Lost Footage of Johnny Carson Uncovered

Lost footage of Johnny Carson hosting The Tonight Show has surfaced, but you will never believe where it was found. INSIDE EDITION has the scoop.

It is television history, thought to be lost forever. It's grainy, black-and-white footage of legendary host Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, that no one has seen in almost half a century.

Carson had been host for about a year when he interviewed guests including Zsa Zsa Gabor and Li'l Abner cartoonist, Al Capp.

Footage also shows Carson with his famous sidekick, a young Ed McMahon, as he introduces a comedy sketch way back in 1963.

The lost footage is how we remember Carson, mostly because almost nothing exists from his early years on The Tonight Show.

NBC erased most of his shows between 1962 and 1972, thinking they weren't worth saving.    

You'll never believe how the lost footage was found.  

Retired archivist Mary Carnes showed INSIDE EDITION how she discovered it when she was cleaning out a cardboard box marked "historical documents." 

"I opened it up and the film was just sitting right there," said Carnes.

It had been stashed away for decades by the Armed Forces Network that broadcasts TV shows for our troops overseas. 

"It was like opening a treasure chest and I'd just found a very rare gem," said Carnes.

It was kept in a climate-controlled vault in Riverside, California, where stacks and stacks of old films and videotapes are retrieved by state-of-the-art automated machines. 

"It's a treat for fans, because there's very little that exists from 1962 to 1972," said Carson's nephew, Jeff Solzing. Solzing couldn't believe it when the lost footage was brought to him. He watched it with INSIDE EDITION for the first time.

The footage survived only because it was cut from The Tonight Show by military censors, who decided it was too racy to be shown to the troops.

You couldn't even talk about picking your nose back then.

"It's going to be interesting to see what was considered risque or a little off-color for 1963," said Solzing.

The footage is being digitized by state-of-the-art video technology, and will eventually be put on the Internet for Carson's fans to see. Even the king of late night, who died in 2005, thought his early shows were gone forever. So what would Carson's reaction be?

"He would be thrilled. He would be just thrilled." said Solzing.