Betty White and Johnny Carson Were a Comedic Duo for the Ages
Tonight Show host Johnny Carson and actor Betty White were pioneers of television and pop culture icons in their own respects during their lives. Impressively, White was titled the First Lady of Television due to her incredibly long career in acting. And almost 17 years after Carson’s death in 2005, some fans still consider him the King of Late Night.
So, when Carson and White worked together, their connection was a bit of comedy gold. Their conversations were sometimes playfully suggestive and, arguably, always hilarious. Their chemistry worked so well with audiences, White made several cameos in sometimes scantily-clad sketches alongside Carson on The Tonight Show in the ’70s and ’80s.
What was their on-air relationship like? And what made each star so unique?
Betty White and Johnny Carson’s flirty friendship
On The Tonight Show in October of 1987, Carson noted that he was “fond” of White during his introduction of the Golden Girls star. She’d been his guest many time before that, joining him not only for interviews but for various sketches.
Still, he told her during their chat in 1987 that — despite knowing her a number of years by that point — he wasn’t sure if he really knew her.
“If you hadn’t gotten in such a rush to get married we could have arranged something,” White joked in reply. Notably, she became a widow in 1981 and Carson split from his third wife in 1982. Then, he married his fourth wife in June of 1987.
Of course, White’s remark to Carson drew whistles and applause from the audience. The host laughingly told her, “You’re somewhere between Mother Theresa and a call girl. And I’m not quite sure where it is.”
Later in their chat, Carson offered White and her Golden Girls’ co-stars and writers some very high praise. He told her the show was one of the most creative and funniest he’d ever seen. More than 35 years after its debut, there are still plenty of fans who agree.
Johnny Carson was the original King of Late Night
Carson’s place in television history is monumental and there will arguably never be another TV host quite like him. He took over The Tonight Show in 1962 and created the format that is still used for most popular late-night talk shows to this day.
Most of his run came before the introduction of cable brought hundreds of options for nightly watching. In fact, he hardly had any real late-night competition at all for much of his career, thus earning him the title of the original King of Late Night.
According to PBS, “Carson was seen by more people on more occasions than anyone else in American history. Over the course of 30 years, 4,531 episodes and 23,000 guests, he became a fixture of national life and a part of the zeitgeist.”
Notably, a 2007 TV Land/Entertainment Weekly poll voted Carson the greatest icon in the history of television. At the peak of his run on The Tonight Show, he drew a nightly audience of 15 million viewers.
Betty White was the First Lady of Television
White’s television career is officially the longest in the history of TV. It lasted more than 80 years until her death at the age of 99.
She was the first woman to do a few different things on television: produce a national TV show, star in a sitcom, and receive an Emmy nomination. According to PBS, she was actually the first woman to even appear on television because of a performance on an experimental broadcast in the 1930s. As such, she’s known as a TV pioneer and the First Lady of Television.
So, White and Carson shared more than a hilarious friendship. They both were both trailblazers and stars with unique qualities that firmly cemented their places in pop culture history.
That’s not to say they were better together — but audiences always seemed to think they were very good.