The clips, dating back to 1963, were found on an archived, 16 mm reel, according to a press release from the American Forces Network Broadcast Center in California.
In the 1960s, the press announcement noted, AFRTS received film reels from production studios for airing to service members around the world. After the programming was aired, the reels usually were returned to the studios or destroyed. This reel was an exception.
“Someone had the brains or historical foresight to save this reel,” Pedro Loureiro, Defense Imagery Management Operations Center archivist, is quoted in the press release.
When the tapes were returned to the studio, they were often reused, Loureiro noted. Follow-on episodes were then recorded over previous programming without regard for archiving.
“Everything from the 1960s is considered lost,” Jeff Sotzing, Carson’s nephew, told the broadcast center reporter. “That’s what they did with everybody’s show.” Sotzing is CEO of the Carson Entertainment Group, owners of the Carson archive.
Sotzing said he was looking forward to adding the clips to the collection since almost everything from 1962 to 1973 is lost.
Mary Carnes, a retired program support manager at the broadcast center, discovered the reel as she was sorting through old boxes neglected for years.
“As soon as I saw it, I knew it was a gem,” Carnes said. “Giving it back to the family and the Carson archives will be like a birthday or Christmas for them.”
Sotzing said Carson would frequently make an on-air appeal to retrieve lost episodes.
“He would be thrilled to get this,” he added. “A lot of young people don’t know who Johnny Carson was. This helps show that.”
According to the press statement, the footage will be digitally transcribed and made available for users of the Carson Entertainment Group’s searchable online archives. The actual reel will be stored at a former salt mine in Hutchinson, Kan., where the Carson archives and many other Hollywood film collections are kept.