Open "The Vault Series" from "The Tonight Show" archives and brace yourself for some startling revelations:
1. Johnny Carson wasn't all ears. Nostalgia dictates that Carson was TV's most gracious host, but there are numerous examples of him checking out, most notably during "Stump the Band," the popular segment that forced the King to interact with the peasants. In one telling segment, Jaye P. Morgan rips into the host for giving his cigarette more attention than her.
2. Ed McMahon was a rock. The ultimate sidekick knew his primary job was to make the boss shine, but that didn't deter him from delivering more zingers than you might recall, all the while hotfooting from one live commercial to another. McMahon is so impressive that you can almost overlook the night he was given permission to sing.
3. Guests didn't appear in order of prominence. Those who got first billing were more likely to engage with the other panelists, which explains why B-listers Orson Bean and Suzanne Pleshette were introduced before Gene Kelly and Lorne Greene. This strategy pays off in dividends when Steve Allen sticks around to help Carson tear apart a very loopy Jack Palance.
4. The jokes weren't that funny. Carson's reaction to bombs is legendary, but he had to dip into that well of quips more often than you'd think. Stand-up comics didn't always fare well, either, as evidenced by two Robert Klein routines that sail over the crowd's heads. One explanation: Studio audiences weren't as primed and coached as they are today.