Every Picture Tells a Story – Don’t it

my mother with a former lover

A few months ago I unearthed an incredible photograph. I was searching through my mother’s one small album of photos and mementos, hunting for a letter I wrote as a kid that I thought she might have saved. I never found it, but hidden under a newspaper clipping was a picture I had never seen.

In it, my mother appears so happy, looking adoringly into the eyes of an unknown man. It was clear she had hidden the photo. A mystery. And I would never know the answer to it, had it not been for a chance encounter I had with a man 22 years ago.

My husband sitting at Johnny Carson's desk.  Photo courtesy of Michael Barrie

My husband sitting at Johnny Carson’s desk. Photo courtesy of Michael Barrie

I remember the exact date. May 22, 1992. It was the final taping of the “Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” before an audience of only people who had worked on the show. Afterwards, Johnny threw a huge party at his Point Dume home in Malibu.

For a cast and crew party, this was on a grand scale. At the buffet, the man ladling fine cuisine onto your plate was Wolfgang Puck himself. And, no DJ for Mr. C. Instead, he hired the Les Brown band.

I was sitting at a table eating and watching the show when this old dude steps onstage and starts to perform.  Alone on the stage with a mic in his hand, singing and dancing — the band backing him up.   I’m mesmerized. I now have a crush on this charismatic guy named Henry Butch Stone. I just have to meet him and gush. So, I wait for the band to take a break, and walk up to introduce myself to Les Brown. I tell him I’m Maurice Duke’s daughter. I already know he’s an old friend of my dad’s. Then I go straight for it, “Do you think my dad knows Henry Butch Stone?” The bandleader says, “Of course, in fact Henry is probably a better friend of Duke’s than I am.” So, I run off to tell this guy that his performance was magical. My way in is the six-degrees-of-separation I have used to meet people my entire life: my dad, who knew everyone.

I find Henry Butch Stone with some other guy, both balancing small plates of food. I blurt out, “Oh, my God, I LOVE you!!! I hear you know my dad, Maurice Duke!!” I’m so excited. For me, at that moment, he is the biggest rock star ever. Plus, there is nothing I like better than people who know my father. The two old dudes are looking back at me. The extra short one looks directly in my eyes, steps in a little closer and asks, “How is Evelyn?” Not one beat went by. I say, “You fucked my mother, didn’t you?”   Both of the men look aghast as I go right back to grilling. “You did. You fucked my mother!” The men share a look — one that says, yep, that sure is Maurice Duke’s daughter — and then Stumpy Brown introduces himself to me. “Your mother was my girlfriend before your dad.” That is so cool, I think to myself. And then wonder if my dad stole her from him. Maybe. You could tell by the look in Stumpy’s eyes that my mom was the one that got away. He gives me instructions to say hello to her.

That night, my future husband and I went to sleep in a Malibu beach house he rented as a gift to himself for working on the Tonight Show for years and years.   Except for a walk-on with David Letterman in 1994, the public would never see Johnny Carson again. I awoke in the morning to my favorite sound of crashing waves. I immediately called my father and told him about the old pals of his I had met — and that it was revealed that Stumpy was my mother’s boyfriend before him. And then I called my mom to tell her that her old beau said to say hi.

I respectfully put the picture back where my mother liked it – hidden. But, not before I scanned it for myself and titled it Mom and her former lover.

Below is a clip of a news program about Johnny’s last taping. We were in the audience that night.

Below is a clip of the second to last show.

A cue card from the night Bette Midler sang to Johnny Carson on the second to last taping

A cue card from the night Bette Midler sang to Johnny Carson on the second to last taping

Wolfgang Puck Recipe:  Asparagus with Brown Buttered Breadcrumbs

1 pound asparagus peeled and trimmed.  Thin spears need not be peeled

not be peeled)
4 tablespoon s unsalted butter
1/2 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

Fill a saucepan or straight-sided frying pan large enough to hold all the asparagus with generously salted water and bring to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, fill a bowl large enough to hold all the asparagus about three fourths full with ice cubes and water.
Add the asparagus to the boiling water and cook the stems until tender but still slightly crisp, 3 to 4 minutes, testing by removing a spear with tongs, cutting off a small piece from the stem end, and carefully tasting it.
With tongs or a large skimmer, remove the asparagus from the boiling water and immediately immerse the stems in the bowl of ice water. Leave them there for several minutes, until completely chilled. Drain the asparagus well and, if you aren’t going to complete the recipe right away, refrigerate them in a covered container.
Before serving, in a sauté pan large enough to hold the asparagus, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Add the asparagus and sauté, turning it with tongs, until it has heated through, about 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the asparagus to heated serving plates.
Add the remaining butter to the pan and cook over medium-high heat until it begins to turn golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the breadcrumbs and continue cooking until the mixture begins to turn a deep golden brown. Season to taste with salt and pepper and spoon the buttery breadcrumbs over the asparagus. Garnish with parsley and serve immediately.


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18 Responses to “Every Picture Tells a Story – Don’t it”

  1. Laura Plotkin says:

    I loved seeing the photos, the clips, etc. What a great story! And, I still miss Johnny Carson! He was the BEST! I don’t know what he was like to work with, but, as a viewer, I found him to be so cool and funny. He had that touch of midwestern restraint that made him so appealing for so long…you just never got tired of him! And, that photo of your mom is just a stunner! A passionate moment was definitely caught on film!!!

  2. robin says:

    my favorite thing, besides that I am your biggest fan, is that your mom and the dude have on matching outfits. xxx

  3. Augie Duke says:

    Dig this one mom…

  4. P says:


  5. jennifer dudley arbaugh says:



    jenn back in The Queen City

  6. jennifer dudley arbaugh says:


    I miss the sound of the Malibu ocean

    jenn back in The Queen City

  7. Linda says:

    I love each story more than the one before … brava!

  8. Roger Martin says:

    One couple definitely had sex that evening and I would say the couple on the left! The other lady looks like he can’t wait to get the hell out of there…. Thanks for the photo.

  9. Nile Hight says:

    I Love knowing you. You make me laugh and cry at the same time.

  10. carole white says:

    What a fabulous story, Fredde. And you’re such an amazing writer. Love your work.

  11. Sam Longoria says:

    Absolutely great story, Freddie!
    Enjoyed it quite much.


  12. Linda says:

    A re-read … brilliant!

  13. Karen Keating says:

    Another great story. Love your work…

  14. Carol Ward Dudley says:

    Incredible to see this – am thinking it might have been a painful evening. Love Carol

  15. Madeleine Gallay says:

    love your stories, playing with what you see

  16. Laura Plotkin says:

    Saw it before–loved it again!

  17. Carol says:

    Love the post and love jennifer’s remark – must have been some night for you and Michael – much love Carol

  18. Jennifer Dudley Arbaugh says:

    Better the second time . Am sure the same with third Happy Birthdays to your gloriously lovely mother . No wonder she was wooed by men of all shapes , sizes and ages

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