Carl Sagan on "The Tonight Show"

I was the talent coordinator who first put Carl Sagan on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” back in the 1970’s. A then relatively unknown scientist to the popular media, he had just written a book and I was approached by his publicist who half-heartedly suggested we consider him as a guest.

Little did the PR person know that Johnny’s favorite hobby, besides tennis at the time, was astronomy. And my instincts told me that Carson would enjoy a visit on the air with Sagan. Well the rest is history. Dr. Sagan made numerous visits back to the show and would often go out to dinner with our star afterwards.

Once, while going over the notes with Carl on the phone the day before an appearance on the show, he asked me who else had been booked. “Oh we’ve got a terrific show,” I replied. “Tony Bennett will be on, along with…” He interrupted me before I could say another word. “I should know who Tony Bennett is, shouldn’t I?” he queried. That’s when I realized that brilliant scientists don’t necessarily know what’s going on in show business!

We laughed about this often on succeeding visits to the show and he never failed to ask who the other guests were going to be. Interestingly he seemed to recognize all their names. Obviously he had begun to do his “entertainment other-world” research.

“The Tonight Show” was an entertainment vehicle but, from time to time, we invited guests on who had something very important to share with the viewer. I’m proud that I was responsible for adding Dr. Carl Sagan to that list.

– Howard Papush