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GLADWELL: Hold on. Paul to Hilton to Kardashian to … Johnny Carson! I just read the new book about him by his lawyer and confidant Henry Bushkin. It's really about what it means to have been a celebrity in the 1960s and 1970s, and reads like something from another century. So Bushkin tells the following story: Carson used to hang out at a bar run called Jilly's, on 52nd Street and Eighth Avenue in Manhattan, which was a big mob hangout. One night, Carson got very drunk and hit on an attractive woman at the bar who turns out, unfortunately, to be the girlfriend of a major Mafia guy.
Carson gets thrown down the stairs and escapes more serious injury only because "Jilly," who is everything the name "Jilly" would suggest, steps in. The mobster then puts a contract on Carson's life, who — terrified — holes up in his apartment and misses three consecutive shows. Desperate, NBC gets in touch with an agent at William Morris known to have an in with the mob, who brokers a deal with Joseph Colombo, the head of the Five Families, in which the contract is lifted in exchange for NBC agreeing to cover the Italian American unity rally on Columbus Day.