Johnny Carson Courted His 2nd Wife With This Romantic First Date Move

Late-night legend Johnny Carson was married four times over the course of his 79 years. Before he skyrocketed to the highest heights of fame hosting celebrities on The Tonight Show, he settled down for the first time and was married to one person or another for most of his life.

His second wife, Joanne Copeland Carson, was rumored to have a tumultuous marriage with the host. But she claimed after his death that the two eventually made it back to good terms and she recalled their first dates with seeming fondness.

Johnny Carson in black, seated next to second wife, Joanne Carson, who is laughing
Johnny and Joanne Carson | Ben Martin/Getty Images

Johnny Carson married Joanne Carson in 1963

According to a 1990 article from the United Press International, Carson first married his college sweetheart, Jody Wolcott Carson, when he was almost 24. His television hosting career seemed to kick off the following year.

The couple had three sons, Chris, Rick, and Cory, and legally separated in 1959. While arguing for an increase to her alimony payments in 1990, she told a court that Carson was neglectful during their ten years of marriage and “too busy” for the family while chasing fame.

They divorced in 1963 and soon after Carson married his second wife, Joanne Copeland — a model and stewardess. Their marriage came in the year after he began hosting The Tonight Show, but according to her, he began courting her years before.

Joanne Carson: Johnny Carson ‘kind of courted me’ with tapes of ‘The Johnny Carson Show’ in 1960

Joanne Carson leans on the back of Johnny Carson, both smiling
David McLane/NY Daily News Archive/Getty Images

Carson told CNN’s Larry King Live that the eventual Tonight Show host “kind of courted” her with tapes of The Johnny Carson Show, starting on their first date. She said it was a year after his first divorce, but it seems like it was in the year after his separation.

Joanne Carson visited King to talk about her involvement in the release of The Johnny Carson Show on DVD. She said the host had given her his old tapes when they first began dating.

“In 1960 he was very young,” she said. “So you know how sometimes boys will kind of — when they like somebody they’ll do something. They’ll do handstands or they’ll show off a little bit?”

“Johnny kind of said to me on our first date, ‘You love comedy so much, would you like to come up and see a show that I did?'” she recalled. “And I said, ‘Is this a new way of saying come up and see my etchings?'”

According to her, the interaction made the host blush. But she claimed that over the course of their first ten dates, Carson showed her the ten episodes selected for the DVD. Then, he allowed her to keep his personal copies and she said she found them while going through old things.

Johnny Carson married twice more after Joanne Carson

According to a tell-all called Johnny Carson — by Carson’s former friend and attorney, Henry Bushkin — the host’s second marriage came to an end when he collected substantial evidence of Joanne Carson’s affair with Frank Gifford.

“Bombastic Bushkin,” as Carson called him, claimed that he was part of a “cloak-and-dagger caper” to enter Joanne Carson’s apartment in 1970. More specifically, he claims they paid a manager off and went into the residence with questionable legal right. While there, they collected proof of the allegations, which supposedly left Johnny Carson weeping against a wall.

Notably, the book came out after Carson’s death. Both Joanne Carson and Frank Gifford also denied having an affair during her marriage to Carson. Also of note, Bushkin and Carson had a falling out which resulted in the latter suing the former for $16.6 million and essentially never speaking to him again before he died.

Whatever the cause of his second divorce, Carson married third wife, Joanna Holland, in 1973. He remained with her for about a decade. In 1987, he married Alexis Maas and retired from hosting The Tonight Show in 1992. She was left a widow upon his death in 2005.

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