The Tonight Show
“The best way to ruin a comedy is to throw a lot of money at it.” Jay Leno
An American comedian, actor and television personality of Italian and Scottish descent, Jay Leno is extremely popular as a result of his long-running hosting gig on the NBC top-rated “The Tonight Show,” succeeding the legendary Johnny Carson since his retirement in 1992. For his brilliant efforts, one of the busiest and most familiar performers in TV entertainment throughout the 1980s and 1990s, he picked up a 1995 Emmy Award and a 2006 People’s Choice Award, in addition to collecting countless nominations. Before the massive success, Leno was famous as a nightclub comedian, and gained acting experiences by appearing on several TV series as a guest star as well as taking on small roles in movies, most notably American Hot Wax (1978).
Leno, who is the undeniable King of Late Night among American talk show hosts, began to branch out after his announced withdrawal in 2004 and has emerged as a voice-over artist. His credits include Robots (2005), Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006), Cars (2006), and the forthcoming Igor (2008).
On a personal front, Leno has been married to Mavis Nicholson since 1980. His wife actively supports the Feminist Majority Foundation which helps raise money to fight the stringent Islamic fundamentalist Taliban regime that forces women to wear head-to-toe coverings. Leno is widely known as a car professional. He was the driver of Pace Car at Indianapolis 500 on May 30, 1999, and has written an automotive article for Popular Mechanics magazine. Besides, he is an avid collector of motorcycles and automobiles. He has more than 40 motorbikes and over 30 classic cars. Leno is one of the view owners of the McLaren F1 supercar.
Childhood and Family:
James Douglas Muir Leno, professionally known as Jay Leno, was born on April 28, 1950, New Rochelle, New York. His father, Angelo Leno (died in 1994), was born in New York, to Italian immigrants, and his mother, Cathryn Muir (born in 1911, died in 1993), was of a Scottish descent and moved to the US when she was 5. Along with his brother, Patrick, Jay was raised in Andover, Massachusetts. A dyslexic as a young, he finally could overcome the problem and earned a BA in speech therapy from Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1973.
On November 30, 1980, Jay married Mavis Nicholson, whom he met while performing at a comedy club in Los Angeles. At the time, Mavis was in the audience.
He and his activist-wife have no children.
New York-born, Massachusetts-raised Jay Leno served as MC on campus talent shows while in college, and performed stand-up comedy in local nightclubs to earn extra money. After receiving his degree in 1973, he tried his luck in Los Angeles and got his start as an opening for Johnny Mathis and Tom Jones. He also served as writer for the 1974 series “Good Times.” A celebrated comedian, Leno later created reputation for himself as a standup comedian with powerful work habits, reportedly making 300 personal appearances annually.
While building his status on night clubs, Leno also received acting experiences by performing on several television and films. He has his early TV guest roles on an episode of “Good Times” and in a pilot episode of “Holmes and Yo-Yo” (both 1976), and made a feature debut as an extra in the following year’s comedy starring Jane Fonda and George Segal, Fun With Dick and Jane. He landed more important parts in the films American Hot Wax (1978), based on the true story of Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed (played by Tim McIntire), the remake of Silver Bears (1978), Americathon (1979), and later Collision Course (1989), with Pat Morita.
Leno first appeared on “The Tonight Show” in 1977, as a comedian, while having his regular work on the soon-cancelled CBS variety show “The Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. Show” (1977). However, he did not actually hit his pace until 1985, when a number of appearances on late-night TV, most notably “The David Letterman Shows,” won him a slot as a sporadic substitution for Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show.” The following year, he hosted his first television hour-long comedy special on Showtime, Jay Leno and the American Dream, which he also produced.
Thanks to his quick humor and easy behavior, Leno was made the show’s exclusive guest host in 1988, and when Johnny Carson retired in 1992, he finally was named the successor of Carson, beating competitor David Letterman, and in 1993, signed a five-year $40 millions agreement with NBC to continuing hosting “The Tonight Show.” This led to the departure of Letterman to CBS, with which he then established a rival show. Although he constantly lost in ratings to Letterman not including on special occasions, such as Hugh Grant’s first national television appearance after his encounter with a certain Miss Divine, Leno was handed an Emmy in 1995, for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series, and in 1998, he signed another five-year exclusive contract with the network to continue his triumphant duties on the show.
2000 saw Leno receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. A year later, he extended his contract to host “The Tonight Show” through 2005, and renewed his agreement in 2004, mentioning that he will stay at the helm of the show through at least 2009. It was also in 2004 that Leno declared his plan to retire from The Tonight Show in 2009. He will be replaced by his NBC late night cohort, Conan O’Brien.
Following his announced retirement, Leno started his voice-over career. He had a small vocal role as a fire hydrant on the animated feature Robots (2005), about a futuristic world inhabited by robots. He followed this gig up by providing his vocal for Fast Tony, a con artist armadillo, in Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006), the outrageously successful installment to 2002’s Ice Age, as well as for Jay Limo on Disney’s hit Cars (2006). On the small screen, his voice could be heard as Nega-Chin on the cartoon film The Jimmy Timmy Power Hour 3: The Jerkinators!. The same year, Leno also took home a People’s Choice for Favorite Late Night Talk Show Host for his work on “The Tonight Show.”
Leno will narrate the Robert Zappia-helmed Christmas Is Here Again (2007), a musical animated tale about the stimulating journey of a young orphan girl. Additionally, he is set to provide the voice of King Malbert on the animated feature Igor (2008). Among his costars in the movie are John Cusack (as Igor), Jeremy Piven, Jennifer Coolidge and Steve Buscemi.
- People’s Choice: Favorite Late Night Talk Show Host, 2006
- Emmy: Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series, “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” 1995