JOHNNY CARSON was five years into what would turn out to be a 30-year run as America's late-night host when TIME made him a cover subject in 1967.
An elderly woman in Columbus, Neb., turned on her color TV set, tuned in the Tonight show, and settled back to watch Johnny Carson. "And now--here's Johnny!" called Announcer Ed McMahon as the star skipped onstage--fetchingly handsome, slat-thin, loose-limbed, and wrapped in a Continental-cut suit. "My name is Shirley Hoffnagel," he began with eyes laughing, "and I'm here to talk tonight about the wonderful progress that medical science has made in sex-change operations." The studio audience rollicked to that line, but the lady in Nebraska rose from her chair, muttering, "That's not so funny, McGee!" With that, she swept into the kitchen to brew a pot of coffee. And no doubt to ponder the mysterious equations of show business that have enabled her son John to become the nation's midnight idol by telling silly jokes like that. --TIME, May 19, 1967