GOOD MORNING and congrats Oscar nominees. We already know of one segment that will be on the show — a tribute to Johnny Carson. I spoke with Gil Cates, producer of the 77th Oscars, who acknowledged the Feb. 27 show would definitely pay respects to the frequent host’s memory. This will be Cates’ 12th Oscarcast and, he admitted, “From the time I started as producer of the show in 1989, I asked Johnny at least six times to come back and host the show. I also asked Ed McMahon and ‘The Tonight Show’s’ producer Fred De Cordova to try and urge Johnny to come back to host the Oscars. And when Billy (Crystal) was host, he and I once both asked Johnny if he’d come on and just make an appearance on the show. He (Johnny) was always polite answering my calls and requests, but said while he now enjoyed watching the Oscars, he would not be making any television appearances.” He politely refused all honors except the Medal of Freedom and a Kennedy Center Honor in 1993, two years after his departure from his latenight show. Ted Koppel made the presentation to Johnny and referred to Jack Nicholson’s classic line, “Here’s Johnny” from “The Shining.” Another presenter was David Letterman, who admitted his appearance with Johnny on “The Tonight Show” in 1978 “was and still is the biggest thrill of my life.” Carson was genuinely surprised — and thrilled — when the U. of Nebraska band. 100 strong, marched down the aisles of the Kennedy Center to salute him … Last November, his alma mater announced Johnny was donating $3.5 million to its college of Fine & Performing Arts. He admitted he’d “never forgotten the impact of my academic studies at the University of Nebraska.” I phoned Johnny to find out whether he’d make an appearance on campus with his generous gift. He returned my call — as he always did. He admitted, “It’s nice to be able to do it while you can,” but said he wasn’t going to return to the campus to “take any bows — there or at any place,” he laughed. He sounded hale and hearty, but when I asked how he was feeling, he allowed, “pretty good.” He, of course, knew he had emphysema. “You pay for the thrills you got,” he said matter-of-factly. He said he’d tried getting relief with the use of oxygen, but it didn’t help that much. We chatted amiably for several minutes. When I asked him what he was doing with his life, he said he liked to meet with his writers and old friends from the show like, of course, Ed McMahon. He said he watches TV — “a lot of the history shows and high0definition stuff.” As for watching the depressing news these days, he said he could watch CNN “for only about five minutes.” He enjoyed reading and sailing on his boat last summer through the San Juan Islands in the Northwest for two months. And a trip through the Panama Canal also was planned. Of course I asked him (as I had regularly) about accepting an invitation to guest on any show — any event. His answer was succinct: “I’ve been there, done that.” As for even attending any event, his answer was also revealing: “You know, I’ve never been a great socializer.” That was probably the understatement of the week, I told him. He laughed. I told him how much I enjoyed the DVD of the best of Carson, “The Ultimate Collection,” which includes the creme de la creme from the 1960s to the ’90s, including his final show. He allowed happily that he thought “it holds up,” and said there probably be no further compilations or collections. But now — time may tell a different story … But after our conversation, in the month that rolled by, the ravages of emphysema took their toll. He saw family regularly and spoke constantly with Helen Sanders, the director of administration at the Carson Company, who was also his assistant for 24 years and who said he had been “like family.” Nephew Jeff Sotzing continues to manage the Carson properties … Last week, the pain from emphysema became intense and Johnny entered Cedars-Sinai Hospital. He thought “it was just another episode,” but it was the last chapter, Sanders said. She is totally devastated, sadly saying to me, “He made a huge difference in my life.” He made life different for millions. It was George Burns who tagged his TV shows with “Good night, Gracie,” and now we say, “Good night, Johnny.”
THE OSCAR-WINNING (twice) Moriah Films , a division of the Simon Wiesenthal Center whose founder and dean is Rabbi Marvin Hier, is this week releasing a DVD collection of its entire film library in conjunction with the 60th anni of the liberation of Auschwitz. The two Oscar-winning docus are “Genocide,” narrated by Elizabeth Taylor and Orson Welles, and “The Long Way Home,” narrated by Morgan Freeman. The quick release of the library is occasioned by the frightening figures from recent polls in Great Britain and Canada, which reveal that 60% of those 35 and under never heard of Auschwitz and only 17% knew 6 million Jews died in the holocaust. Moriah Films is sending out the package to schools and churches because, Rabbi Hier says, “These films are the perfect antidote to the spirit of revisionism and self-indulgence which has taken hold of so many of our young people” … TV Land has acquired the original “Wyatt Earp” TV series starring Hugh O’Brian and will test it for six consecutive weeks starting Feb. 5. Kate Edelman Johnson, daughter of “Earp” creator-producer Louis F. Edelman, says if ratings are good, all 226 half-hours of the 1954-61 show will air and also will get a DVD package. Johnson, widow of Deane F. Johnson, is auctioning her porcelain and art collection, with all proceeds going to the Johnson Alzheimer Research Foundation at UCLA. Deane died of Alzheimer’s. On a happier topic, Kate and Burt Reynolds are moving into a home they’ve bought in BevHills … Betty and Fred Hayman and Placido Domingo chair the “Very Black Tie Gala” dinner dance on the stage of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Valentine’s Day, benefiting the L.A. Opera … UCLA’s Dr. Gary Gitnick receives the City of Angels Helen Bernstein Award in recognition of his founding of the Fulfillment Fund, Wednesday at the Getty House. Mayor Hahn makes the presentation.