Most of my e-mail regarding what I wrote about Johnny Carson’s death has turned out to be unexpectedly favorable, but I won’t burden you with it. Instead, I want to pass on a thoughtful letter from a reader who disagreed.
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I’ve been a daily visitor to your delightful blog for several months now. I’ve never written to you before and I am pained to find myself one of the people commenting about your Johnny Carson post….
I am truly sorry that you got some rude e-mails in response to your thoughts on Mr. Carson’s death. I agree that it is quite unreasonable of anyone to be offended by what you wrote. However, I do think that sort of personalized outrage is a common, if illogical, response when the worth of someone or something you love is being questioned. And I think a great many people loved Johnny Carson. Or rather, they loved what they saw him do.
You wrote: “Perhaps he knew how little it means to have once been famous….If he did, then he died a wise man.” I could not agree with you more. Almost all fame is ultimately meaningless. However, I don’t think it necessarily follows that what he did to achieve his fame is equally without meaning.
I must tell you where I am coming from, so you can understand why I would care enough to write to you about this. I grew up “in the theatre.” (Hope that doesn’t sound too pretentious). My father is the artistic director of a professional theatre. My mother and sister are both working actresses. As a child I spent my summer days watching rehearsals. As a teenager and young adult I worked backstage, on stage, and finally did some directing myself….
This theatre has been in continual operation for more than 35 years. Because we take no grants and are entirely self-supporting, most of our shows are of the “crowd-pleasing,” light comic variety (though occasionally we are able to do something “daring,” just for the fun of it). We have staged more than a hundred productions. Some of them have been truly great; most of them have been entertaining. Yet there is no lasting record of any of them. As a girl, I found closing nights wonderfully, horribly poignant because I knew that I would never see that particular show again. Even if Dad did the same play a few years later, it would never be exactly the same. And each of these productions, even the finest of them, is remembered by no more than a couple of thousand people. And my parents have given their lives to this. You said that Johnny Carson was engaged in “that most ephemeral of endeavors.” With respect, I think my family has Mr. Carson beat.
It is a clich