Carol Wayne, Johnny Carson's 'Art Fern' Sidekick: A Late Night Icon

By | May 23, 2019

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Left: Carol Wayne with Johnny Carson in an 'Art Fern' sketch on 'The Tonight Show.' Right: Wayne in another 'Tonight Show' appearance. Source: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

For fans of Johnny Carson's "Art Fern" sketches on The Tonight Show, Carol Wayne's Matinee Lady was an unforgettable comedic addition. Wayne was a curvaceous actress who became wildly popular for her appearances on the show in the '70s and early '80s, playing the ditzy sidekick to fast-talking huckster Art Fern, whose job was ostensibly to introduce the "Tea Time Movie," but who spent his airtime hawking questionable products. Wayne had a career outside of The Tonight Show included small roles in movies and on TV series, but her claim to fame will always be her appearances with Carson. The other reason she's remembered today is her death, in 1985, under mysterious circumstances. 

Wayne is one of those supporting characters who helped make Carson the legend of late night -- the jokes in an Art Fern sketch could be corny, and his delivery was self-consciously stiff, but rapport between the lecherous Fern and faux-innocent Matinee Lady, the double-takes and eye-rolling, made the sketches more than jokes read off a cue-card. 

Early Days On Ice

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Wayne with Paul Lynde on 'Bewitched' in 1969. Source: (sitcomsonline)

Carol Wayne was born in Chicago in 1942. Her mother enrolled her and her sister in ice skating lessons because she thought that they would be safe from polio if they were in an ice-cold skating rink, and it proved a gateway to showbiz when Wayne began skating professionally with the Ice Capades. After a bad fall, her leg was permanently scarred and she joined the Follies Bergere in Las Vegas, which was notable for the dancers doing the cancan wearing skimpy outfits, or topless. She married, although it ended in divorce after a year.