We bring this up because we just read that a new set of Tonight Show DVDs are being released by Time-Life. The collection is called The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson: The Vault Series and part of that collection includes Lance Burton’s appearances on the iconic show.
The article promoting the DVDs has a great interview with Lance Burton. He talks about how he appeared on Tonight just one week after moving to Los Angeles from Kentucky. He went on to appear on the show 20 times (10 with Johnny Carson and 10 with Jay Leno).
“I grew up in Louisville and was doing magic shows all through school. When I was 20 in 1980, I entered a contest sponsored by the International Brotherhood of Magicians, won their Gold Medal contest and as a result was booked for two weeks in L.A. to do what’s known as The Magic Show in a theater there … And I somehow got picked after the talent coordinator came to our preview show on Oct. 28, 1981.
“The next day I’m standing next to the stage manager at “The Tonight Show,” and I see a hand coming toward me. Instinctively, I turned to shake it and I found I was shaking Johnny Carson’s hand. He was very nice and complimentary … They rearranged to put me on first, ahead of Dick Cavett. They both had interest in magic, and they talked about magic, and me and my act. It really was the greatest launching pad ever for a career in show business. Johnny worked as a magician as a young man, then did comedy and show hosting … I realized that when Johnny saw me the first time, he saw himself in this Midwestern kid doing sleight of hand really well. I think that was the basis of our relationship: He saw himself.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do anything without Johnny intervening personally. I can trace 15,000 Vegas shows back to that first ‘Tonight Show.'”
Check out the full interview here.