Local woman remembers: Here's to Johnny

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:57

    GOSHEN-Just minutes earlier she had been waiting backstage, wondering whether or not she would be on the show at all. The show always overbooked, so there was no guarantee. Margo and the other guest-hopefuls in the "green room" watched a TV monitor as Johnny Carson interviewed a children's book author. Things were not going well. "She was just flat," Margo recalled. During the commercial break she heard an assistant, following directions from Carson himself, give orders to get the boring author "out of there." Margo was on. Margo was not boring. As a model with her own modeling and talent management business — which she maintains to this day in Goshen — she was invited on "The Tonight Show" to give beauty and fashion tips. "As soon as we started talking, I knew it would be great," she said. She pointed out some ways in which Johnny could improve his physical image — the way he walked, the way he flicked his cigarette. Carson loved it when people criticized him, she said. She wore a leotard under the zippered black dress so that she could demonstrate exercises for achieving perfect posture. After slipping off her dress and handing her high heels to Ed McMahon, she invited Johnny to lie down on his back. She lay down next to him. After one of his famous heart-suspending pauses, the two beats that precede joy, Carson spoke. "Did you put out the cat?" It was one of his favorite lines of all time, Margo said. "The audience would laugh of course," she said, "but they always got quiet when he did because they wanted to be sure to hear what he would say next." Backstage again, she was told by the floorman that Johnny wanted to see her in his office. Such an invitation was very unusual, she was told. The rapport Johnny and Margo had while the cameras were rolling deepened as they chatted in private. Johnny asked her to go out with him to Danny's Hideaway, a New York City gathering place for the glitterati. Margo said no. "I wanted to see the show," she said. "I could do that only if I watched it on television like everyone else. You see, they didn't have videotape in those days." The show was filmed at 7 p.m., four and a half hours before the rest of America would be tuning in. She enjoyed the show immensely. Calls and telegrams came pouring in from friends congratulating her. They were surprised to see her on the show. "I didn't tell anyone," she said. "I was afraid I would goof." Soon there were other opportunities to see Johnny. Margo said she did not "date" him. They simply went out together in the evenings that summer — to Danny's, to Jilly's, to other hotspots uptown and in Little Italy, usually in the company of other celebrities. The nightclub proprietors guarded Carson's privacy and protected him from interruptions. "He liked parties and people but was uncomfortable with strangers," she said. Fans would recognize him while he was out on the town but refrained from coming over to their table. Rather, they hovered by the door, waiting for him to come out. When he was with his friends, he didn't tell jokes but was funny all the same. Johnny was as much a gentleman as his fans would imagine him to be, Margo said. "We had an affection for each other," she said. Now a widow, Margo lives in the house where she raised her own family. Besides her model and talent management company at 159 West Main Street, she runs the antiques-filled house as the Anthony Dobbins Stage Coach Inn bed and breakfast. Guests can sleep in a bed owned by William Penn, an ancestor of her late husband; or in a room favored by Eleanor Roosevelt, a Hickock family friend. When Johnny Carson died last month, the past rushed back in all its poignancy. "I was really shocked, really depressed," she said. "I knew he smoked, I knew he had emphysema, but I was sure he would live on and on, like George Burns. My young models have never heard of him. It was like an era was gone." She recalled a time when she tried with another powerful man the technique that worked so well with Johnny. She pointed out the man's error in wearing white socks with his dark suit. He took offense, and Margo didn't get a job she had been seeking. "There are some people you can joke with, and some you can't," she said.