The comedy legend was a regular on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show
Speaking to PEOPLE in this week’s issue, Newhart, 90, reflects on his six decades in show business and the close relationships that he built along the way. One of those special friendships was with the late Carson, who hosted The Tonight Show from 1962 to 1992.
A particular shared interest that bonded the two comedians? Their love of pranks. Newhart recalls one instance when he “got even” with Carson while the host was interviewing a writer.
“This was when Johnny was still doing authors,” Newhart explains. “The show was an hour and a half, I think. [Carson’s sidekick] Ed [McMahon]’s sitting here, and there’s a clock right there. So he’s got this author and the author really is boring us. I look at Johnny’s face and he’s just like, ‘How soon can I get out of this?’ “
“So, every time he’d look away, I told Ed, ‘Move the minute hand back,’ ” Newhart continues. “And he’d move it back five minutes.”
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But Carson, who died at age 79 in 2005, was always just as eager to get even — and he had ample opportunity to do so, considering the two were neighbors at the time.
“There used to be a place, Sneaky Pete’s … in Malibu,” Newhart says. “We’d go there after a show and Johnny would sit and play the drums. He loved that. Then he’d go back to our house and we’d have some more drinks.”
“So one time, [my wife] Ginnie, she signaled me and she said, ‘Jon, you have to excuse me. I have to get up and take the kids to school in the morning,’ ” Newhart recalls. “Johnny said, ‘Oh, yeah.’ The next day, a knock at the door. He had gone to an army surplus store and bought a cot and delivered it to our house so she didn’t have to go all the way upstairs, and she could sleep [right there] … I mean, he went out of his way.”
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Newhart even filled in for Carson at The Tonight Show several times over the years — but says he never wanted the hosting gig himself.
“They never asked me, because I didn’t want the job,” Newhart says. “I knew what a killer that job is. You dedicate your life to it.”