Johnny Came Lately

Upon being graduated from Harvard Law School in 1932, Fred de Cordova began his entertainment career in New York City as an assistant in the Shubert Theatrical Enterprises. He soon made the acquaintance of such Broadway luminaries as Tallulah Bankhead, Jackie Gleason, Dorothy Parker, and Milton Berle. By 1935, he was stage-managing for the Ziegfeld’s Follies, working with Fanny Brice one season, Bob Hope and Eve Arden the next.

Hollywood beckoned. De Cordova moved quickly up through the studio ranks, directing films starring Joan Crawford, Humphrey Bogart, Rock Hudson, Elvis Presley, and Ronald Reagan (“Bedtime for Bonzo”). De Cordova supplies many amusing anecdotes about these stars. Apologetic about his own abilities, the author is quick to lionize Hollywood’s legends.

De Cordova devotes more than half his book to “The Tonight Show.” He provides a rundown of a typical day at the studio, complete with sample scripts of an office meeting and an actual show. Readers learn how guests are selected and who are the favorites. De Cordova offers an insider’s view of the program’s players, emphasizing, of course, his unique relationship to Carson. No facet of the show is omitted from the author’s analysis. It is clear that de Cordova loves his job and those with whom he works.

His career in show business spans fifty years, and one can feel de Cordova’s delight in recounting his tales. Though de Cordova may not be remembered as one of Hollywood’s legends, JOHNNY CAME LATELY offers a lighthearted glimpse of those who are.