I was still working at KNBC. The Sales Department was becoming pretty dull by this time. I could type proposals and magnify expense accounts in my sleep. One of the great things about NBC were the job postings on bulletin boards all around the place. I’d stop from time to time and check it out. One day, much to my surprise, I saw a posting for The Tonight Show. The real one with Johnny Carson. They had moved to Burbank from New York the year before and the commercial production assistant was moving on. I couldn’t apply for that job fast enough. I was far from the only applicant, but as a former New Yorker I think I had the inside track. Most of the staff had come out from New York the year before. Several of the Talent Coordinators were attending AA meetings during lunch time – big difference between walking the streets of NY after hoisting a few during the taping and hopping on the 405 in a car you weren’t used to driving. I loved the small building – “bungalow”, they called it at the end of the studios that held the show offices. All except Mr. Carson’s. He was a very shy man and preferred to be behind locked glass doors at the top of the studio.
After two interviews I was told the job was mine. What was a commercial production assistant, anyway? More to be revealed. But, my working on the show made page three of the Locust Valley Leader. I had arrived. I was going to start the new job in a week. I gave notice at KNBC ~ housed on the same lot ~ and looked forward to a week off.
I’d left Lakeside Apartments and my Golddigger pals and was living in the guest house on the estate of an old time movie producer in Toluca Lake. The house was right next door to Bing Crosby’s original compound and belonged to Sidney Salkow, the producer of the original Lolita. The guest cottage didn’t have a real kitchen – a hot plate and toaster oven with the sink in the bathroom – but that was ok because I didn’t cook.
On my 24th birthday Jake took me to a very special dinner. In Las Vegas. So big a surprise that my best friend and her husband came along, too. We met them at the airport and spent the night enjoying ourselves. I didn’t win at roulette but around 1AM, Jake looked at me and said “let’s get married.”
A week later I started my new job on The Tonight Show with my new name – Janet Howe. Unless you’ve grown up with a name like Mafera (M as in Mary a F as in Frank e-r-a) you can’t possibly understand how nice a simple last name could be. A new job, a new name and a new life. Amazing – dreams can come true.
My first few days of marriage were less than idyllic. Suffice it to say my father was not a huge fan of Jake’s. Perhaps it was the age difference, perhaps it was the divorce thing, perhaps the four kids. Come to think of it, there was a pretty long list of why this was not his ideal choice of a son-in-law. (note: post therapy I understood it all more clearly but that’s for another chapter) As always, my mother tried to put a positive spin on things. She sent out marriage announcements. The same print and card stock as the “wedding that never happened”. A few gifts trickled in and I display the Waterford pitcher proudly to this day. We were going to live in my guest house and look for a bigger place.
But, first things first….my first day on The Tonight Show. I walked in without a clue as to what to expect. The basic job description: the commercial production assistant helps in the production of live and pre-taped commercials to air on the Tonight Show, i.e., Alpo spots as the most sterling example I can think of. I was also responsible for typing (yup, still typing) the daily commercial log ensuring the right commercial was in the right place. If it was a 60 second commercial the advertiser was entitled to a “live” lead-in read by Johnny himself. So, I wrote the scintillating copy, such as “We’ll be right back after this message from United Airlines.” Show business was my life!
That first day found me amazed at everything. The other part of my job was attending rehearsal and making sure the right commercial had been inserted in the show for the feed to New York. The show was taped from 5:30-7:00PM – it was ninety minutes then – and sometimes I would be expected to be at the taping. Advertising agency folks sat up in a viewing room to report that they had, indeed, seen the right commercial directly inserted in the show.
The first night my boss said, “You can’t be backstage tonight. We have to let Johnny know you’re here”. What? Somebody was going to tell Johnny Carson about me???? Truthfully, it was really that he didn’t like anything different back stage. The second night of my tenure I sat silently on a stool as the director, Bobby Quinn walked him through the studio doors. The same thing happened every night. Ed would do the warm up and Bobby would go up-stairs and get Johnny to walk him through the studio – right up to the place behind the curtain where he would stand until Ed announced, “Heeeeeeere’s Johnny.”
That night Johnny Carson looked over at me and nodded slightly as he walked past me.
I had died and gone to heaven….honestly!!!
My life had certainly changed dramatically. Working on the Tonight Show AND being married. Jake and I knew we had to find another place to live – hotels on the weekends with his kids were cost-prohibitive, and the guest house was barely large enough for two. My landlord wasn’t thrilled with the change of events, either. He’d rented the place to a single woman – not a family of six. A family of six? How the heck had that happened ~ even part time?
Looking for a place to rent proved challenging for several reasons.
I haven’t spoken much about Jake’s work other than to say he was an “agent”. Well, there are all sorts of agents, some with high ticket clients, others not so high. There are all sorts of agencies too. Jake was “almost in the middle” on both counts. He represented people you’d maybe recognize but not necessarily know their names, except for the couple on “Days of our Lives”….everyone knew who they were. Since the divorce Jake had been in a professional slump. He had an eye for talent but now not so much. His boss wasn’t thrilled with the situation and a remedy needed to be found fairly quickly. With his 40th birthday looming in the not so distant future, Jake was not a happy camper.
I enjoyed my job – even putting Alpo in the bowl for the pups before the commercial. There was a professional dog trainer, of course, and the dogs always arrived hungry. Except for the night one didn’t and just stared at the dish. Ever the comedian and quick-wit, Johnny ran back stage and pretended to gobble the food. I stood right there watching what became a famous Tonight Show story.
None of this helped us find a place to live, though, and time was running out. Sidney Salkow was less than enthusiastic as every other weekend approached and finally said, “one month more, Janet”. We ramped up the search. We had almost decided on a small rental in Burbank with two bedrooms and enough room for bunk beds and a couch for Sylvie, his four year old daughter.
Jake had been living on a very small boat at the Marina before moving in with me, and on his last trip he noticed a “for sale” sign on a significantly larger cabin cruiser on his dock. He returned enthusiastically pitching this as our next home. I’d love life on the water. The freedom, the fun of taking our “house” out for a sunset cruise. And there would be room for the kids. How big was this floating palace? 28 feet. In the spirit of being stupid I went to take a look. It was a nice boat, it wasn’t hideously expensive and it might be fun for a little while. But we had to pay cash and that wasn’t our largest commodity right now. The picture I show you now is a much newer fiberglass model, but you catch the drift…and the size.
How about my taking out a loan at the NBC credit union? It could come right out of my paycheck.
We moved onto the boat about two months before my 25th birthday and our first anniversary.
Let’s just say it was not smooth sailing.