Carson was born in Corning, Iowa, and raised in nearby Norfolk, Neb. He started his show business career at age 14 as the magician "The Great Carsoni."
After World War II service in the Navy, he took a series of jobs in local radio and TV in Nebraska before starting at KNXT-TV in Los Angeles in 1950.
There he started a sketch comedy show, "Carson's Cellar," which ran from 1951-53 and attracted attention from Hollywood. A staff writing job for "The Red Skelton Show" followed.
The program provided Carson with a lucky break: When Skelton was injured backstage, Carson took the comedian's place in front of the cameras.
Producers tried to find the right program for the up-and-coming comic, trying him out as host of the quiz show "Earn Your Vacation" (1954) and in the variety show "The Johnny Carson Show" (1955-56).
From 1957-62 he was host of the daytime game show "Who Do You Trust?" and, in 1958, was joined for the first time by McMahon, his durable "Tonight" buddy.
A few acting roles came Carson's way, including one on "Playhouse 90" in 1957, and he did a pilot in 1960 for a prime-time series, "Johnny Come Lately," that never made it onto a network schedule.
In 1958, Carson sat in for "Tonight Show" host Jack Paar. When Paar left the show four years later, Carson was NBC's choice as his replacement.
I remember watching "Who Do You Trust?" And I remember in his early years on the Tonight Show in the mid-60s, the adolescent boys would come into school in the morning and talk about "the monologue." He was truly adored.