name, who I was with and that the call was about Mr. Carson receiving an award, which I described. I assumed this fellow was screening calls.

A long silent moment passed and I heard "Hmmm. I kinda like that. Yeah, sure, tell me when and where and I'll be there."

Hey, wait,  it gets even better.

Guests filled the round 10-seat banquet tables in the Cocoanut Grove, the stage was decorated with posters and costumed characters from ALL of the SoCal attractions and the Lt. Governor sat at the head table. 

The emcees were two of Los Angles top KFI radio drive-time personalities Al Lohman and Roger Barkley. 

At a table near me was indeed Johnny Carson in a rare public appearance. He looked relaxed.

The NBC guy had scored spaces at the tables for several stars of an upcoming new television show called M*A*S*H.

 I heard it was about the army in Korea.

As the proceedings went on, I saw Carson scribbling notes on several napkins. 

It was a fun event and culminated with the award winners coming to the microphone and making a few comments of thanks. 

Carson was comically different.

He started by saying he had thought Lohman and Barkley was an intersection near Pacoima.

He smiled and said he never before knew what a Lt. Governor did. He thought it was sort of like being the Dance Director at Forest Lawn Cemetery. You're there but probably won't get called on.

Carson had an amazing grasp of the source of visitor promotion tax dollars.

"We need to get more tourists out of their cars and into beds and more of them out of beds and into their cars." 

(Gasoline and hotel rooms are taxed and some of  the dollars used to help promote tourism.)

He closed by promising to lighten up a bit on making fun of Southern California, then added "But, Los Angeles is such a  swell source for great comic material. Thank you for the Magnet."

Later in the year I saw on television the  M*A*S*H stars Loretta Swit, Larry Linville and McLean Stevenson.that I had met at the Magnet event. 

They all are shorter in person.

(Click on the photos for more details.)

Let me stress I did NOT take these pictures.

NBC-Burbank had their professional photographer there to record the activity.

Later, at my office, I did manage to slip a few of the photos into my briefcase. 

Including this one of me and Jack Webb. 

Somebody had a LOT of extra hair.

Does anyone remember the name of the Lt. Governor under Reagan in 1972?.

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At Mon Dec 17, 12:14:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this great story; I loved reading it. Cathy.


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