Johnny Carson meant a lot to American culture for many decades, mostly through his hosting gig on The Tonight Show. But he also saved the popular board game, Twister. Well, sort of.
When Twister was released in 1966, it didn’t exactly explode onto the scene. Retailers at the time were scared the game would promote an overtly sexual theme for families (often called “sex in a box”), and Milton Bradley was nearly forced to remove it from production entirely.
But then, thanks to one of the most respected men in America, Twister found new life.
On the May 3, 1966 episode of the Tonight Show, Carson dedicated an entire segment to the board game playing it along with his guest for the evening, Zsa Zsa Gabor. This single moment effectively launched Twister into the popular culture sphere, making it a permanent mainstay within the tapestry of Americana. The following year, Twister sold more than 3 million copies.
Johnny always had a knack for taking humor to the next level and overcoming decency taboos. There’s one particular line that comes to mind from when he had Dolly Parton on his program. We won’t repeat that here. You can go look it up. Anyway…
This tiny 4×6 mat is now one of the most iconic symbols, let alone games, on the planet. It is internationally known as the surface for partying—something that inventor Reyn Guyer would have never envisioned in 1965. Even if he had predicted the game’s mainstream explosion, he never would have predicted it was due to an appearance on Johnny Carson’s show.
Do you think a product would be met with this kind of response if it were shown on Jimmy Fallon’s show today? Probably not, because people don’t watch TV anymore! But back then, the Tonight Show was everything. People would stay up late and go to work the next morning feeling tired because of it. This was life.
As far as the name ‘Twister’ is concerned, it almost had to be changed before production even began. Some of the people involved felt the title had a negative connotation to those cataclysmic events that take place every so often across the Midwest. Understandably, they didn’t want the name linked to something that causes deaths. But they went through with it and found that the two syllable name is just the perfect amount to connect with consumers.
The next time you play some Twister, think of good ole Johnny. Without his work, we may never have heard of this amazing game.