In an upcoming book, Johnny Carson’s private investigator reveals how he saved the talk show host’s life when a jealous Mafia heavy put a contract out on him.
Joseph Mullen describes working for Carson, Mike Wallace and Jerry Orbach in his memoir
In an exclusive interview, Mullen told DailyMail.com: ‘Carson thought he could do no wrong, that he was all-powerful, but I had to save his life when he spoke to the wrong woman at ‘Jilly’s Saloon’ in New York.
New York private investigator Joseph Mullen, whose memoir ‘P.I.Diaries’ is due out November 8, describes to DailyMail.com working for ‘The Tonight Show’ star Johnny Carson (above)
Johnny Carson got in trouble for talking to the girlfriend of a Mafia mobster at New York bar ‘Jilly’s Saloon’ (above) in 1970. It was a favorite nightspot for Frank Sinatra
‘It was 1970 and ‘Jilly’s’ was popular with Frank Sinatra and big time members of the Mafia.
‘The woman’s boyfriend was in the mob and as soon as he saw what Carson was doing he contacted the head of the family in a fury.
‘Pretty soon there were some heavies outside with baseball bats and they made it clear Johnny’s head was going to be the ball.
‘His lawyer begged me for help. I had no-one to go there so I asked my close friend Congressman Mario Biaggi, a former NYPD officer, to see what he could do.
Mafia heavies wanted to kill Johnny Carson after he spoke to a mobster’s girlfriend at ‘Jilly’s Saloon’. Joseph Mullen (right) writes in ‘P.I. Diaries’ how he called on US congressman Mario Biaggi (left), a former NYPD officer, to convince police to give Carson an escort home
‘Mario had officers get round to ‘Jilly’s’ and give him an escort home. There was a contract put out on Carson’s life and he was holed up at home for three days, allegedly suffering from a cold.
‘Carson had to work hard to get the contract on his life removed. On top of apologizing to the woman’s mobster boyfriend, he also had to make a substantial donation to the head of the family.
‘Carson paid for the family head’s grandson to go all the way through private school.’
In ‘P.I. Diaries’ Mullen details Carson’s bizarre behavior, seeing him use a wine bucket to relieve himself while sitting next to a shocked John Wayne and actress Phyllis Diller at New York’s ’21 Club’ in 1976.
‘John and Phyllis were left speechless. Carson couldn’t be bothered to get up from his table and use the restroom 40 feet away. He thought it was a funny thing to do.
‘Carson was not a nice person at all. He was cruel and thought he could do anything he wanted.
‘I’ve never trusted a person who said they didn’t like their mother and Carson would say terrible things about his. Who doesn’t like their mother?
‘But he was a client and I had a job to do. I did many investigations for him. Looking into people he was suspicious of. Some of my clients became close friends but Carson wasn’t one of them.
Johnny Carson (right) relieved himself in an ice bucket in front of John Wayne (left). Private investigator Joseph Mullen said Carson ‘thought it was a funny thing to do.’
Phyllis Diller (above right with Johnny Carson) was shocked by the drunken talk show host’s stunt at New York’s’ 21 Club’ (above left)
In ‘P.I. Diaries’ Mullen details the investigative work he also did for celebrities including Mike Wallace, Walter Cronkite and ‘Law & Order’ star Jerry Orbach.
For Orbach, Mullen described helping end a stream of letters in 2004 from Presbyterian minister William Glenesk demanding Orbach pay him for officiating a wedding ceremony decades before at Orbach’s home.
Mullen explains Orbach had only loaned his home in Brooklyn Heights, New York, to a couple for the ceremony as a favor and had no idea Glenesk was not paid.
Canadian-born Glenesk was relentless and, after moving to England, sent letters to Orbach when he found the actor’s new home in Manhattan.
Mullen said Orbach became so frustrated he had the investigator file a harassment complaint and asked police close to Glenesk’s home in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, to get the minister to stop.
In the following abridged extracts from ‘P.I. Diaries’, Mullen describes his work with Carson and Orbach.
Johnny Carson, the host of ‘The Tonight Show’ from 1962 to 1992, was the true King of Comedy. There has never been another comedic host of late-night television quite like him.
Joseph Mullen’s memoir ‘P.I. Diaries’ is due out on November 8
As Carson became one of the most celebrated names in TV, he was having the time of his life dating and marrying numerous beautiful women. At times, he behaved like a college kid on a Fort Lauderdale spring break.
Yet Carson was a very private, untrusting person, and he rarely engaged in idle conversation. Few understood just how complex a person he really was. Surprisingly, he didn’t even hang out much with his partner on the show, Ed McMahon, or his musical conductor, Doc Severinsen.
One night I was called on to help out Carson, he had apparently made the moves on the wrong young woman. It was in his neighborhood bar that happened to be one of Frank Sinatra’s favorite haunts, and this woman who had caught Carson’s eye turned out to be the girlfriend of a very ‘well-connected’ man.
His ‘boss’ had graciously called a few burly guys over to the lounge to rough Carson up. I informed [Carson’s lawyer Henry] Bushkin that all of my men were unavailable to intervene, and my usual retired cops would not come out in the middle of the night.
The guys were hanging around, preventing Carson’s exit, and trust me, they weren’t there waiting to get his autograph. So I reached out to a congressman-friend who had been a police officer. He was able to influence the local precinct to dispatch a few uniformed cops to the bar, and they escorted Carson home, where he stayed holed up for three days.
It turned out that there was a contract put out on his life. The New York City gossip pages wrote about Carson having the flu, making him unable to host The Tonight Show during that time.
THE DAY THE DUKE RAN:
I lived at Tower 53 off Sixth Avenue in New York City. I have two special friends in the building: Suzanne, who later became my wife, and one of the finest comedic mimics in the world, David Frye.
I was working from my home office on a Saturday when a call came in. The voice sounded like Walter Cronkite, and I said, ‘Is that you, David?’ He laughed and told me he was down in the bar at the ’21 Club’ with a great group and that I needed to come down. ‘Phyllis Diller is here. Johnny Carson, Ed McMahon – and John Wayne is just walking in now.’
He then started to yell at me to get down there. At this point, I had been secretly working with Johnny Carson and his attorney Henry Bushkin. I said to David, ‘Carson may be annoyed that you know I know him.’ Johnny was weird about those things, but David handed the phone over to Carson, who also yelled for me to get down there.
I could tell they were all pretty loaded. I agreed to go and headed on over. The ’21 Club’ was just a few blocks away.
I arrived and indeed Duke was there. David, who was very short, kept asking Duke, ‘How tall were you when you were young?’ and Duke would say, ‘Six-foot-four.’ He kept asking every ten minutes. It was painful. Finally, the bartender said, ‘Do you want a six-four instead of wine?’ It became a joke. Wayne said out loud, ‘David Frye is somewhat shorter than six-four,’ and laughed.
John Wayne (left) was shocked when a drunken Johnny Carson (right) used an ice bucket to relieve himself at a celebrity-packed party at ’21 Club’
We were all drinking by then, and I needed to hit the men’s room. Duke followed me. There we were, standing in the men’s room when the door suddenly swung open. Lo and behold, Phyllis Diller came rushing in holding her dress up. ‘The ladies room is very crowded,’ she screeched with that voice and laugh of hers. Duke and I left the men’s room quickly, laughing all the way back to the bar.
Later we sat down at a table near the bar and Phyllis said, ‘I’m surprised we can hear the rain outside from down here.’ David looked at Duke. Duke looked at the table. There were only two ice buckets where there had originally been three.
Johnny had put the third one under the table, and he was …well, you get it.
As David Frye and I were walking home, he said to me, ‘Never tell anyone what happened today.’ Well, they’re all gone now but me. All I can say is that it was an amazing day that I will never forget. Incidentally, my special little dog is named Duke after John Wayne. He was a great guy.
A MARRIAGE, A MINISTER AND THE MAIL:
Jerry Orbach was the King of Broadway and the Prince of TV. He was on the stage more than any other performer going back to Gilbert and Sullivan. Another actor said at his memorial, ‘Word cannot describe my feelings for Jerry Orbach. Let me just say that when I join him, I hope the things said about him can also be said about me. He was a perfect friend.’
I was lucky enough to have had an office in the same high-rise with Jerry Orbach and his wife, Elaine, on the West Side. One day we happened to be getting our mail at the same time, and another tenant was there getting hers. She said to Jerry, ‘Oh, I see you got another letter from that nut, the minister.’
Joseph Mullen helped ‘Law & Order’ actor Jerry Orbach (above) get police to stop a Presbyterian minister in England sending harassing letters demanding money
I noticed the envelope appeared larger than normal, and its stamps were from the UK, placed at the top right and running all the way down the side.
Orbach said to me, ‘Have I got a strange story for you, Joe.’
The story went back to when Orbach lived with his first wife in Brooklyn, and they had a young neighbor who was getting married. She wasn’t affiliated with a church nor did she have a fancy-enough home to hold her wedding. Orbach and his wife graciously offered to let her use their brownstone home for her big day. To know Jerry Orbach, you would expect nothing different.
Unfortunately, her groom – a young kid named Lombardo – turned out to be in the mob, later dying of lead poisoning from the bullets some enemy pumped into him. For years, people would ask Orbach what his relationship was with that young mobster Lombardo?
After the wedding, Lombardo’s bride had apparently never paid the minister for his services. A few decades later, Orbach, who at this point was married to his second wife and living at a new address, started receiving collection letters from the minister demanding payment for that wedding day many years prior. These strange collection letters continued arriving for years. Orbach suspected that the minister must have spent at least a thousand dollars on stamps when the bride had owed him only four hundred.
On behalf of Orbach, I went out to Brooklyn to interview an elderly woman who was an old friend of the minister. I showed her my private investigator ID and explained to her that her friend had been harassing Jerry Orbach for many years, and could she please encourage him to stop?
Unfortunately, this elderly woman told the minister that Orbach had hired a private investigator to look into him and get him to behave. This fact seemed to delight the minister and he continued to send the letters.
Finally, when Orbach couldn’t take it anymore, he reached out to me again. I went to a Midtown precinct and filed a complaint called a ’61’ and sent a copy to the local North Yorkshire Police in the UK. The constable went to the minister’s home very late one night to get his attention. She told him to cease sending letters. However, all the minister wanted to know was who the private investigator was that Orbach had hired. The UK police constable realized he was ready to get more stamps for me! She somehow put a stop to that, and the letters to Orbach finally ceased.
Memories like these make me think what a great actor, singer, and wonderful person Jerry Orbach was. He indeed was a perfect friend.
‘P.I. Diaries’ by Joseph Mullen, published by Mullen Productions and due out November 8, is available for pre-order