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Nostalgia April 2017

The Hippocratic Oaf

Johnny Carson's Paperclips

By Daniel Crantz

We entered another studio and there it was – the throne of all Hollywood. It was the desk of Johnny Carson. I couldn’t help myself, I ran at full speed toward the desk, an out-of-control, precocious 11-year-old.

In 1971, I had the good fortune to have a private tour of NBC studios in Burbank, California. My parents had a good friend, Gino Conte, who was production manager for NBC, and after spending a “lifetime” in Gino’s office (probably 20 minutes, but for a bored 11-year-old, it seemed much longer) he took us on a private tour.

We entered a studio with a colorful wall which had small doors that you could poke your head through. This was the wall for the TV show Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In where the cast would poke their heads through a small door, say a line or two and retreat behind the wall leaving the audience wondering what star and what door and what line would be delivered next. I ran behind the wall and found a treasure. It had names on it, Ruth, Henry and Artie, and lines to recite like a play. It was a Laugh In script. I asked to keep it, and Gino said, “yes.” I was thrilled.

We entered another studio and there it was – the throne of all Hollywood. It was the desk of Johnny Carson. I couldn’t help myself, I ran at full speed toward the desk, an out-of-control, precocious 11-year-old. Simultaneously my parents and Gino said, “No!” But I didn’t listen, I am not sure what was motivating me to exhibit such bad behavior, but for some reason, I was determined to get a souvenir from Johnny Carson’s desk. I was a star-struck kleptomaniac.

The desk police were at my heels, so I collected things from the top of the desk. I quickly grabbed two Kleenex out of a box. (I later asked myself, who took the Kleenex before me, Liz Taylor, Johnny himself, or some stagehand with allergies – who knows?) I also grabbed a handful of paperclips. The protests had increased, so I decided to turn myself in and hope that my parents would let me keep what I took. After all, you can’t put Kleenex back in the box but the paperclips might be another story.

I turned and slowly began to walk back toward my parents and Gino. They seemed to suddenly relax, perhaps relieved that I did not vandalize Johnny’s desk. “What did you take?” demanded my father. My mother just held out her hand with a gesture all kids know: “Give me what you’ve got. I don’t care if it’s stolen, gross or dead, just hand it to me now.”

I handed her the Kleenex and paperclips. She examined them and stated the obvious: “They’re just paperclips and Kleenex.” She handed them back, and by some silent consensus I realized I could keep them. This was great.

So what does a kid do with a Laugh In script and Kleenex and paperclips from Johnny Carson’s desk? Well, he takes them back to Pittsburgh to amaze and astound his friends. I put the Kleenex in a book, making them flat and preserving them like some prom orchid. I was very careful with them as Kleenex are quite fragile.

When I got home I showed the Laugh In script to my best friend Jeff Czarnecki. He was duly impressed, and examined the document quite carefully. Then, with some ceremony, I carefully opened a Webster’s Dictionary and gingerly lifted a preserved, but flattened Kleenex. I handed it to him like it was a fragile artifact and declared, “That Kleenex is from Johnny Carson’s desk.” Jeff did what any kid in this situation would do – he blew his nose into it. I was completely shocked and appalled.

“I CAN’T BELIEVE IT, YOU JUST BLEW YOUR NOSE IN JOHNNY CARSON’S KLEENEX!” I yelled, as if what he had just done was a terrible transgression, a show biz blasphemy and inferred that even Johnny himself might be quite angry. Well Johnny wasn’t angry and I realized it was highly unlikely that he would ever find out, but I was angry, very angry. I couldn’t believe it.

Well Jeff didn’t care about the Kleenex, he threw it on the ground. I was so upset I did not talk to him for over a day, which is months for an 11 year old. The next day I showed him the paperclips. Jeff wasn’t impressed much with the paperclips either. It seems they looked like ordinary paperclips, and they were. But I knew these were not ordinary paperclips, but were Johnny Carson’s paperclips.

So I picked a space in my dresser drawer and laid these paperclips carefully in a corner, but being a kid, I forgot about them. Several months later I noticed a bunch of paperclips in the corner of my dresser drawer. I pulled them out and for some reason deciding to be neat, (why at this particular time I decided to be neat is a mystery) I put them in with all my other paperclips.

Then I realized what I had just done – I had put Johnny Carson’s paperclips in with ordinary paperclips. This was horrible, a complete disaster. Panicked, I looked carefully at the mound of paperclips and they all looked alike. It seems that Johnny used paperclips just like everybody else’s. I was angry that some rich guy like Johnny did not have special paperclips that were different, looked different or were made of gold. Heck, he could afford it.

But I resolved that this was the way of the world. Sometimes things are lost right in front of us. For many months afterward, every time I would use a paperclip, I would hold it up and say, “This could be Johnny Carson’s paperclip.” After saying this over and over again, friends and family seemed to think I was incredibly annoying. But what did they know? They used ordinary paperclips. The 11 year old never entirely leaves us. And even today, maybe once or twice a year, I hold up a paperclip, and then say only to myself, “nah.”


Abridged from a longer story. The author can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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