Johnny Carson treated me with respect

By Baxter Black

People sometimes compare me or some of my cowboy poet friends to Will Rogers. I remind them that in the 1930s Will Rogers was the biggest movie star in the world. He was an international celebrity, a man of exorbitant wealth who was loved by the workin’ man.

That description also fits Johnny Carson. He was closer to being the Will Rogers of our day than anyone.

I was invited to appear on the Tonight Show as one of several talented cowboy poets. But when the cowboy poets, the 100-year-old woman and the talking dog got on his show it was because we fell between the cracks. We didn’t have agents or managers or Hollywood contacts.

So when a group of unsophisticated, non-professional, country-raised cowboy poets came into his spotlight, we were ripe for ridicule — the butt of some cynical talk show host’s jibe.

But Johnny didn’t do that. He treated us with respect and let us tell our stories. We were so different than anything on the air. We were authentic. Our stories weren’t filled with smut and sexual innuendo, and, to our credit, we were clever.

I was on six times. I was always made welcome and befriended by the crew and often was invited to stay after the show for a little private recital.

People asked me what Johnny Carson was like. I only know what you saw on television. After every show he would walk off stage to be picked up by two security guards and escorted to his dressing room. Once after a show he slipped out the back but quickly returned to report there was a person in the parking lot. The guards removed the person and Johnny was free to walk to his car.

That tiny bit of insight led me to realize how protective he was of his privacy. He lived in a sea of people who knew him intimately, people who would feel comfortable asking him about his wives, his houses, his habits, his golf game and his family in Nebraska. We knew him almost as family. We forgot that he didn’t know us.

It is the curse of the famous. They cannot be themselves or lead a normal life. We won’t let them. Paparazzi predators, opportunists and pathological fans wait to invade their space and steal a piece of their soul.

I have videos of my appearances on his show. I watched them again after I heard the news of his death. It gave me great pleasure to see him laugh at my poems. In my little part of the show-business world, it is one of my greatest treasures.

Baxter Black is a self-described cowboy poet, ex-veterinarian and sorry team roper. He can be contacted at 1-800-654-2550 or by e-mail at: headcowboy@baxterblack.com