Memories

Kansas City Bomber Raquel Welch

I have a vivid memory of watching the Tonight show as Johnny Carson was interviewing Raquel Welch.   She comes out with a cat that sits on her lap.   She asks Johnny “do you want to pet my pussy?”   He answers “sure, if you move that damn cat.”   In my memory it’s vivid, I can see the picture, hear his reply, the exact intonation and see her response.   I’m sure I saw it.

Or did I?   Not according to Snopes.  They note that the story most often involves Zsa Zsa Gabor, but sometimes involves Raquel Welch or a number of others.   That inconsistency is the mark of an urban legend, they state.    Doing a google search the story most often includes Gabor so I must be wrong.   Or maybe not — in this thread another person remembers it just as I do, with Raquel Welch, and around 1970, when I would have seen it.   This post also has the incident involving Welch in the 70s, which would fit my memory (it even mentions a clip, though I can’t find a clip posted anywhere).

In my mind there is no doubt but that it happened.  The memory is vivid and clear, including a memory of me shocked by hearing that (suggesting it probably was 1972 or a little after) and seeing her reaction.   There is no way my memory could be so detailed about both what I saw, how I felt and what my reaction was without it being true.   That’s my story and I’m sticking to it, that’s what I feel to be true deep down.

But, of course, the evidence is against me.   Who am I to argue with Snopes?   What if as a 12 or 13 year old I heard this urban legend, visualized it in my mind, and somehow over time came to believe I’d seen it.   Having watched Johnny Carson almost every night from age 10 to when I went to college at 18 I know his mannerisms and could easily have concocted a mental image of this exchange.   Over time real memories and stories heard/scenes imagined blur.   Perhaps what was once my imagination of a story I heard became to me a real memory.

Memories are strange things.   In the court of law eye witness accounts used to be given the most weight; now they are if anything more distrusted than objective evidence one can glean from records, videos or other documents not so vulnerable to subjective error.

Part of the problem is that memory is imbued with a strong sense of subjective interpretation.   For instance, let’s say I had an argument with someone in a bar in 1994 — or perhaps an early internet debate back when usenet was new and flame wars common.   I might remember it with me rationally trying to reason with someone who is obstinate, arrogant and even rude.   If that person were to recall the argument he or she would likely have the same memory — but with me the obstinate one.

If one has self-doubts, one may remember things as being more personally insulting and cutting then they were.  Small statements that one is sensitive to may dominate a memory of a conversation where objectively that statement was inconsequential.

I remember seeing John F. Kennedy’s picture in the newspaper in color when I was three years old.   He had just been killed, and a color photo was rare.  I remember learning to walk and wondering why my parents were forcing me to do that, as my dad flashed lights at me.   But there is also a picture of those first steps — is my memory a reconstruction based on that photograph, or real?   Did that photo reinforce a real memory?

One memory I have is at age 2 in the Black Hills going to a zoo.   My dad was enthralled with buffalo on the other side of a ridge, but I couldn’t see them (he had binoculars).   I looked down and saw blankets and sheets floating down a stream, then apparently going under the stream and coming out at the start and flowing down again.  I tried to get my mom and dad to look, but they were just into the buffalo.   There was a picture there too — me looking down, my dad with binoculars.   Once years later I asked my mom about that, and she said, “all I remember is you were really fascinated by a clothes line with sheets on it in the valley below.”

So the memory was real — albeit through the eyes of a two year old whose brain had not yet categorized clothes line perception and thus saw the sheets flowing down the river.  But that shows another limit of memory, our brains interpret and categorize based on experience.   We can’t be sure that our perceptions and interpretations are accurate, only that our brain is doing the best it can within its experiential framework.

Yet within our brain every memory is said to exist.   Brain surgeons sometimes trigger old conversations, or cause patients to hear the past as if it were happening in the present.  For that person the past is the present, the experience of that conversation is suddenly real.

Memories are flawed and biased; one remembers a reality where oneself is more benevolent than was likely the case, with others perhaps more flawed and malevolent.    Memories fit into categorizations and can reinforce conflicts and bias, whether on a personal level or between groups like the Israelis and Palestinians.

Memories are useful, of course.   Remembering how one was swindled makes one less likely to fall for the same ploy; memories of help and friendship can lead to positive action.   The subjectve bias inherent in all memory means simply that we should be open to learning how others may have interpreted a situation differently, recognizing that even if it contradicts what any of us remember, that doesn’t mean the person is lying or dishonest.   We all mold memories to fit our own subjective states.   Recognition of that makes it easier not to carry grudges and to avoid resentment.

Yet I still insist that it was Raquel Welch being interviewed by Johnny Carson, and he delivered that line.   Perhaps he was reprising something he did with Zsa Zsa Gabor earlier.   Perhaps an angry Raquel demanded the tape be destroyed, and since this was pre-VCR and original tapes were often unique, the whole incident could easily have been made to go away.   As long as the two never talked about it all there would be were the stories of people who remember seeing it, but in an era where Youtube provides instant proof for all recent claims, no clip exists.

I remember this 1970 poster...at least I think I do...

There is no way to objectively know if my memory is right or wrong.   There is no evidence for the objective observer to side with me, and as Snopes notes, the evidence suggests this to be an urban legend.   My subjective evidence is still convincing to me, even as I recognize the likelihood of error on my part.   It’s also a reminder that even though we think we objectively and clearly perceive and understand the world, interactions and activities around us, we’re always twisting and interpreting it in ways that are biased towards our beliefs, past experiences and world views.   At the very least, that should lead to humility.

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  1. #1 by Alan Scott on November 20, 2011 - 02:16

    Scott,

    I agree with you on the failings of human memory. I too have scraps of memory that I do not trust . I once corresponded with the older sister of a friend who lived in one of the many places I grew up in . She being older took many of the scraps of memory I threw at her and told me things that I could not fathom . We lived a few houses away from each other and never actually met, yet knew the same people . I was happy to have a few confirmations of what I thought I knew.

    Anyway I love the Raquel Welch photos . I think I remember her being on the Sonny and Cher show in the 1970s . Cher was no slouch back then, but as I think I remember Cher and Raquel did a musical number together in skimpy outfits and Cher did not look very good next to Raquel.

    • #2 by Scott Erb on November 20, 2011 - 02:25

      I think I watched the Sonny and Cher show about every week so I probably saw that. Yeah, doing an image search for Raquel was a bit more enjoyable than, say, finding graphs on economic stats!

  2. #3 by Alan Scott on November 21, 2011 - 01:57

    Nothing against Cher, but there is a reason that good looking women tend to have overweight friends at the beech . Very few women looked good standing next to Raquel in her prime . Do you remember her in a little flick called Mother, Jugs, and Speed with Bill Cosby ?I loved that movie .

  3. #4 by gary dawson on January 3, 2012 - 20:54

    Scott,
    I too used to watch Johnny EVERY NIGHT when I was a kid and have a VIVID recollection of EXACTLY the same event happening. It was Raquel Welch and the line was “move that damn cat”… I remember being so blown away that it was said and I remember telling all my friends in school the next day about the incident… It has been really disturbing to me to have this memory and then to search for the clip and have all accounts point to the idea that it didn’t happen. I KNOW IT DID! — and it was NOT Zsa Zsa. — The other think is that I don’t remember any other person ever telling me about it… ever. I only have that vivid image of Raquel coming out sitting down and saying the line “you want to pet my pussy?” — The audience laughs and johnny leans into the mike and gives his reply… I can see it now.

    Oh well, I just hope that someday someone comes up with the “lost” episode and we will be vindicated on this one.

    Best,

    Gary Dawson

    • #5 by Scott Erb on January 3, 2012 - 21:03

      Thanks, Gary! That’s almost exactly my experience. I can still picture it too! Hopefully the clip will emerge – it is frustrating! So thanks for the comment, I’m glad I’m not alone!

  4. #6 by mikelovell on January 4, 2012 - 00:50

    My cherished memory of television lore: Cindy Crawford and the diet pepsi commercial with the two boys watching her thru the fence while she got a cool refreshing can of diet pepsi. diet any soda is nasty, but for cindy crawford to become my wife and bear my children…. I’d suffer through it! (even though I’m pretty sure that I was too young to consider such activities when it came out)

  5. #7 by Lisa on November 24, 2012 - 11:21

    Never heard of it being Zsa Zsa, I always heard it was Raquel.

  6. #8 by Eric Deigan on July 23, 2013 - 12:37

    Hi Scott:
    I also have the same vivid memory about Raquel Welch on the Johnny Carson show! Vivid because of my shock that he said it, and because of how funny it was. I also had a pretty much photographic memory when I was young, and as much respect as I have for Snopes.com, I don’t agree with them on this, because I know I saw it.
    I was in high school at the time, and to the best of my recollection now it was in the winter of my final year of high school, which would have put it in early 1974. I’m not sure why the discrepancy, but for this time frame imdb.com lists Raquel Welch as having been on the Tonight Show on March 4, 1974, while Wikipedia, in a listing of the Tonight Show episodes for 1974, has her having been on the show on March 5, 1974 (along with Glen Campbell).
    What I remember is Raquel Welch having brought in a cat, and having it on her lap (I think it was white), and while she was talking to Johnny Carson she was petting her cat. She then said to Johnny: “Would you like to pet my pussy?”, to which he replied, “Well, if you get the damn cat out of the way”. I remember almost falling out my chair; I was so surprised and laughing so hard.
    I sure hope that someone can come up with the March 4 and March 5 1974 episodes of the Tonight Show one day, so I can see them again for myself (assuming that the offending part of the show didn’t get erased to avoid problems from the FCC).
    Eric

    • #9 by Scott Erb on July 23, 2013 - 12:59

      1974 sounds right – I was guessing at 1970. I remember it exactly as you do, I am certain it happened. Back then it was possible to have something on TV later disappear, I guess! I hope someone has it – that is about when the Betamax first appeared.

  7. #10 by Ken Miller on July 30, 2013 - 01:33

    In 1972 a friend of mine called me to ask if I watched the Tonight Show last night…..He then explained about Raquel and the cat…..No DOUBT ABOUT IT!!! SNOPES IS DEAD WRONG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • #11 by Richard Horgan on January 7, 2017 - 20:01

      Hi Eric (four years later!):

      I have watched the entire March 5, 1974 Tonight Show. It’s one hell of a program, and Carson definitely says a funny risque line to Welch. But it has nothing to do petting her pussy.

      Welch was previously on the Tonight Show around 1968. Do you recall anything else about the show with her where you saw this? Other guests. Etc.

      • #12 by Eric on January 7, 2017 - 23:54

        Hi Richard,
        Where were you able to find that show? My main question is, did Raquel bring a cat onstage with her on that show? If not, then it must have been a different night (or I’m remembering the wrong star). If she did bring a cat out with her, then that must be the show, in which case, could someone have erased that part of the show in whatever copy of it that you saw?
        Eric

      • #13 by Richard Horgan on January 8, 2017 - 09:43

        No cat. Closest thing was a cat food commercial at one point. If you click on my info (or just Google), you’ll find the artice I wrote about the show (tied to the Golden Globes). I viewed the episode via the Paley Center archives.

  8. #14 by johnterrene on November 16, 2013 - 05:09

    Snopes is not only wrong but their long-winded prattling about how much trouble Johnny would’ve gotten into for saying that is not only tiresome and complete hearsay, it is easily debunked on that very page by the clip they feature of Jane Fonda repeating the line word for word — on The Tonight Show, completely uncensored, in 1989. The fact that people’s memories on it are fuzzy is also circumstantial evidence, and to be expected when we’re talking about something which never re-aired due to NBC erasing and reusing the tapes, as was their practice in those days, unfortunately. Johnny probably didn’t remember it when Fonda asked because it was an off-the-cuff remark from nearly 20 years ago, and Zsa Zsa didn’t remember it because Carson said it to Raquel Welch and not her. Sloppy shit, Snopes.

    • #15 by Scott Erb on November 16, 2013 - 10:12

      The thing is I remembered it my whole life and didn’t have a clue it had the status of urban legend until I decided to research when it happened. So I’m absolutely convinced it happened. It could be that Johnny and Raquel made an agreement never to acknowledge it. A few years later and someone’s VCR would have caught it!

      • #16 by Erik on December 7, 2013 - 04:11

        It absolutely happened!! They show it all the time in the ‘middle of the night’ infomercials for “Best of Johnny Carson” DVDs. I was too you to see it live so the infomercial is the ONLY WAY I know this clip to be true…I’ve seen it

  9. #17 by Kirk on November 1, 2014 - 18:17

    I didn’t see it (my family didn’t watch late night TV), but several of the kids in my class were talking about it the next day. They said it was Raquel Welch and somebody else. The host very well could have been Johnny but I grew up kind of sheltered and hadn’t heard of either person at the time, so I don’t remember the host’s name. My recollection of how they said the conversation went: “Do you want to kiss my pussy?” “Sure, move the cat!” I remember what school I was attending at the time, so this would have been sometime between the fall of ’69 and the spring of ’71.

    • #18 by Richard Horgan on January 8, 2017 - 10:13

      Welch during that time 1969-71 was not on The Tonight Show. But she did appear on The Joey Bishop Show, The Dick Cavett Show, The David Frost Show and Laugh-In. Wonder if it was on one of those…

      • #19 by Richard Horgan on January 8, 2017 - 10:26

        Though not well listed on IMDb, Welch was also on Merv Griffin during the time. For example, a 1968 March episode had her w/Jack Douglas, wife Reiko and Rodney Dangerfield.

  10. #20 by Lynda crockett on November 23, 2014 - 11:37

    RE; RAQUEL WELCH AND JOHNNY CARSON – I SAW THAT SHOW WITH THE CAT ON HER LAP TOO. I SAW IT AND I REMEMBER SHE WAS FURIOUS AND THE NEXT DAY IN THE NEWS IT SAID SHE THREATENED TO SUE THE TONIGHT SHOW. IT WAS REAL. IT WAS NEVER REPORTED AGAIN AND THEIR IS NO CLIP ONLINE.THE NETWORK MADE SURE OF THAT. IT WAS NEVER ANYONE ELSE BUT RAQUEL. NOT ZSA ZSA AND NOT THE LADY FROM THE ZOO. YOUR MEMORY IS FINE AND SO IS MINE! 🙂

  11. #21 by Gary Hamon on February 6, 2015 - 08:36

    I don’t give a tinker’s dam about Snopes’ false rationalization and your readers’ idiot opinions! I SAW it–it happened and you can say all you want about the fallibility of the human memory but I was staying up late watching Johnny Carson that night AND I SAW AND HEARD IT and while I have a less vivid remembrance of the starlet (I *_think_* it was Raquel Welch but that part I wouldn’t swear to) BUT I VIVIDLY REMEMBER IT AND, AS WITH POLITICS, YOU PEOPLE JUST BELIEVE WHATEVER YOU ARE SPOON FED TO BELIEVE.

    It occurred. Deal with it.

  12. #22 by Ken Montgomery on June 22, 2015 - 16:44

    Actually (and how random is this 7 months later) you are so very close and ALMOST correct…. I can’t find it now, but it’s somewhere out there… Raquel was being interview by Johnny and she said something about people being in her bushes and Johnny may some double entendre comment… then unintendedly another when he said ” I see an opening, I jump right in…” to which Raquel said “uh-oh” and the audience roared…

    • #23 by Richard Horgan on January 8, 2017 - 09:58

      Ken, that is exactly right. Good memory. I wrote up the episode this weekend, and covered that in full detail.

  13. #24 by Ken Montgomery on June 22, 2015 - 17:00

    BTW, I found it for you…. So you totally were in the right ballpark, easy to see why this would be confusing… your memory really didn’t fail you that much after all 😉

    RW: Just look at your house and shrubs and sometimes it’s rather embarrassing…
    JC: I’d love to see your shrubs…

    JC: I’m sorry for that… any opening at all I jump right in…
    RW: Uh-oh…

    You can see it on Netflix, American Masters: Johnny Carson: King of Late Night
    At 55:17
    Ms. Welch is looking particularly fetching here.

  14. #25 by TR on December 19, 2016 - 01:26

    Hilarious. Zsa Zsa Gabor’s death made me think about that Carson move-the-cat bit that I swear I saw when I was about 9 or 10. Same scenario, but with Zsa Zsa instead of Raquel — white Persian cat, and I vividly remember being shocked and ROFL when I heard Carson’s response.

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