In 1962, Dick Carson interviewed for a job on “The Tonight Show.”
Although he had some television production credits to his name, Carson was largely unknown by the interviewer. “The Tonight Show” itself was still in its infancy at the time. The interviewer spoke with Dick Carson as a courtesy to his older brother, Johnny, who was just about to embark on a 30-year run as host of the now iconic late-night talk show.
Dick Carson, who along with Johnny and their sister Catherine spent his formative years in Norfolk, Nebraska, proved to be a star in his own right. He directed his brother’s show for almost seven years in those formative days.
Later on, Dick Carson worked with Merv Griffin and directed Griffin’s talk show, “The Merv Griffin Show,” starting in 1972. He also served as director of iconic game show “Wheel of Fortune,” which was created by Griffin, for 22 years.
Dick Carson died Dec. 19 at his California home at age 92 after a brief illness. Up to his death, Carson was in good spirits, according to his nephew Jeff Sotzing.
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Sotzing, the son of Carson’s sister Catherine Sotzing, said Friday that he saw his uncle about a month ago and said he was “in pretty good shape.”
That was not unusual for the former U.S. Navy officer, who, like his brother, worked long hours nearly every day and night to produce television that helped define American pop culture in the latter half of the 20th century.
“He was an incredible pioneer in the early days of basically live television,” Sotzing said. “He had a pretty wonderful career.”
It was certainly a career filled with accolades. According to the Internet Movie Database, Carson was nominated for 12 Emmy Awards and won five of them.
It was also a career, though, that kept Carson away from his family more often than he would have liked. Nonetheless, Sotzing, 68, said Carson made the most of the time he had with family. That included Carson allowing Sotzing, who was then 14 years old, to sit with him in the control room as he directed “The Tonight Show.”
“It was pretty cool and pretty heady stuff,” Sotzing said.
When Sotzing embarked on his own television career, Carson guided him and helped him along the way. Sotzing was a producer on “The Tonight Show.”
“He was a great guy,” Sotzing said, adding that he had a very close relationship with Dick Carson. “I was close with Johnny, too, but my background was production. I started in the trenches, (including) sorting the mail and getting coffee. He appreciated my work. It was a wonderful relationship.”
Born in Clarinda, Iowa, Carson and his family lived in several small towns before settling in Norfolk, according to his obituary. It was in Norfolk where Carson met his high school sweetheart, Patricia Ann Gundy. They married in 1952, raised three children, and remained married until Patricia’s death in 1986.
In 1987, Carson was invited by childhood friends to an Omaha golf tournament. Knowing he was a widower, Carson’s friends arranged for him to have dinner with Karlyn Kuper, an interior designer in Omaha. Carson and Kuper married a year later and remained married until Carson’s death.
Although Carson and his brother reached the heights of their professions on the nation’s coasts, Sotzing said they always held fond feelings for Nebraska.
“All of those kids — Johnny, Catherine and Dick — had such warm feelings for Nebraska and Midwestern values. People (in Nebraska) are hardworking, down to earth and also have great senses of humor. All three of them loved Nebraska,” Sotzing said.
Johnny Carson died at age 79 in 2005. Catherine Sotzing died at age 90 in 2014.