Today's Video Link
This is a rerun of an old video I embedded here years ago but that link is dead and this is a much better copy, away. Here's what I wrote at the time…
Tonight Show clips from the sixties are very rare. As you may know, most of the tapes were erased…an act about which Mr. J. Carson was known to curse and moan. I once heard an NBC exec complain about Johnny's complaining, saying (in effect) that for a very modest amount of cash — or even for nothing if he'd demanded it of the network — Johnny could have had those shows preserved. But he knew they were being dumped and said nothing about it for more than ten years…whereupon NBC suddenly became the villains who'd destroyed his heritage.
I wouldn't take sides in that debate, and there may be more to it than the above. All I know is it's nice when a new clip surfaces…like these from the Tonight Show for New Year's Eve, 1965/1966. This was back when the show was based in New York and the bandleader (who you'll see briefly in the second clip) was Skitch Henderson.
This features Criswell, who I wrote about back here. Criswell, with his pompous manner and daffy forecasts, appeared at least annually with Mr. Carson for about a decade, usually around the first of the year. You'll notice he's reading awkwardly from cards. This was probably to make sure he did all the lines in the right order. Johnny, obviously, was sitting there with a page of pre-written "ad-libs" to inject after each Criswell Prediction if and when it suited him. (Carson knew enough to only glance down at them when Criswell was speaking, so the attention and camera were elsewhere but you can catch Johnny peeking once or twice.)
As the years went along, Carson took to mocking Criswell more and more with each appearance. The last few times, it got pretty insulting. Don Rickles was also a guest on what I think was Criswell's last time on the show, and he and Johnny just howled at the silly predictions and at the style with which they were delivered. I remember some TV critic of the day writing that Carson and Rickles had gone too far with embarrassing a guest…but I doubt Criswell minded. You could tell that he didn't even believe his own act…and besides, it was still the best show biz exposure he ever had. Pretty much anything is better than his previous claim to fame, which was starring in movies directed by Ed Wood, including Plan 9 From Outer Space.
And now without further ado, here's Criswell…