Johnny Stearns, half of the duo in one of TV’s earliest sitcoms, “Mary Kay and Johnny,” and one of the original producers of “The Tonight Show,” died Saturday Dec. 1 at Hoag Memorial Hospital in Newport Beach, Calif., after suffering complications from a fall in late November. He was 85.
“Mary Kay and Johnny” debuted in 1947 on the old DuMont Network, moving to NBC the following year, CBS the year after that and then back to NBC for the rest of its run, which ended in March 1950.
The 15-minute show, debuting four years ahead of “I Love Lucy” and eight years before “The Honeymooners.” starred Stearns and his real wife Mary Kay as newlyweds starting life together in New York City. The couple, who indeed were newlyweds when the show began, were married for 55 years.
When their son Christopher was born in December 1948, they quickly added him to the cast, and he made his first appearance on the show, which was broadcast live, a month later.
Born in Billerica, Mass., Stearns began his acting career at age 14 at the Mary Arden Theater in Peterborough, N.H., and as a member of the Peterborough Players, a summer theater troupe his mother, Edith Bond Stearns, started in 1933.
He went on to become one of the original producers of “The Tonight Show” with Steve Allen on WNBC-TV in New York.
Besides his wife, he is survived by two sons, a daughter and three nieces.
A funeral was set for Saturday Dec. 8 at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Corona del Mar, Calif.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be sent to the Peterborough Players, P.O. Box 118, Peterborough, N.H. 03458.