Clinton's Carson Appearance

In 1988, Bill Clinton bungled the biggest speech of his young career during the Democratic National Convention.

Harry Thomason, Arkansas-born television and film producer and longtime friend of the Clintons, remembers the ill-received speech and his wife Linda's idea to have Clinton redeem himself by going on the Johnny Carson show.

Clinton's appearance on Carson, where he played the saxophone and joked about his rambling convention speech, revitalized his image and brought him back into the political forefront.

Harry Thomason: We were very upset, you know, that it didn't go well. And we knew the press was gonna make mincemeat out of him and people would be making fun of him. So we stew about it all night, this is a Thursday you know. Sometime in the wee hours Linda wakes me up after a troubled sleep and she said look, he's got to go on the Carson show to make this right and I said, okay, in the morning I'd work on it. So the next morning I called a publicist that worked for us named David Horowitz and I said David, do you know anybody at the Tonight Show and he said yeah, I know Freddie de Cordova. I said I want you to call and ask if Clinton can come on the show and so about 11:30 in the morning he called me back and he said, I talked to Freddie de Cordova, who was of course Carson's producer, and he says Carson has never had a politician on his show in his entire career and he's not going to now. And I said, okay, and so sometime after lunch I thought of another idea and I just called Freddie de Cordova back direct and I said, okay, you've never had a politician on, but what if he comes on and plays the saxophone? This guy's a musician, and de Cordova says, laughed, and he said I'll get back to you, let me go down the hall and talk to Johnny, you know. And so, half hour later called and he said, ok, he's on the show next Thursday night and he's got to play the saxophone and I said, sure, he's gonna do it, we'll have him here. 

...And so the next Saturday morning then I get a call and the Governor wasn't there but his staff had had a meeting and the Chief of Staff had said, he called and he was a very nice guy but he said Harry, he said I've been talking to the staff and said we have decided Clinton should go on the Tonight Show but he's not going to play the saxophone. And I said okay, I've got news for you guys, you know, and so I explained it and there was no choice for him and so he came out to do the Tonight Show and... Linda got a big hourglass and she gave him the hourglass and she said now when you walk out on the stage at the Tonight Show and he's going to say well how you doing Governor, and you're just going to pull this out and you're going to set it on the desk. And so we're getting ready and we give him the hourglass and Freddie de Cordova comes running in a panic to us, he said 'do not let him take that hourglass out there.' And we were sort of startled at this cause he was upset you know and we said oh, okay, okay and we took it away from him and so Clinton goes out and sits down and Carson says, well Governor Clinton how are you doing, and he takes an hourglass out, plops it on top of the desk. ...That was a good night for Clinton and he did play the saxophone with the band. 

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