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The First Guests on 25 Late-Night Talk Shows

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Comedy Central 

1. The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson

The king of late night inherited The Tonight Show in its previous incarnation from host Jack Paar, and then parlayed it into the recognizable late night format we know today. Carson’s tenure began live on the air from studio 6B in Rockefeller Center on October 1, 1962. He was introduced by Groucho Marx and had an impressive roster of guests, including Joan Crawford, Mel Brooks, Tony Bennett, and bandleader Rudy Vallée. The musical guests were a folk trio called The Phoenix Singers. (In those days, the shows ran for a whopping hour and 45 minutes a night; today, they're typically a mere hour long.)

Virtually all of the recordings of The Tonight Show from before 1970 are lost because of NBC’s old practice of destroying or reusing their tapes, but you can hear audio of the first three minutes of Carson's first show above.

In May 1972, Carson moved the show from New York to Burbank, California, where it stayed until his last show on May 22, 1992. Guests on his first west coast program were actress Shelley Winters and then-First Lady of California, Nancy Reagan.

2. Late Night with David Letterman

In a bid to keep viewers—including that coveted younger demographic—tuned in after The Tonight Show, NBC created Late Night with David Letterman, which aired its first show on February 1, 1982 with guests Bill Murray and Mr. Wizard. Checkout Murray’s typically wacky first appearance above.

3. The Late Show with David Letterman

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When Carson retired in 1992, Letterman and Jay Leno vied for the spot behind The Tonight Show desk. Leno won what has since been dubbed as the first war for late night, but Letterman didn't come out a loser: He jumped to CBS for a new show to air at 11:35 p.m. Though Letterman retired on May 20th (making way for Colbert), his reign began on August 30, 1993 with cameos from Tom Brokaw and Paul Newman. Fittingly, the first guest was Bill Murray, while the musical guest was Billy Joel. You can see the monologue here.

4. The Tonight Show with Jay Leno

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In early 2014, Leno retired (for the second time), making way for Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show. But when he took over from Johnny Carson in 1992, his first guest was Billy Crystal. When Leno finally signed off (for the second and presumably final time), Crystal joined him as his last guest as well.

5. The Jay Leno Show

Shortly after Conan O'Brien took over The Tonight Show, Leno reneged on his promise to retire. So NBC created a primetime program for him called The Jay Leno Show, which aired at 10 p.m. The short-lived experiment began on September 14, 2009 with guest Jerry Seinfeld. An Entertainment Weekly cover story named it “TV’s Biggest Bomb Ever."

6. Late Night with Conan O’Brien

O’Brien was a lowly writer for The Simpsons when he was plucked from obscurity to take over Late Night from David Letterman on September 13, 1993. The early reviews were rough, but what followed became one of the most absurdly hilarious shows late night has ever seen. On his first show, O'Brien welcomed John Goodman, Drew Barrymore, and Tony Randall. Check out the typically self-deprecating first intro and monologue above.

7. The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien

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Jay Leno first stepped down from The Tonight Show in 2009, and O’Brien’s Tonight Show debuted on June 1, 2009 with Will Ferrell as the first guest and Pearl Jam as the musical guest. Shortly thereafter, NBC ousted O’Brien and returned Leno to his Tonight Show hosting duties, which he maintained until 2014. Clips from the show have mostly disappeared, but a recap shows the type of humor that typifies O’Brien’s hosting talents.

8. Conan

After being reluctantly ousted from The Tonight Show, the self-described “palest host in late night history” found a home on TBS with Conan. Speculation ran wild as to who the first guest was going to be, and it ended up being somebody no one—not even the person herself—could have guessed. Out of three possible choices, fans hilariously got to vote between Jack Nicholson, the Sultan of Brunei, or a woman named Arlene Wagner, the curator of the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum in Leavenworth, Washington. The other guests that night were Seth Rogen, Lea Michele, and musical guest Jack White.

9. The Arsenio Hall Show

The first incarnation of Arsenio’s late-night show was meant to be counterprogramming to the slew of elder statesmen hosts like Carson back in the late '80s and early '90s—a show that catered to a younger, more diverse crowd. On January 3, 1989, Hall's first guests were Brooke Shields, Leslie Nielsen, and musical guest Luther Vandross. You can see a clip from the show above.

On September 9, 2013, Hall returned to late night with a new version of The Arsenio Hall Show. As with his first show, his second go-around ran in syndication. On his first night back, Chris Tucker and Paula Abdul were guests, and Snoop Lion performed. But Hall's comeback was short-lived; the show was cancelled after just one season.

10. Late Night with Jimmy Fallon

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Fallon’s first night as host of Late Night got off to a rough start: He welcomed the not-so-willing-to-talk Robert De Niro, but things quickly changed when Justin Timberlake sat down to chat. The first musical guest was Van Morrison.

11. Jimmy Kimmel Live!

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In early 2013, Kimmel’s Live! show moved to the coveted 11:35 p.m. time slot to be in direct competition with heavy hitters like The Tonight Show, but Kimmel’s little-show-that-could originally began airing at 12:05 a.m. on January 26, 2003, where it slowly built a loyal following. That first show featured George Clooney, NFL-er Warren Sapp, Coldplay as the musical guest, and an appearance by Snoop Lion. Unfortunately, as always, Matt Damon didn’t appear because they ran out of time.

12. The Daily Show

The original version of The Daily Show bears little resemblance to its contemporary incarnation, with original host Craig Kilborn offering up heavy loads of snark instead of sharp political commentary. Kilborn’s debut show didn’t include a guest, but his second show featured an interview with actress Mary Kay Place.

In 1999, when Jon Stewart took over for Kilborn—who left to host The Late Late Show on CBS—the political slant gradually began to appear. But they kicked things off with a non-political guest as the fresh-faced Stewart chatted with actor Michael J. Fox.

13. The Colbert Report

On October 17, 2005, the nation was served up a heavy dose of truthiness as Stephen Colbert welcomed viewers to his new show. His first guest was Stone Phillips, his impressive neck, and his very firm handshake.

14. The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn

After departing The Daily Show, Craig Kilborn debuted as the host of The Late Late Show on CBS on March 30, 1999. The show followed Letterman at 12:35 a.m. and stole a little bit of its lead-in’s thunder with its first guest, Bill Murray. Supermodel Heidi Klum also appeared.

15. The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson

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In 2004, when Kilborn’s time was up on The Late Late Show, CBS tapped Scottish-American comedian Craig Ferguson to sit behind the desk. Though he had guest-hosted before, his first show as official host was on January 3, 2005 and included a sit-down with David Duchovny and actress Nicole Sullivan.

16. The Dick Cavett Show

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Cavett has had many talk show incarnations over the years, but he’ll always be remembered for his erudite and provocative late night show that ran on ABC from 1969 to 1975. His first guests on the premiere episode of The Dick Cavett Show were Woody Allen, opera singer Beverly Sills, President of Hunter College Jacqueline Wexler, and actor Robert Shaw.

17. The Late Show starring Joan Rivers

Legendary comedienne Joan Rivers was previously the permanent guest host on The Tonight Show when Carson was under the weather or unable to appear on the broadcast. Rumor has it that Rivers accepted her own show on the then-new Fox network because her name was left off a list of possible hosts to take over should Carson retire. The bad blood between the two continued until Carson’s death in 2005. The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers premiered on October 9, 1986 with Cher, Pee-Wee Herman, Elton John, and David Lee Roth as guests. The show soon fizzled in the ratings and led to Rivers being fired, and soon the show was helmed by a slew of guest hosts including Arsenio Hall, who used the experience to transition into his own late night show.

18. The Pat Sajak Show

Doesn’t it seem like everybody got their own show in the '80s? The good folks at CBS decided it would be a good idea to give Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak his own late-night talk show, and on January 9, 1989, The Pat Sajak Show premiered with Chevy Chase, actress Joan Van Ark, actor Michael Gross, Roberta Flack, an interview and performance by Naomi and Wynonna Judd, MLB commissioner Peter Ueberroth, and comedian Dennis Wolfberg. But quantity didn’t equal quality; the show was cancelled the next year.

19. The Chevy Chase Show

Chevy Chase began his notoriously brief period as a late night talk show host on September 3, 1993. The show debuted on Fox with guests Goldie Hawn and Whoopi Goldberg. Reviews of the show were immediately horrendous and the show was swiftly cancelled just one month later.

20. The Magic Hour

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Another half-baked, late-night endeavor was former basketball star Magic Johnson’s show The Magic Hour, which premiered in 1998. First guests included Mel Gibson, Laurence Fishburne, Cher, and musical performer Babyface. The—ahem—magic didn’t last long, and the series was cancelled after only three months on the air.

21. Last Call with Carson Daly

Renaissance man and host extraordinaire Carson Daly has been the skipper of Last Call with Carson Daly since 2002. Though it has recently rebranded its format away from the standard late night sit-downs pioneered by Johnny Carson, it began on January 8, 2002 as a fairly straightforward talk show that originally taped in studio 8H in Rockefeller Center—the same studio used for Saturday Night Live. Daly's first guest was singer Alicia Keys.

22. Lopez Tonight

Lopez Tonight debuted on TBS on November 9, 2009 in the 11p.m. time slot. Lopez’s diverse first guests were Eva Longoria, Kobe Bryant, and Ellen DeGeneres, with Carlos Santana playing “Oye Como Va.” The show was moved back to 12 a.m. after Conan came on board, and was cancelled in 2011.

23. THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON

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When Jimmy Fallon made his move into The Tonight Show chair on February 17, 2014, he welcomed Will Smith and U2 as his first guests.

24. LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS

Late Night With Seth Meyers / Facebook

One week after Jimmy Fallon made his Tonight Show debut, his fellow SNL alum—and former SNL head writer—Seth Meyers took over Late Night. For his first show, he interviewed Parks and Recreation's Amy Poehler (another SNL alum) and Vice President Joe Biden.

25. THE LATE LATE SHOW WITH JAMES CORDEN 

The Late Late Show With James Corden / Facebook

When James Corden took over The Late Late Show in March, Tom Hanks and Mila Kunis appeared as his first guests.

This story originally ran in February 2014.

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The Time That Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis Opened Competing Restaurants on the Sunset Strip
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From 1946 to 1956, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were show business supernovas. With an act that combined singing, slapstick, and spontaneous hijinks, the duo sold out nightclubs coast to coast, then went on to conquer radio, television, and film. Long before Elvis and The Beatles came along, Dean and Jerry  were rock stars of comedy.

Offstage, there was a cordial but cool friendship between the laidback Martin and the more neurotic Lewis. But as the pressures of their success increased, so did the tensions between them. Martin grew tired of playing the bland romantic straight man to Lewis’s manic monkey boy. And when Lewis started to grab more headlines and write himself bigger parts in their movies, Martin decided to quit the act. In an angry moment, he told Lewis that he was “nothing to me but a f**king dollar sign.”

After the split, both men went on with their individual careers, though it took Martin a few years before he regained his footing. One of his ventures during that transitional period was a Hollywood eatery called Dino’s Lodge.

DINO'S LODGE

In the summer of 1958, Martin and his business partner, Maury Samuels, bought a controlling interest in a restaurant called The Alpine Lodge, at 8524 Sunset Boulevard. They hired Dean’s brother Bill to manage the place, and renamed it Dino’s Lodge.

Outside they put up a large neon sign, a likeness of Dean’s face. The sign turned into a national symbol of hip and cool, thanks to appearances on TV shows like Dragnet, The Andy Griffith Show, and most prominently, in the opening credits of 77 Sunset Strip.

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Dino’s Lodge was popular from the get-go, serving home-style Italian food and steaks in an intimate, candlelit, wood-paneled room meant to replicate Martin’s own den. In the first year, Dean himself frequented the place, signing autographs and posing for photos with starstruck diners. He also occasionally brought along famous friends like Frank Sinatra and Shirley MacLaine. To promote the idea of the swingin’ lifestyle that Martin often sang about, Dino’s served “an early morning breakfast from 1 to 5 a.m.” The restaurant also had a lounge that featured singers, though only females. Dean apparently didn’t want any male vocalists encroaching on his turf.

But as with many a celebrity venture into the food business, this one soon turned sour. And most of that was due to the jealousy of Jerry Lewis.

JERRY'S

In late 1961, Lewis wooed Martin’s business partner Maury Samuels away, ponied up some $350,000, and opened his own copycat restaurant three blocks down Sunset. It was called Jerry’s. To make it clear he was out for top billing, Lewis had his own likeness rendered in neon, then mounted it on a revolving pole 100 feet above his restaurant. In contrast to Dino’s Italian-based menu, Jerry’s would serve “American and Hebrew viands.” Lewis didn’t stop there. Within a few months, he’d hired away Dino’s top two chefs, his maître d', and half his waitstaff.

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When Lewis was in Los Angeles, he made of point of table-hopping and schmoozing with his guests at his restaurant, and he occasionally brought in a few of his celebrity friends, like Peggy Lee and Steve McQueen.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

By the following year, a disgusted Dean Martin was fed up with the restaurant business and cut ties with Dino’s Lodge. Much to his aggravation, he lost a motion in court to have his likeness and name removed from the sign. So the new owners carried on as Dino’s Lodge, with the big neon head staring down on Sunset for another decade before the place finally went bust.

Jerry’s lost steam long before that, folding in the mid-1960s.

For the rest of the 1960s and the early 1970s, Martin and Lewis avoided each other. “Jerry’s trying hard to be a director,” Dean once told a reporter. “He couldn’t even direct traffic.”

In 1976, Frank Sinatra famously engineered an onstage reunion of the pair during The Jerry Lewis Telethon. While the audience roared their approval, Sinatra said, “I think it’s about time, don’t you?” And to Sinatra, Lewis said under his breath, “You son of a bitch.”

What followed was an awkward few moments of shtick between the former partners. Reportedly, Martin was drunk and Lewis was doped up on painkillers. There was a quick embrace, Martin sang with Sinatra, then blew Lewis a kiss and disappeared from his life for good. Martin died in 1995. Lewis passed away today, at the age of 91.

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10 Witty Facts About The Marx Brothers
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Talented as individuals and magnificent as a team, the Marx Brothers conquered every medium from the vaudeville stage to the silver screen. Today, we’re tipping our hats (and tooting our horns) to Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo, and Gummo—on the 50th anniversary of Groucho's passing.

1. A RUNAWAY MULE INSPIRED THEM TO TAKE A STAB AT COMEDY.

Julius, Milton, and Arthur Marx originally aspired to be professional singers. In 1907, the boys joined a group called “The Three Nightingales.” Managed by their mother, Minnie, the ensemble performed covers of popular songs in theaters all over the country. As Nightingales, the brothers enjoyed some moderate success, but they might never have found their true calling if it weren’t for an unruly equid. During a 1907 gig at the Nacogdoches Opera House in East Texas, someone interrupted the performance by barging in and shouting “Mule’s loose!” Immediately, the crowd raced out to watch the newly-liberated animal. Back inside, Julius seethed. Furious at having lost the spotlight, he skewered his audience upon their return. “The jackass is the finest flower of Tex-ass!” he shouted, among many other ad-libbed jabs. Rather than boo, the patrons roared with laughter. Word of his wit soon spread and demand for these Marx brothers grew.

2. THEY RECEIVED THEIR STAGE NAMES DURING A POKER GAME.

In May of 1914, the five Marxes were playing cards with standup comedian Art Fisher. Inspired by a popular comic strip character known as “Sherlocko the Monk,” he decided that the boys could use some new nicknames. Leonard’s was a no-brainer. Given his girl-crazy, “chick-chasing” lifestyle, Fisher dubbed him “Chicko” (later, this was shortened to “Chico”). Arthur loved playing the harp and thus became “Harpo.” An affinity for soft gumshoes earned Milton the alias “Gummo.” Finally, Julius was both cynical and often seen wearing a “grouch bag”—wherein he’d store small objects like marbles and candy—around his neck. Thus, “Groucho” was born. For the record, nobody knows how Herbert Marx came to be known as “Zeppo.”

3. GROUCHO WORE HIS TRADEMARK GREASEPAINT MUSTACHE BECAUSE HE HATED MORE REALISTIC MODELS.

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Phony, glue-on facial hair can be a pain to remove and reapply, so Groucho would simply paint a ‘stache and some exaggerated eyebrows onto his face. However, the mustache he later rocked as the host of his famous quiz show You Bet Your Life was 100 percent real.

4. HARPO WAS A SELF-TAUGHT HARPIST.

Without any formal training (or the ability to read sheet music), the second-oldest Marx brother developed a unique style that he never stopped improving upon. “Dad really loved playing the harp, and he did it constantly,” his son, Bill Marx, wrote. “Maybe the first multi-tasker ever, he even had a harp in the bathroom so he could play when he sat on the toilet!”

5. THE VERY FIRST MARX BROTHERS MOVIE WAS NEVER RELEASED.

Financed by Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Zeppo, and a handful of other investors, Humor Risk was filmed in 1921. Accounts differ, but most scholars agree that the silent picture—which would have served as the family’s cinematic debut—never saw completion. Despite this, an early screening of the work-in-progress was reportedly held in the Bronx. When Humor Risk failed to impress there, production halted. By Marx Brothers standards, it would’ve been an unusual flick, with Harpo playing a heroic detective opposite a villainous Groucho character.

6. GUMMO AND ZEPPO BECAME TALENT AGENTS.

World War I forced Gummo to quit the stage. Following his return, the veteran decided that performing was no longer for him and instead started a raincoat business. Zeppo—the youngest brother—then assumed Gummo’s role as the troupe’s straight-talking foil. A brilliant businessman, Zeppo eventually broke away to found the talent agency Zeppo Marx Inc., which grew into Hollywood’s third-largest, representing superstars like Clark Gable, Lucille Ball, and—of course—the other three Marx Brothers. Gummo, who joined the company in 1935, was charged with handling Groucho, Harpo, and Chico’s needs.

7. CHICO ONCE LAUNCHED A BIG BAND GROUP.

Chico took advantage of an extended break between Marx brothers movies to realize a lifelong dream. A few months before The Big Store hit cinemas in 1941, he co-founded the Chico Marx Orchestra: a swinging jazz band that lasted until July of 1943. Short-lived as the group was, however, it still managed to recruit some amazing talent—including singer/composer Mel Tormé, who would go on to help write “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” in 1945.

8. THEY TESTED OUT NEW MATERIAL FOR A NIGHT AT THE OPERA IN FRONT OF LIVE AUDIENCES.

With the script still being drafted, MGM made the inspired choice to let the brothers perform key scenes in such places as Seattle, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco. Once a given joke was made, the Marxes meticulously timed the ensuing laughter, which let them know exactly how much silence to leave after repeating the gag on film. According to Harpo, this had the added benefit of shortening A Night at the Opera’s production period. “We didn’t have to rehearse,” he explained. “[We just] got onto the set and let the cameras roll.”

9. GROUCHO TEMPORARILY HOSTED THE TONIGHT SHOW.

Jack Paar bid the job farewell on March 29, 1962. Months before their star’s departure, NBC offered Paar’s Tonight Show seat to Groucho, who had established himself as a razor-sharp, well-liked host during You Bet Your Life’s 14-year run. Though Marx turned the network down, he later served as a guest host for two weeks while Johnny Carson prepared to take over the gig. When Carson finally made his Tonight Show debut on October 1, it was Groucho who introduced him.

10. SPY MAGAZINE USED A MARX BROTHERS MOVIE TO PRANK U.S. CONGRESSMEN.

Duck Soup takes place in Freedonia, a fictional country over which the eccentric Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) presides. In 1993, 60 years after the movie’s release, this imaginary nation made headlines by embarrassing some real-life politicians. Staffers from Spy got in touch with around 20 freshmen in the House of Representatives, asking some variation on the question “Do you approve of what we’re doing to stop ethnic cleansing in Freedonia?” A few lawmakers took the bait. Representative Corrine Brown (D-Florida) professed to approve of America’s presence in Freedonia, saying, “I think all of those situations are very, very sad, and I just think we need to take action to assist the people.” Across the aisle, Steve Buyer (R-Indiana) concurred. “Yeah,” he said, “it’s a different situation than the Middle East.”

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