There were three major dream smackdowns in my fame-obsessed American girlhood: the realization that I did not have the stuff to be a ballerina; the realization that whether I (had) had it or not, I was now too old to be a Playboy centerfold; and the realization that I would never be a guest on Johnny Carson.
You kids might not understand, but before the age of multiple media outlets Johnny Carson was emblematic of Making It the way pink tutus were emblematic of Dance or airbrushed boobs were emblematic of Hot Babe. Maybe this is how the front-end Boomers felt about Ed Sullivan, but to me and my generation, Johnny was it. It was late-night, it was every night and, while it was still a show, it was a show that happened in your bedroom rather than on a Burbank soundstage. As Gawker aptly (and concisely) put it today,
For an entire generation, he was a perpetual presence, a member of the family. Often he was funny, more often he was corny: but he was there every night to put a the punch line on another long day.
A member of the family, only famous and with really, really cool friends.